ALEXAN CARRILHO is the Operations Director of the Kantar System in Nigeria, an experienced marketing researcher of over 20 years. Alexan shared her experience and perspectives on issues of contemporary interest in marketing and social research with EMEKA OKAFOR and MICHAEL UMOGUN
How has it been since you arrived Nigeria?
I have officially been here since March 2019, that is three months now and I am settling in fast because I am not new in this clime. I love Nigeria. I have gone into areas that I think some people even living here haven’t been in, I have been on boats, I have been in cars, workplaces, yeah, I enjoy it. Meeting different people from all the walks of life.
What are the biggest challenges you have noticed with conducting market research in Nigeria?
There are quite a few and I think one of them is around the geographical diversity that is in Nigeria, the diversity of different regions, you have got infrastructure issues, the roads are not developed so when it rains a five-lane highway, becomes one lane because it is flooded, so definitely, the infrastructure are challenges for market research in terms of the face to face interviewing. Also, transport is an issue and because obviously there is only so much that an interviewer can do, it takes them so long to get to anywhere, they have to get three different types of transport, they get stuck in traffic, I mean, just to go from here to the Lagos Island for example or to Ikoyi, I have stayed in traffic and spent three and a half hours just to get there and you can logically attend one meeting and when you come back to a three and a half hour traffic again .
So, I think transport is a big issue, but I think besides those, I think the other challenge is around trust. I think because there have been so many 419 scams, it is very difficult for Nigerians irrespective of socio-economic class to trust one another.
So, when you as an interviewer go in, people are very unsure about why you are there, what you are doing, and you are really going to use your negotiation skills and people’s skill to gain access. So, I think for me, those have been some of the main challenges.
Would you like to talk anything about technology, part of technology in market research in Nigeria?
I think technology itself over the last few years has changed. I read, I saw an info-graphic recently like in the last week or so that says for example that in an internet minute, that is 60 seconds, there are like 973 thousand people logging into Facebook in that minute. There are 4.3 million YouTube videos being viewed in the next 60 seconds, there are 266 thousand Netflix hours being watched. So, I think technology is at our fingertips, it has never been easily accessible as it is now and that obviously makes giving information a lot easier but that also brings its challenges. I think with technology, we have pace and higher level of trust obviously we have moved from paper interviewing to CAPI interviewing and the industry is trying to move into mobile as well as online, which those two already have their own challenges as well, there is artificial intelligence, there is new data analytics technology, up and coming things, so there are definitely a lot of innovations happening as a result of the technology. But, alone with technology, that means we have to change and as humans, our nature is that we don’t really like change so we tend to stick in our comfort zones and stay with what we know and so, that is what it brings us to, like, do we stay traditional research or do we move into these new innovative areas, we are so scared to go into, our clients are not so sure that you want to move that way either. So, you sort of sit in that bridging gap whether to do it this way or that way, but I think we need to, the industry needs to literally grasp those new, good advances and use them but that doesn’t mean that we need to get rid of the old people and bring in only the young people.
We need to leverage on the skills of the traditional researchers, and we need to leverage on the knowledge of these young generation millennials that are so technological savvy and put them together to get those innovation that will drive the industry. We need to embrace the technology because I think there are some of us that enjoy it while some others that don’t enjoy it.
Is it true that technology threatens your profession as a marketing research consultant?
Good question. I think now, the answer in my opinion is no at the moment, in our industry. I think there are always, other ways of doing things and are innovative but it does mean that if we move away from CAPI to mobile and online, yes, that means we won’t be using interviewers as many but I don’t forsee us moving fully away in the next five years from face to face.
Where do you see traditional researchers going aside face to face, where do you see it going in Nigeria?
Currently for me, we are predominantly face to face market that means most of our interviews are done face to face, But within the next three to five years, the traditional methods are on their way out they are definitely less used in Europe and America, the conditions are very different in Europe and America than they are in Africa and things need to change, infrastructure needs to change, we need to have the right internet penetration etcetera to be able to move into some of these non-traditional market research methodologies. But they are coming, we hear about it on a regular basis, but it is not necessarily designed yet for our market
Do you see the need for guidelines for conducting market research in Nigeria?
Yes. When I was in South Africa, I was on the Southern African Marketing Research Association(SAMRA) board and I have been involved with SAMRA for many years and I was on the board of directors for the last six years and also was part of, in my previous roles involved with ISO and development of ISO standards. I was one of the content people in South Africa, I definitely feel that we need guidelines and standard for the market research industry, I think we need to localize and put something down for Nigeria for example, something as simple as interviewing hours so that all the research agencies know that you work between these hours and that the general population is also aware, if they want to go to a website and refer to it, they can actually do that, it makes us look like a professional body with structures to deal with ethical concerns .
Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of running an organization like SAMRA and what NiMRA can learn from those and at some point, you have mentioned the issue of data protection, we want you to expatiate using your international experience in those areas for the benefit of our readers.
