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November 21, 2018

Marketing medicine

Market research: Don't make a nuisance of your brand



I’m a big fan of market research. In the same way that an aeroplane pilot has to be a big fan of clear windscreens. If you can’t look ahead, you can’t fly your plane safely. If you don’t use market research, you risk setting the wrong direction for your brand.

Good market research takes us out of our comfort zone. Away from the water cooler and the canteen scuttlebutt. It helps board members (particularly non-executives who don’t work inside the business every day) to gain an objective perspective of the business.

Good research is also a good way of killing sacred cows (example 1: "The MD’s wife listens to XYZ FM, so it is obviously very popular". Example 2: "TV advertising is expensive so we will never use it")

Good research helps you to answer the most important marketing questions. It provides you with a pulse-check on how people react to your brand – both rationally and emotionally and it digs out the insights that you need to shape your brand promise. Without good research you might as well plan your brand strategy with the office cat.

Having said this, we have to acknowledge the other side of the coin. Even the best research will never replace your obligation to make decisions. However not all research is done well.

Let’s deal with the first issue. We need to be clear that market research is one source of intelligence, to be weighed and assessed with data and anecdotal information from other sources – staff, customers, trade, competitors and the media. The decisions about your brand and business remain yours, and yours alone. Very often I have sat in research debriefs and heard the research company recommend action based solely on what respondents have said. "Make your brand more affordable" is the kind of nonsense weak researchers spout when they have been told by respondents that "it is a bit expensive." Of course respondents will say that. I say it when I go to buy a melon at the market.

In fairness to researchers, they are trying to add value when they make recommendations. And they do have long experience of marketers sitting through debriefs and then either asking "so what do we do now?" or going back to their offices and doing nothing.

The second issue is about the quality of the research process, which very much depends on the professional stature of the research company. Much work has been done over the last five to ten years to improve research standards in Africa. The Pan-African Market Research Organisation is just one body that has been active in the sector.

But there are plenty of examples of research poorly executed. While this can happen at any part of the research process, getting it wrong in the recruitment stage really does jeopardise a study.

Recently a friend of mine received an SMS from an international research company in the region. My friend is a busy person who runs a Kenyan-based international fashion business; so you will understand that her time is precious. The SMS read as follows (punctuation and spelling unchanged):

“Hi. This is (name) from (research company) .we are a Marketing research firm. apparently we are doing a study on a project on paints. generally itz how often ypu do the paintings and renovation. Its going to be a focus group discussion. On Friday 20/03/2015 time to be communicated or rather what time would it be okay with you to attend ithe discussion? It will be at Dari restaurant in Karen. If its okay with you, just let me know. My cell phone inumber is….

Reading between the lines, this researcher was trying to recruit upmarket respondents for a discussion about interior decorating and paint. Now that’s an interesting subject, and a growing trend here in East Africa. So my friend might well have gone along to participate. But I ask you, how would you respond to an invitation from someone who can’t spell? Or uses their own lazy personal SMS idiom to represent not only their company, but also a client brand wishing to ask the opinion of the market?

Here, as with any aspect of marketing, success depends on understanding your target audience. The more upmarket the audience, the more demanding your communication standards must be. Patrick Maina, Head of Qualitative Research at Ipsos, has this to say:

“For upmarket target groups, we do not conduct focus group discussions. Instead, we either do one-on-one interviews at home or do interviews at a place and time of their convenience. The approach we take to recruit this target is formal – via a proper email and in some cases supported by a letter. This is only done by one of our senior managers, who also makes a follow up with the contact and remains their link throughout the process.’

This approach seems to me to combine an appropriate level of formality and respect, together with the reassurance that there is only one person for the respondent to deal with. Nothing makes senior people angrier than being passed from pillar to post.

So Ipsos have clearly understood this target audience. Make sure your research company understands yours.




Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

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