SAMMIE NNANWOBU is an ICT expert in-charge of Information Technology and Communication at Random Random Dynamic Resources Ltd . The Oracle certified and consultant software developer to many blue chip companies spoke to Research Intelligence magazine on some of the applications that have impacted greatly on the market research industry.
Briefly tell us how the landscape of market research was before the emergence of technology in market research.
Basically in the 80s and earlier 90s, especially in Africa, Market research was being done mainly by using the traditional manual method. Data collection, for example, was being done by means of face to face using paper and pen – be it Focus Group, Survey, In-depth interviews, Observational research, Experimental research etc. Manual or semi-automatic data processing and Analysis were prevalent. Virtually everything was being done manually. Qualitative data could only be analyzed manually, questionnaire editing was being done manually, and data processing and analysis were performed with 90% human involvement.
Doing research in those days had a lot of challenges, take for example, administering complex questionnaires would have a lot of routing errors (errors in the question order, skipping and branching based on previously given answers) leading to missing data as a result of interviewer’s fatigue, or oversight, data validation check could only be done during cleaning phase and if errors were detected afterwards, it would be recorded as missing data because going back to the respondent for validity would be difficult, controlling interviewer excesses while in the field was difficult, and there were a separate data entry and analysis phases that make up the data collection processes. Market research processes generally were seen to be very tasking and a lot of time would have to be spent before a report is delivered to the client. But all these have changed over time since technology came into play. Now doing research is a lot easier and fun. Doing Focus Group for instance, technology has made the use of Cameras and Audio recorders available to be able to capture every moment of your discussion for analysis. Even mystery shopping are done with eye glasses powerfully equipped with camera and storage devices. These are some of the innovations technology has brought to our doorstep.
What are the capabilities now in market research as a result of the introduction of technology in market research?
Technology has expanded the landscape in which market research is conducted. With technology, the sky is the limit. Just like I said earlier, doing research now is a lot earlier and fun. There are thousand and one hardware and software that have been developed and dedicated to this industry in recent times, and these have helped to reshape the way research is being conducted for better. Now, researchers have access to more participants to a study irrespective of where they are based. Take for instance, the development and involvement of digital media (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Linkedin, Google plus even online shops etc) in market research has really made things a lot easier, the world is like a village now. Nowadays, customers voluntarily do part of data collection for the researchers. Sources such as Jumia.com, Konga.com, and Amazon.com provide you with tons of reviews, freely created by the customers about products. They just need to be read and analyzed. Interestingly, there are also sophisticated applications readily available to help in analyzing a huge amount of data in one shoot.
With the increasing use of the Internet, online questionnaires have become a popular way to collect data for any market research. Research methods like Computer Aided Telephone Interview (CATI), Computer Aided Personal Interview (CAPI), Computer Aided Self Interview (CASI), Computer Aided Web Interview (CAWI) etc. have become household names. In fact, any type of research can easily be conducted via any of these methods- be it Focus groups, Ethnography which has been nicknamed Netnography because of its presence in the internet world, in-depth interviews, experimental research, to mention but a few. As a matter of fact, we had a study in the past, an experimental research- central Location Test using CAPI to be precise. In that study we were to get customers view and reaction about a brand design, and it happened that clients had scheduled coming in person to witness the whole processes. But unfortunately they could not make it coming to Nigeria. They were worried at a point but we got their back covered up. What we did? We used another means to make them feel at home. Since it was a CLT, we decided to live stream the fieldwork for a number of days it lasted, they logged in from their comfort zones and watched the proceedings live, we also exchanged views through phone calls and chat tool integrated in webpage that rendered the event, and everybody was happy. That is what technology has brought to our table.
Now it is very easy to do Focus groups online even with Skype. Respondents can be in their homes and participate effectively in a study at the appointed time too; all they need do is to follow an invite sent to them. And there are other several platforms that are developed and dedicated to this kind of study. As a matter of fact, we just concluded a Netnography study last week. Questions were made available on the webpages and each of the participants logged in at their convenient time and gave us their insights. It was that simple.
Technology has also made easy complex data coding of facial expression, mood sensing that associates with Ad test and shopping experience respectively. There are now a lot of Facial coding applications to be leveraged on at any time and also a mood sensing retail device that is personalizing the shopping experience.
In the area of quality control during data collection, interviewers’ behavior are better managed and controlled now. CAPI software, for example, has GPS, voice recorder, video recorder integrated in them which are used to track the location of the interviews and how the interviews are administered respectively. Now one can easily know where the actual interview is done, the device used, the time the interview was done without human input. Interviewers can even be led to the enumerated areas using technology like Google maps etc. The questionnaire routing errors and data validation checks that were common in the past have been taken care of by this software. We now have what I may describe as on-the-spot data validations which are done automatically by the program. So, if you ask me, I will say that the sky is the limit with technology.