In terms of SAMRA and NiMRA, I think from my experience on the SAMRA board, the board is made up of volunteers and I am pretty sure it is the same setup here with the NiMRA, so, it is always around balancing your personal time to be able to do it and obviously your work career as well and that becomes a challenge and what SAMRA did was, they appointed a CEO for SAMRA, that is a permanent employee and we had office administrator as well that was permanent. So, they could drive and do things, obviously the board sets the strategy and the CEO will make sure things were happening. We are also working with other stakeholders for interviewer’s accreditation and training
…In terms of data protection?
In terms of data protection, I think it hit the world by storm, since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect in Europe on the 25th of May last year, it has had a ripple effect. I don’t think anybody really thought it would have as many effect as it has had and as a multinational company, we have to comply with it because we have dealings with Europe in particular, so what KANTAR has done is that we have put together a gold standard, a data protection program that we are busy rolling out in Nigeria at the moment, it’s being rolled out across the globe. Also, why it is important here in Nigeria is that Nigeria has a data protection regulation that came into effect this year and I am not too sure that there are very many a people that are aware of that in society here. So, we must comply with protecting personal data and obviously send the personal data as well. We can’t any longer just attach documents in an email for example, we have to send it securely, there are certain platforms, like if it has got anything to do with criminal or health record for example, you can’t just attach it, you have to send it through a secure transfer file system
What is the benefit for all these that your company, KANTAR is doing for the client?
What we are doing is obviously setting the standard here in Nigeria for KANTAR and probably leading it in the industry, that I can’t say for sure but once, we have enrolled the programme, we are also going to inform our clients and bring them on board. We are educating some of our clients now because that means they can’t send the client lists for example through email. They must send it securely, so it means that their data is a lot more secured than what it used to be. You can’t just cut it to a CD for example and give it to the driver to drop off because what if something happens in transit. So, we are going to be putting something together to inform our clients around what is happening. It means the risk that our clients take is a lot less, it improves the process. It is a competitive advantage for us and once everybody has it in place then it won’t be so competitive because it is legislation.
Now, field staff are very fluid and mobile
Tell us your effort in building human capacity in this area to ensure regular replacement
Well we have quite a lot of interviewers on our books. What we do is, we have a certain standard that we recruit of persons for the different positions and roles that they take, and what we do is that we train them on what we think is important and relevant to make them effective. For interviewers for example, there is a one-and-a-half-day program that they must attend, it is compulsory that they get trained on, there are series of modules. What is market research to start with? Some people have never heard of what market research is and then goes into their roles and responsibility, questioning design, how to actually administer a questionnaire, what they should be done, what they shouldn’t be doing, how to approach somebody, so the whole role is to train them and they go out and actually do a dummy exercise. We also train them on how to use the devices because not everybody knows how to use a tablet and obviously the software that is on it, they need to be trained on, they would have a refresher training twice every year. And in addition to that, what we are currently piloting an interviewer accreditation program here in Nigeria.
The field is always tough
Yes, it is.
How do you handle the field especially when it has to do with cheats, when people are not complying with instructions?
I think, now, it makes no difference whether it is a woman or a man that cheats, so we have certain quality control standards that our interviewers must achieve, now, eyes are being on field regularly. I encourage all my staff to go into field, not everybody has been on the field. I also encourage clients to go into the field and see what interviewers go through and see how their questionnaires are being asked in field to see whether it is working or is not working. Now, in terms of the cheating or the fraudulent behavior, we have got entrenched in quality control procedures and are serious of them, so if anybody is being found cheating, the worker is removed from the survey completely and the work gets reallocated to another interviewer to do and they are generally dismissed if it is fraudulent. If they have made errors and they are innocent errors, obviously, it is not a dismissal, they then get retrained and re-briefed and again we go out with them, the supervisors with them too to monitor their work and to help them through it.
So, it is not as if we automatically dismiss anybody for anything, if they are caught of any deliberate fraudulent behavior then, they are obviously removed from our interviewing panel but if it is interviewer error and then we retrain and re-brief, obviously we monitor the interviewer.
From your experience in South Africa, or Southern Africa, can you draw a comparison of the field between South Africa and West Africa?
Some of the conditions I think in South Africa and Nigeria are quite similar. South Africa also got quite advanced geographical diversity as well, so the terrains are similar, the infrastructure in South Africa is probably a bit different because the infrastructure in South Africa is more developed than it is here in Nigeria.
In South Africa, they either go out using public transports or they use their own vehicles as well and you don’t sit in traffic jams for hours as we would here, so, obviously that affects productivity which is a major concern. In terms of access to areas, I think in South Africa, you have difficulties getting access into high income areas, they are generally inaccessible, so you can’t get into them, whereas here, I find that you can get into the estates, if you explain why you are there and then you will be able to walk round. In South Africa, I find that it doesn’t matter, you will not be able to get into the estate, they would probably arrest you. Trust in South Africa is very thin , I think is probably a little better here, in the higher income obviously, they are not very trusting, there are obviously some that are and some that aren’t but I think here, trust is a big issue from low social economic classification (SEC) to high SECs and everybody wants to know what is in it for them, what are they going to get out of it and yes, you get that in South Africa but I think it is to a lower degree than it is here.
