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Emil  Brune Emil Brune Founder, African Grey
Achieving Objectivity and Brand Growth in Africa

Achieving Objectivity and Brand Growth in Africa

Africa simply doesn’t have the research capabilities or the infrastructure that you can easily access in established European, US and Asian markets. Across the African continent, personal relationships and face-to-face presence are vitally important to help ensure quality data collection and deliver quality information. Equally important is the knowledge - built through hard-won experience - of knowing which local in-market agency or agencies you should partner with in within each country - and which to avoid.

In recent years, data collection challenges have been overcome by guiding long-standing local collection partners on recruitment (e.g. which suburbs and areas of the cities, adapting the KISH method etc.) and to ensure the questionnaire design was suitable for mobile or tablet deployment as the larger independent agencies have embraced tablets or mobiles for administering quantitative surveys. In the last quarter we’ve conducted a variety of surveys ranging from testing new motoring concepts in Kenya to measuring the pricing and positioning of a chilled FMCG product in Ethiopia. Both of these required our on-the-ground presence to sign off the script and its programming, help train the interviewers and observe pilot interviews in-situ, before proceeding to field (once we are happy that the interviewers are really ready).

Many of the young professionals now running the DP departments and data handling can be very switched on in terms of the software packages and their menus, but don’t always understand "how" these packages actually work internally in terms of data architecture and the implications that then has on verification processes, data exchange and data output. One has to be particularly attentive to open-ended questions and (back-) coding and to allow a good level of over-sampling. A major advantage we now enjoy with our partners is that we are able – via an online portal – to see daily progress across every question as well as see how many interviews each individual interviewer is achieving. This live reporting is a major step forward, but one still needs to be adept in then handling its resultant file output. Over the years, we’ve found the best solution is achieved by having individual level data supplied directly to our partner – insight engineers – for processing and analysis in the UK rather than locally in Africa. On multi-country studies, this optimizes the time/quality/cost equation for everyone, including the local agency.

Qualitative research is much more variable: the main factor being access to training and education. Few local agencies can afford to invest in their executives and benefit from meaningful knowledge transfer within their networks. Those that do, rarely have the luxury of budget, time or resource to do so consistently. This is a shame as there are executives with the basic qualities to do well as moderators: excellent social skills, quick inquisitive minds and high levels of energy, but very few have had any real exposure or understanding of the common models of thinking used for marketing and communication. Combine this with the lack of opportunity to work closely with clients or to travel outside their country and the result is a struggle to bridge cultural differences. What this means in practice is it’s wise not to make any assumptions, to monitor the interviewing as closely as you can and keep reviewing the outcomes.

African Grey is therefore careful & selective in the use of common Western qualitative techniques such as projective and enabling techniques. The basic inspiration for these techniques came from the psychological concept of repression. In Africa, individual needs are often suppressed in favour of the social order and mores so it’s helpful to find ways to circumvent these pressures. What we’ve discovered is that most techniques can be used with some form of adaption (for example, brand imagery and the emotional connection that consumers have can often be better accessed through role play or narrative styles rather than the conventional personification approach).

Recruitment for qualitative research is, of course, also vital. Again the key is to invest time with the local agency and to provide very clear directions on the specification of the target audience, being prepared to double-check & verify. Given the high premium on success, wealth and status in many African countries it’s not surprising that ’respondents’ will over-claim their position to a recruiter. So, instead of reaching the desired decision-maker at the head of a business, you may actually be getting the number two or three - who may well not have any real power. The same problem can happen if you want to speak to consumers at the bottom of the pyramid due to the deep shame associated with poverty.

Unlike some of the jaded and cautious response that we encounter elsewhere, in Africa, interviews and market research are more likely to taken very seriously, BUT respondents commonly want to please the moderator and are very sensitive to the views of other participants. So the ‘truth’ is often rather embellished - often a bit of participant observation is much more fruitful: we find it useful to go to the respondents: be it in their homes, cars, shops, restaurants and watch them do what they would usually do and see what they really think of the product or service.

Because of the above, African Grey always does its own content analysis, reporting and debrief as over the years we have learnt it is best to avoid the slow delivery of multiple pages of reportage from local partners with little relevance to the business question in hand.

Finally, getting the best out of your market research investment in Africa is part art and part science. After the sweat and effort of getting the science right, you need to artfully combine it with the market context, the cultural backdrop and add a healthy dollop of common sense. We will talk more about this in a second article next month, sharing some useful statistics on populations, GCP and % economic growth.

Emil Brune Founder African Grey Bio

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