Which organization do you represent presently and how long have you been in the MR business?
My name is Augustina Umunna, I am the Senior/Lead Consultant for ANGELOS- MARKETICS LIMITED. I have been in Market Research for the past 20 years and I have been opportune to work with several multinational Research Agencies in Nigeria covering the whole of West, East, and Central Africa.
What does your company specialize in?
Angelos-ML is a Market Research Agency in Nigeria with affiliates across West, East, and Central Africa, our core business is Market Research. We cover the whole of the market Research spectrum, we offer our clients holistic research options ranging from Data collection, Data Analysis, Insights, and Advisory Services. So, we basically offer general market research consultancy.
Our core values are hinged on Integrity, Responsibility, and Accountability. We have learned over the years that this is core to MR business. You cannot offer excellent services without these key components.
We are also passionate about data quality and timely delivery of the required insight. We all know that delivering the right insight 3 months late is of very little value to any business, the market is evolving and changing so fast. So, the right insight NOW is absolutely required by businesses now more than ever before. This is the value we bring to the table for our clients.
We help our clients gather and generate the right marketing insight and mix quickly this is to help them grow their business and win especially in challenging times as we are at present. Because of the wealth of experience, we have; having worked with clients on Retail Audit, Household panels, Consumer Surveys, we have the broad knowledge and experience to help, support, and partner with our clients.
From your wealth of experience, how do you describe the MR business in Nigeria before the Covid-19 era?
The pre-COVID-9 research era was quite interesting. This time witnessed a lot of innovation and growth within the sector, I will begin from when there were just a few MR Agencies in Nigeria. In fact, there was a time when MR in Nigeria or in Western Africa as a whole was basically comprising of multinationals like Nielsen mainly. The only major local player then was RMS (Now Kantar). Afterward, some other local Agencies came onboard – this was when the MR industry became more vibrant and competitive.
We saw some eggheads within the sector leave their multinational employers and set up their own MR agencies in Nigeria. This tied to when more organizations began embracing MR as a strategic component of their business, they began to see the need to carry out some form of market research before making major marketing decisions. I could remember in 2003 pitching and presenting a particular market research study to a local client who was then a major manufacturer; the MD specifically told me they do not need MR as they have been successfully selling their products and making profit without any structured MR study. He also told us without flinching that MR was mainly a waste of funds. It was tough selling MR in those days compared to now.
Interestingly, years later, I pitched and sold lots of research projects to this same local manufacturer. I realized there had been a huge change in perception of MR within just a few years. This organization went from being an organization that would not spend a dime on MR to become one that now set aside an annual budget and in fact had an MR department within that organization.
Now, bringing it closer to a few years before the COVID 19, the MR sector saw a boom with lots of MR Agencies setting up offices in Nigeria. Besides the well-organized mid-sized agencies, we actually saw a lot of those we referred to as boutique agencies coming into the sector. In fact, these smaller agencies actually gave some stiff competition to the major players within the MR sector. This was because as you would expect, they had very lean operations with very minimal overhead compared to the big names. Some of them were also very strategic in their approach; rather than offering the full MR services, they focused on key areas like Qualitative Research or Quantitative Research only. They leveraged on their key strengths of their owners mainly.
A number of them just operated as Field Agencies or mainly engaged in Data Collection. You will be amazed at how these Agencies thrived and blossomed during this time. I personally know quite a number of them that did and are still doing absolutely well.
This really added to the growth and use of MR in Nigeria. The cost of services became more competitive, same with the services offered too.
How did you react to the Covid-19 outbreak?
The COVID-19 outbreak has been and is still a challenging time for businesses in general, not just for the MR business. For me, personally, it came as a big shock because we had not expected something as massive as that could bring the whole world to its knees. We know there had been other epidemics in the past like SARS, but we had not seen or witnessed something of this magnitude in the recent past.
The COVID-19 placed certain restrictions on the movement of goods and people, it brought a lot of hitch on the usual flow of MR projects and business. It came with a lot of paradigm shift too, from new ways of doing research emerging to so many Research Agencies springing up, while some other Agencies closed shop or operated at less than 50% capacity.
How has the pandemic affected your operations as an MR professional?
As an MR professional, I chose to view the effect of the COVID-19 in two dimensions – it indeed brought with it the good, the bad, and the not so good if I may put it that way. On the negative side, the impact was debilitating to most agencies particularly some of the big players within the sector just like in other sectors. We witnessed the loss of jobs, cancellation of projects by organizations who hitherto had huge research budgets and some ended up cutting these budgets or canceling research projects completely. Some Agencies were forced to streamline their workforce while critically looking at their core business.
Incidentally, quite a number of MR Agencies did absolutely well during the COVID-19 period. These were those who were very swift at adapting and changing their ways of working. The positive impact was more for those who had engaged and used mobile Research in the past. They quickly adapted and conducted Research remotely via the telephone or using technologies such as ZOOM. These were the ones who cashed in mostly on the change brought by the COVID-19 outbreak
We had to devise and adapt to new ways of working and these new ways have now has become the norm. For instance, I had personally felt that WFH was more effective as a lot of people could achieve and do more working from home, the advent of COVID-19 confirmed this concept to a very large extent to a lot of people and organizations.
Similarly, Mobile Research has gained a lot of impetus during and after the COVID- 19 outbreak, we now see that except for very few studies, we can virtually carry out effective and efficient Research projects remotely. There are a lot of advantages here, Mobile Research is quick and cost-effective, and this is considering the need for quick results and usable insights for marketers today.
The mobile research before now was not so popular and acceptable to some clients in the Pre COVID era. A lot of clients are now willing to run their projects on mobile. The skepticism has greatly reduced.
Are there some good sides to the Covid-19 story especially as it affects the MR industry?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, there are indeed some positives that came due to the COVID-19 outbreak in spite of the tragedy it brought upon the world. I would say we have seen quite a number of new MR agencies springing up during and after COVID-19 hit us in Africa. So many people have realized and found their purpose, as they had time to reflect during the lockdown.
A lot of entrepreneurs were literarily born during this time. Some people learned new skills too. Speaking to a client last week, she mentioned that it did seem that the cost of research projects has somehow become a bit less expensive because of the fact that new methodologies are now deployed in data collection for instance. This she says is one of the very positive impacts of the pandemic and I cannot agree less.
Analysis and the speed of data delivery have also significantly improved, now we offer insights to clients on the go, and reports are churned out quickly and in a timelier manner. This is because analyses are happening as the data hits the servers.
What’s your advice to fellow professionals in the MR business on how to keep ashore?
Well, I believe that certainly, the MR sector had come a long way but it is still emerging. We need to be more innovative and proactive because it has taken so many years for us to evolve and get to where we are today. The research body, NIMRA is doing quite a lot but we still need to be more proactive and be quick to embrace strategies that will propel us to be akin to and compete favourably with the developed world. I am one of those who believe in the fact that the sky is big enough for all birds to fly. The industry is big enough for everyone to thrive. We need to share knowledge, evolving trends, and developments within the sector. Similarly, support for each other is key. Especially, support for upcoming small MR Agencies is crucial because I have personally enjoyed this from a couple of big and established MR players in recent times. It is refreshing to have this support from colleagues within the MR business.