I am trying to think what else is differences, but skilled labor maybe, to a certain degree, I think we need to build capacity here in Nigeria field wise and take these practices that have happened worldwide and localize it, because you can’t take what works in America and apply it here, you can’t apply it either in South Africa necessarily, you have got to localize it and it is going to work for you here in Nigeria or in South Africa. And the same goes, if you take something from South Africa, you must localize it here, it doesn’t mean that it works in South Africa and it is going to work here. And I think global companies sometimes forget that part, that you have got to apply things like a CAPI online web survey, we can’t do web surveys because internet penetration is very low but electricity is high, we don’t necessary have the right cell phones, its feature phone versus smart phone versus a normal cell phone that doesn’t have any features, so you are going to take all of that into consideration. Fine, you have been given this CAPI survey and you have been told to put it into face to face field, it won’t work because you’re now going to have got to adjust that survey to be usable for CAPI, so you have to localize it and sometimes I think for other markets, they don’t have such challenges, so they don’t necessarily understand what we have to go through, obviously time is always not on our side because everybody wants everything quick and fast.
Like in Nigeria, what are your observations about power distribution?
Power. I must say that Nigeria is a lot more organized than in South Africa in terms of power, South Africa has. We have a lot of load shedding and the power goes off for hours, and that obviously happens here but you sit up for it. In South Africa, most households don’t have generator or inverters whereas here in Nigeria, a lot of the households do, the offices even have it, the shops have it. So, what happens in South Africa is, closed doors, people stay at home. I have experienced it where your power is off for 4hours and you have nothing, your batteries of your cell phones, dead, the laptops, dead, you can do absolutely nothing, whereas here, even at the moment the generator is even running, so for me, it is more organized but obviously both have power issues.
So, what would your answer be to the typical client that wants to do a research in Nigeria and say why should I use Kantar, what is special about your company?
Well, I think Kantar has several benefits, one is that we are multinational and can leverage from global experience, generally things have been done somewhere else, they might not be exactly the same, they definitely are similar and we can learn from that and leverage that which I think is important. We have the network; we can have footprints that can cover across the globe so we may not necessarily have an office in a country, but we can reach out with our partners moving into those areas. We also have processes and efficiencies that other agencies can battle to achieve, it’s said and I acknowledge it that, sometimes, for larger agencies, it is difficult to be as agile as small agencies and I think with technology advances, we are all being agile.
Also, in terms of benefits, we can work across different disciplines, so we are not just brand focus, we are not just commercial focus, we can work across all of the different divisions whether it be brands, commercials, media, you name it, we can work across all of them, we don’t have to specialize in one and we can render quite fast, we have got the manpower, so if we need to get into field and get a hundred thousand interviews, in a matter of a month or a few weeks, we can actually do that, we don’t have to worry and run around because we can actually render our capacity quite quickly.
Are women taking over the marketing research world?
If I had been in South Africa and you asked me that question, my answer would have been yes, women are definitely dominating the market research arena but having worked in the region in Africa and Middle East, I can honestly say that it is not that way , it’s the other way round that it is more male dominated. And, I am not sure why it is more female dominated in South Africa and male dominated in the rest of Africa and the Middle East. I think culture plays an important part in this.
And you think this is something that will continue?
Well, I have been in research for over 20 years I think it has definitely been that way for an amount of time so, I don’t see it changing, I doubt it will change in the rest of the region either. Many of the researchers, did not go out and study to do research but fell into it research by accident. When I talk to a lot of people, people always say to me, I fell in to it. I know people that were physicists and they have become market researchers, engineers have become market researchers etc. They don’t set out to join the market research company, I didn’t set out to join market research company either, but I knew I wanted to get in to research and be a researcher, but I think you fall into it. It is not one of those jobs that people see as sexy, because it’s a hard, a long hour job and it is stressful. We need to position market research differently so we draw new skills into the market.
Do you love what you do?
I honestly love what I do, I wouldn’t swap it for the world, I love what I do, and I am passionate about it and giving back to the industry.
Supposing, you nationalize and become the NiMRA president, what are the things you are going to bring on board?
I think there are a few things I would bring on board and one of them would be researchers accreditation status. In South Africa with SAMRA, it is quite a sure to the researcher. I would also bring on board the interviewer accreditation program. I would also bring on board going to the universities, making people to be aware of market research so that you can build the skills. There is a limited pool of skills currently in the industry and we need to drawn new skills. Finding market researchers is difficult, it is not something that all universities teach. I think it is something that we need to drive from an industry perspective.
Thank you very much
You are welcome.