Fikayo Aremu is a Director at Fintech and Head of Transformation at Kantar Nigeria. In this interview with JOY NGWOLO, he speaks on recent innovations that helped his agency to stay afloat during the raging coronavirus pandemic.
What are the changes you have observed personally since the coronavirus pandemic hit us?
I think the pandemic fast-tracked all these changes. It is a big disruption from global economic impacts, when we talk about social impact, it’s all about life generally, and it is something that no one ever thought could happen. It affected every facet of life and as someone once said, it is a social catastrophe. It accelerated a lot of changes and innovations.
What is your personal opinion on the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic? Is this not the same question as the previous one. It is important to pick one
It is something that nobody was prepared for and we are still battling with the shock, it came when we least expected. Right now, we are still talking about vaccines and even the vaccines we are not sure if they are overcoming the virus, we are just taking each step every day as we move on and we are still learning how to navigate that particular space.
As a global player in the industry, how would you describe the market research industry in the past year within the global context?
The Market Research industry in the last year slowed down in terms of revenue. Five years ago, there were expectations that there would be a trajectory in the market research industry and that there would be a need for data to make decisions. But in the past year, there has been a decline in growth due to the pandemic that slowed down demand
How would you relate the performance to Nigeria?
Nigeria though declined has had lower impacts than other parts of the world. From the ESOMAR research publication released late last year, it observed that the impact of the pandemic on the market research industry had been minimal in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, while we were still able to manage the impacts of the pandemic.
How has it affected market research in Nigeria and Africa?
First of all, we need to look at the demand for our services because, without demand, there is really nothing we can do. The demand impact came in indirectly from our clients. The first thing any client does is to cut down on its budget for a lot of things including market research, so that did impact us.
Secondly, it had huge impacts on data collection methodology. During the lockdown, we could not reach out to many of our respondents because the biggest share of methodology in this part of the world is what is Face-to-Face methodology. This made it difficult to reach out to those consumers.
In summary, the Market Research industry was impacted directly and indirectly either from our clients; because of reduced budget or directly on the methodology required.
However, in other parts of the world, they had migrated to online surveys, which made it easier for them to navigate through the impacts of the pandemic. But here in Nigeria and Africa, there are challenges with low internet penetration, smartphones and low literacy level
At Kantar, despite the pandemic, the business had to go on, not just about making money, but most importantly on the delivery of insight to our clients. So, in essence, the pandemic helped us to accelerate the use of our online and mobile surveys capabilities. For instance, we have been building a respondent panel since 2018 but when the pandemic struck, we had to accelerate the use of mobile surveys to still collect consumer speak. We adapted the same process that we use for the Face-to-Face, leveraged it on the online means of data collection.
How do you select respondents, do you send questionnaires to random people?
Respondent selection is a process that is guided by industry protocols, which is universally acceptable. Such selection takes into consideration Socio-Economic class, Gender, Locations, etc. and we also try to deep-dive into other categories like FMCG, Banking, Telecomm, etc.
The panel is a collection of a large number of people that have accepted to be part of your surveys. For example, most of the online surveys that you see on social media are called unsolicited surveys. However, we have gone a step further to keep a panel of a large database of people that have accepted to be answer questions sent to them and send the back.
How do you ensure the quality of data collected?
Quality control is one aspect of our business that we are proud of., Our quality control process used online still maintains the same protocols that we go employ on Face to Face. So, before a respondent is recruited, you must have complied with all the quality control measures. Secondly, our quality control is able to run a back-check on such a respondent, to ascertain if he/she meets all global market research protocols. I am proud to say that our quality control process had gone online before the pandemic. So, we’ve deployed innovative solutions in terms of quality control even before the pandemic.
How were you able to get people to agree to be on that panel?
It hasn’t been easy and this is not peculiar to Nigeria only but all over the world. At Kantar, we had leveraged processes embarked upon in most of the developed countries where we operate, some of these innovations have been executed in those countries so we are taking a cue from them.
The way we go about this is that all panellists are incentivised so that they are able to stay on the panel. And if for any reason a person has to leave the panel, we ensure that we get someone with a similar profile as a replacement. This means at any point in time we have a robust panel that meets our survey criteria. This we have been able to achieve through collaboration with some of our panel partners.
