Market research in Africa: a mobile solution?

Market research in Africa: a mobile solution?

Market research has long been a problem on a continent with more than 1,500 languages, 200 ethnic groups and a legacy of poor infrastructure. Now, mobile is helping to overcome such challenges.

Gathering data on African markets and consumers has long been a challenge. In the past, a lack of reliable information meant that companies, such as international food business Olam, put significant investment into producing their own data.

Collecting accurate data can be difficult, however, and becomes all the more problematic when multinationals try applying inappropriate market research techniques learned in Europe or North America to emerging markets. For example, the ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity of many African countries can make it difficult to ask the right questions in the right way, while a legacy of poor roads and communications infrastructure sometimes blocks attempts to reach people in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the informal economy is still going strong – the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis estimates that the proportion of informal employment in the country actually rose from 70% in 2000 to 83% in 2012. Some observers – including Ghana’s Vice-President, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur – see it as an engine for growth, but it makes it difficult to come up with reliable figures on market size, for instance.

Another difference that needs to be taken into account is psychology: rapid economic growth causes significant variations. According to Spire Research and Consulting: “The pace of economic growth gets translated into faster development and change in the consumer psyche. As emerging market citizens experience rapid social change and rapid income increases, consumer profiles can evolve much more rapidly... This in turn leads to more brand churn and shorter product life cycles.”

But the outlook is improving for market research. Communications networks, transportation and literacy rates are improving across the continent, making traditional strategies more viable. In addition, Africa is increasingly a mobile continent – nine out of ten South Africans and Nigerians now have a cellphone – meaning that researchers are able to get around the problems caused by unreliable infrastructure in the meantime. And because people have their mobiles on them constantly, they can be reached for their opinion at any time.

Mobile connectivity is also providing useful tools. Sagaci Research, a firm that offers a pan-African market research service, now issues field surveyors with tablets for better quality and instant availability of data.

Providing it is conducted in an ethical waymobile offers interesting opportunities to get around the challenges of market research and gain access to populations that have traditionally been out of reach – in Africa and elsewhere around the world.

Rob Coston CPL Reporter
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