BENSON OLUBODUN is the Managing Director/CEO of Glopath and Partners Ltd., a market research firm that has a strong footing on qualitative research.
So how is the market research industry in Nigeria doing presently? We still have the traditional challenges here and there but I can tell you we have improved too in terms of quality. I think that has to do with the fact that a lot of us are investing in technology, for instance in data collection, data processing and then generally in the field of reporting and even in the depth of report too. I think we can say we have a measure of growth and improvement. Like I said technology has contributed to that and interacting with other colleagues in other parts of the world has also contributed a great deal. I am aware that many research agencies in Nigeria are either affiliated with other bigger agencies, or top world players, or are in the process of maybe acquisition or merger, while some also have a lot of collaborations with other international research agencies. These have thrown up new and standard ways of doing things, and subsequent better performance. think we have witnessed a measure of growth over the years despite the challenges we have with the economic sphere. I think we have some improvements no matter how you look at it. I might not really be able to quantify it in terms of percentage but qualitatively I think the revenue at the industry level has increased. I do have discussion with some of my colleagues and I know what they are doing now, though it could be better, but technically it’s an improvement over what we had in the past years. That’s talking about the revenue and even in terms of quality too.
You mentioned a very valid point now; companies are synergizing and coming together to form a better alliance, why are we not seeing that often in market research industry in Africa?
I think you can’t remove that from our cultural background. We are still reasonably suspicious of one another. Let me just put it straight – our business mindedness is still not very sharp. For instance, a lot of us prefer to stay within our comfort zone and don’t want to veer into such areas, unlike what we have in the international platform where people are always thinking about new ways of doing business. Merger and acquisition are some of it; that is thinking about the bigger picture. I think we still don’t have that bigger picture here although we are getting there. That’s a major problem.
…Because on a monthly basis I hear companies are acquiring other companies in America, U.K, but it doesn’t happen here often?
Yes, like I said; it’s more of a cultural thing, a lot of suspicion and I think the experience is really catching on here now. At least we have a couple of companies in Nigeria – the Kantar, the MillwardBrown and we have a lot of interrelationship happening around. I am sure it’s a way to go, sincerely. I see a lot of agencies having that kind of approach toward business development in the very near future and once you have confidence that it’s a win-win situation for the parties, people will be more open minded and be more interested in something like that.
Talking specifically about your own company, what are your areas of specialization?
We can look at three major areas even though by nature of our training, we kind of fit into so many parts. Some of us started as opinion researchers, while others started as social researchers. Some others started as economic analysts and the rest of them. But over the years, I think some colleagues in the industry and even clients have come to associate us with qualitative research.
Apart from qualitative research, we have a proven competence in market analysis. We have clients from outside the country and within trying to explore new markets. So we do a kind of comprehensive analysis of the market for them. This entails integrating consumer analysis, competition analysis, environmental scanning, market projection and the sort, just to be able to help them make informed decision; whether they should come into the market, identify segments of the market which offer bright prospect and the kind of challenges they will likely be facing if they are coming into the market. So we do all that including feasibility studies. We also do Retail Audit and Retail Census. These are the key areas where we majorly operate presently.
Do you have any plans for expansion in the nearest future?
Yes, expansion in terms of the business scope. Basically where we are trying to consolidate on is in quality of service delivery and in the area of applying modern techniques of gathering data and turning out effervescent research output. For instance, we are looking at the social media platform in the area of qual-research because we have a lot of challenges, like in getting respondents and even bringing them together is becoming a very big challenge. If you want to do a focus group, for example, you have certain respondents that are very difficult to bring together in group format. But we know that having online panels or using online techniques can help you get around much of that problem.
Again, you might have respondents scatter over the state, over the city, so the thing is to have a system to bring them together through the online platform. Of course, you would have done your prescreening. We have all these things happening in advanced countries and we have some notable organizations here partnering with foreign agencies. We are trying to move up in this area of applying modern technology, doing things in a better way. These are the areas we are looking at presently.
Now it is reported that Africa contributes minimal 3% in overall research output globally. Why is it still low, is it that nothing is happening or things are not happening enough?
I think the problem still has to do with our attitude towards the modern way of doing business generally. You will be amazed at the number of research agencies that we have in Nigeria as at now compared with some countries with far lower population. That will give you an idea of the level of usage. I think the level of usage determines the number of players in the market.
Let’s talk about Nigeria specifically. You will be shocked to know the number of companies that are still not using research in their decision making. Some few days ago, we were talking with a senior manager in one of the foremost banks; he showed a very sparse knowledge of what marketing research is all about. Take the government circle for instance; let’s look at the last election. I am aware some of the candidates did some researches, but if you look at the number, it was a far cry compared to what one would expect.
We wrote a couple of proposals to some candidates who wanted to contest some elective posts. You will be surprised at their responses. Some even ask why they should spend two or three five million naira to do research; meanwhile they need about ten to fifteen million naira to get the nomination form to run. But we are saying you want to get a form for instance, but you don’t even know how realistic your chances of emerging victorious or what your image is like among the people you want to represent. They don’t even know you, what did they know you to be or what kind of profile do you have? You don’t have that; you are just going there because everybody is contesting and you want to also contest.
It has been very difficult to get people to buy into the idea of using research to guide them in their decision. Like I said, quite a number of people that we did send our proposals to during the election period only began to realize the importance of research after they lost their deposits. And those are some of the problems we still have. A great number of people are not sensitive enough to the kind of depth which research findings can bring into their businesses. That also translates to the kind of study we do.
I am looking at the picture you just painted now. Looking at the theme of the event do you see Africa leading market research in the nearest future?
Sure just like a lot of people are seeing opportunities that we are not seeing here, we have a lot of resources that are highly untapped or highly undeveloped and a lot of people have seen the Nigeria economy as the future and if that were to be so, that will also impact on research because the more people are coming in to explore, the higher the prospect of leveraging on their needs for astute decision based on infallible data.
Just like I said earlier, most of the clients are coming from outside the country to explore the ground and they just don’t want to walk in blind. They want to have data that will guide them and make them take informed decision.
They want to have an idea how organized the system they are going to be playing in is like. This is bound to have a salutary effect on demand for market research.
The AMRA event has been fixed for April. What are your expectations from this event?
I expect the programme to be quite engaging and stimulating. I expect us to be better equipped and exposed and to be better informed about the challenges we are likely to face. When we say we are looking forward to a better future for Africa, we need to consider the challenges and how we are going to navigate through them.
I expect the event to shed more light on this area and the way forward. There is no point denying the fact that we have our problems or challenges, but the good thing is that we are identifying these problems and we are also trying to provide the solutions, charting the way forward. I see the programme trying to open up a large vista of creative ideas which will enable us to tap into, as well as utilize the opportunities that abound in our environment.
Tell us your final words?
I believe we have a very bright future in Nigeria. We believe in the market research industry and so far we have not been disappointed even though the full impact has been slow in unfolding. But honestly there is a very bright future. Like I said, it’s still a highly untapped industry in Nigeria. Market research in Nigeria has a very great potential to employ massive number of youths out there, new graduates, or undergraduates as research assistants, even field assistants. Just imagine one big research company and see how many people you can mop up from the unemployment market. So I see market research contributing significantly to growing the Nigerian economy through business generation/development and reduction of unemployment rate, as its adding value to many lives.