Have you experienced any challenges with using technology in the new normal?
There are always challenges but it’s about openness to change. This is a time when clients are saying “we are used to this, where are you taking us to?” So, we had to find a way to overcome that particular hurdle, (I don’t call it a challenge).
We understand technology is just an enabler and we needed to be always ahead of the curve. Although we are not where we want to be, we look forward to achieving so much in innovating into the future.
What are the new lessons that can be learned from this experience?
One of the things we have learnt is being able to reply with Agility. Being agile means, we are combining speed with delivery. We are fast in delivering the required insights that will help our clients make decisions.
The second one is being proactive to meet the market needs. Yes, the pandemic happened unexpectedly, and so, we can’t begin to cry over spilt milk. We need to ask questions like: “how do we change our processes; how do we change our mindsets about what has happened and Inspire growth for our clients?
How do we navigate and be relevant as an industry?
It all borders on Transformation and Innovation. When you are transforming, you also look at what innovative solutions you have to support businesses. At Kantar, we are looking at newer ways of doing things and at the heart of everything we do are our customers/clients. We are keen on understanding consumers and delivering insights that inspire growth.
Do you think Covid-19 has brought about innovations in the way of conducting researches worth mentioning?
Yes, it has.
During the pandemic, we saw many brands trying to provide solutions for their consumers and since our focus at Kantar is our clients. We leveraged on our panel to run what we call ‘Covid Barometer’. It is a bi-monthly survey to find out what has been happening to the consumers, how they are interacting with the brands in the space of COVID-19 because COVID-19 changed a lot of things.
This helped us to track changes in attitudes, interactions, engagements with brands and we were able to do this for over five months. With the data gathered; we were able to deliver relevant insights to our clients free of charge. With this, we were able to also support our clients during COVID-19that helped them avoid taking decisions in the dark regardless of the situation.
Another innovative solution we created is called ‘Kantar Marketplace’. It is an “Amazon-Like” type of rendering services. So, unlike when you come into the office to seek my services, we now took market research online. You are able to request most of your market research needs, click on what you need, put it in a cart, pay for it and then engage in that market research activity with minimal supervision. However, we are at the back-end leveraging on technology and that is why I said it is an “Amazon-like” way of running market research.
The value of this innovative solution includes speed to deliver insights within few days, Access to benchmark for Nigeria or any other market that you require and affordability.
The third one was on the Qualitative Solution. The general belief is that qualitative studies can only be conducted face-to-face but the pandemic has taught us that we can leverage our online presence. It is interesting to note that during the pandemic, we were able to run our qualitative surveys, In-depth interviews, focus group discussions leveraging online platforms like Zoom, Google meet, Microsoft Teams, Uviews, etc. All we needed to do was recruit respondents via Telephone or SMS, and bring them on these platforms for discussions
What has the response been to these innovations?
Well, it is still fairly new, the Covid barometer was launched during the pandemic but the Kantar Marketplace was launched in Nigeria recently, so we have started talking to our clients, we have a few of them that have tested it. What is so exciting is that the insight is comparable to what you could get in the traditional market research approach. So, the most important thing is that clients are still able to make decisions regardless of the situation.
Please note that innovation doesn’t mean that we no longer use the traditional approach. There are still studies that require traditional methods. For instance, if you want to run a rural study, you might not be able to do that because of the limitations of the internet and all that. But in spite of that, we innovated to move market research to the marketplace where you can ‘do it yourself’’ but you must have a fair understanding of how to set up a market research study. Most of our clients have staff within their organisations that can do that. In case you need help, we are online to give you support but we endeavour to allow our clients to achieve their goals without our interference.
Looking at what has happened and is still happening, what is the future of market research?
We at Kantar believe that the future is bright because, in the new normal, you can’t run on intuition or on what you have done in the past. Consumers are changing and demanding new experiences while the market landscape is not static You need to be guided by experts on how to navigate this new normal. There is no better time than now for market research especially for businesses that want to grow in this “New Normal”. So, for us, it’s time to do more work and guide our clients in making the right decisions.
What do you think is the impact of COVID-19 on the growth of market research in Africa?
I will quote ESOMAR, the impact was valued at about 25 million dollars across Africa which is over a 5% decline in Africa.