What can you say about the quality of deliverables enabled by technology in market research?
I don’t think that the involvement of technology in Market research has lessened the quality of deliverables, but rather it has increased the quality to a great extent. When we are talking about deliverables here we simply are saying the data collected, field updates, easy to understand analysis of data, executive summary, Presentation of quality graphics, verbatim reports, cross-tabulations, Questionnaire instrument, Technical Reports, presentation of results etc. In each of these, be it semi-automatic or full automatic, technology has a great impact in term of quality.
Take data analysis for instance; complex data with increased streams of data to collect, the ability to analyze that data is equally as important. Technology is making data analytics easier and more sophisticated. With better analytics, you can easily manage customer relationship.
Is there still need for the pen and paper interview in Market research?
For me pen and paper interview is on their way out completely. On their way out because in Africa especially, you can still see here and there where this method is being used, but in the developed world, it is completely out. Technology has taken over almost every mode of interviewing methods. In moderation for qualitative studies for instance, the use of printed questionnaire is fizzling out, computer devices have stolen the show- everything is on the screens the more. In fact, what you can achieve using paper and pen or pencil as the case maybe, you can achieve them better and faster technologically. Even qualitative data analysis that still involves high percentage of manual processes has embraced automation. Now we have powerful data analytic tools that help in easy to understand data analysis. For example, in qualitative data analysis, software like MaxQDA, Atlas-ti, NVivo, CAQDAS(Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software) and Transana etc., are readily available for use. They can even help you to do tasks such as coding tree and managing the coded segments, interpretation of interview transcripts etc. I am not forgetting to mention that we have software that have been developed and equipped with voice recognition and typing abilities used for transcription. Although all these do not do the whole work for you, but they help you in doing the work well and timely too, and they have been around for quite some time now.
What is the next phase of the use of technology in Market Research?
Ultimately, it is all about getting to know customers better. Isn’t it? I believe that Technology is making that possible. I know technology will keep improving the methodologies of market research. No crystal ball that predicts what the next phase of the use of Technology in market research will be completely, at the same time, it is all about artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
What is the impact of technology on jobs in the Market Research Industry?
The role of Technology in market research industry and how to approach market research with advanced capabilities can never be over emphasized or undermined. Market researchers are highly expected than ever to deliver accurate, insightful solutions for clients with shorter turnaround times and, maybe, lower budgets.
Technology has helped tremendously in achieving these fit. Unlike before when a small project can take months, sometimes a year before being signed off, technology has helped to reduce this timeline drastically without compromising on the quality. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning have also come into play and have enabled faster analytics and report creation. So, in a nut shell, I must say that technology has helped researchers to devise more effective way to perform the entire qualitative data analysis, more efficient way to have instant access to source data files like transcripts, better way of controlling human errors and excesses. It is obvious that better decisions are made with quality data, and quality data are made possible with quality personnel and good methodology etc, hence, the need to guard all the research processes is very important. Fortunately, Technology has not disappointed thus far in those aspects.
Do you think Market Research Industry in Africa is embracing enough the use of technology?
I will say yes, but cannot be compared with those of Europe and some other continents, maybe due to some obvious reasons. Nevertheless, if you look around Africa you will agree with me that things are changing fast technologically, not only in the market research industry but in every facet of industries. Most, if not all the powerful hardware and software I aforementioned here, are being utilized in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Some of them can only be afforded by the big Agencies like multi-nationals. But in all honesty, to be successful, researchers should embrace new technologies available for reforming and automating data collection and analysis, thereby freeing time for some other important things such as higher-level problem solving etc. For me they are following suite.
What are the Challenges of the use of technology in market research?
Every new thing comes with its challenges, I must say, and the invention of technology in market research is not an exception. There are still very many challenges being faced, but I will mention some here.
Firstly, the cost of acquiring the (software and hardware) especially for data analysis is still on the high side. Agencies spend fortune to be able to use those facilities for their projects. This has been a torn on the flesh of smaller Agencies. But at the same time nothing good comes cheap.
Poor internet connection, especially in the rural areas is also another challenge in most of the African countries for projects done online. This has always made the response rates to be limited to people who can access the web.
Again, for panel studies, many people dislike completing questionnaires online, and people who respond to online questionnaire invitations tend to be younger ones. This always gives room for bias of the data that may be collected.
New technology means mastering new tools and developing skillsets outside of the traditional researcher’s background. Acquiring new skills can be tasking, time taking and cost effective too. For you to remain competitive, you have to, at all time, join the moving train. This means that you have to keep learning new things.