Marketing Research: Foreign Agencies are no Threats to Indigenous Professional Operators, Competition Engenders Healthy Rivalry
Lanre Fasakin breathes, talks, dreams and eats Marketing Research. This has been his first love since graduation with a 2nd Class Upper degree from the University of Lagos in 1986 and it has remained his No. 1. He started out what has become an enviable career as an interviewer and rose through the ranks working in some of the most formidable research agencies in the country. Armed with best-in-class local and international trainings in Communications, marketing, research and management, Lanre today runs Communications and Marketing Research Group (CMRG) Ltd. which he set up in 1999 as CEO. Since 2000, CMRG has handled over 700 projects for indigenous and multinational businesses across industries, governments and non-governmental organisations. In this interview with BrandCrunch, the former President of the Nigeria marketing Research Association (NIMRA) touches on knotty industry issues such as “invasion” by foreign agencies, roles of marketing research in brand management, how to select your research agency, building a competitive economy among others. Excerpts
So why is marketing research necessary in building brands, what’s special about this subject?
Before the brand was born, research was there. Research is what tells the brand the position it will take in the marketplace. Research is there to check the extent to which you are able to meet consumer needs. That is the essence. Research helps the brand to optimise its potential in the marketplace. It gives the brand strategic focus and show whether it aligns with the needs of consumers or not. It also tells whether your communication is resonating well or not with target market; whether the pack sizes that currently exist are adequate for current needs. Research can help a brand improve its bottom-line. It tells the brand whether or not your competition is having that edge. Research, in summary, is the lamppost through which a brand can make progress. That’s why you have pricing research, communication research, packaging research. Every element that makes up a brand needs research to be in tune with the current marketing needs.
It has variously been touted that the results from research stays on the shelf and are not deployed to proper use? Is this true and why?
My experience has been that the clients accept your findings if it confirms their stereotypes. Where research tends to say something different from their own thinking, they will knock it and criticise the process. But in eight out of ten cases, the client that commissioned the research already had an objective. In case of market research or social research, they use it. When you find research not being used is when you do a research for the public sector, where the government does not have the political will to execute. There is more to it, but usually, firms use market research. But they are more enthusiastic when it confirms what they always wanted to know. There has been a long battle with brand managers in terms of what research says. But don’t forget that the brands in question are multinationals. They are forced to do it by their parent companies.
In the situation that we are in the country today, research could play a defining role and we have a couple of them, why are we still here? Or are the researches faulty in themselves?
In terms of solutions, all over the world, I doubt if there is any country in the world that does it better than Nigeria. In our own setting, the day another minister comes, the findings are rubbished. Irrespective of change in administration, we should make government run as a continuum. I have seen the research done on fertilizer under the Akinwumi Adesina, the former Agriculture Minister. Findings there are still relevant for the next 50 years, but I am surprised that nobody is talking about them now. I am not too excited working for the public sector because the lifespan of the research is just the lifespan of the government.
Recently there seem to be an onslaught of foreign research companies into the Nigerian market, is this a threat to the business of local players and what is the attraction for these companies?
Let me say that the market is still ours in Nigeria. But there has to be a reason global players are coming down. It shows there is a huge potential to be tapped in Nigeria, and to their credit, they are in Nigeria and still operate with Nigerians. So we welcome their presence. Global agencies seem to have an edge because most of the decisions are taken from the centre, that’s the Western world.
If a brief was approved by a global brand in New York, by default the Nigerian version will be done by that same agency which got it in New York. No disrespect to big names, but in terms of content the market is still ours. Those making the big names thrive are still Nigerians like us and we are colleagues in the industry. They don’t have any advantage on the jobs that are sourced from Nigeria, but they have an edge on briefs that are centrally sourced.
Some research briefs handled by local players sometimes do not conform to reality. Isn’t this why indigenous firms are at a disadvantage?
The field of research is pretty much like any other field. We have good lawyers; we have not-so-good lawyers. We have excellent doctors and those who struggle. Don’t also forget that there is a difference between experience and skills. The good researcher is someone that combines both. The ethos of our profession is that a good researcher should know something about everything and everything about something. I am sure discerning clients will do their own research before taking a decision.
It owes a lot to the experience of the researcher. Sometimes what you see in a report needs someone to debrief you so that you can get the insight. It’s not down to whether a research was done by a Nigerian or foreign firm; it’s about the objectives, the techniques deployed to achieve the objectives and the insights behind the figures you are putting out there.
How can the client ensure the integrity of the data he’s getting from the agency in view of the sea of unqualified or half baked practitioners?
The research industry cannot be judged in isolation from the larger society. There is a lot of phony “practitioners” across board and all sectors. That’s why it behoves on the clients to be more discerning. Let your brief go to a research agency that has stood the test of time. Ask them, who have you worked for? What is your pedigree in this industry? Let me see the profile of your executive team; let me know the quality control measures you put in place. What measures are in place for the integrity of the data to be guaranteed? So the client should also ask the agency questions. Having said that, there is the Nigerian Marketing Research Association (NIMRA) that is sold absolutely to the idea of data integrity. I was the president and during my tenure, one of the things we did was to have our members adhere to international best practices. Gone are the days when pen and paper are used. I am very happy about the influx of global agencies into our market. They have succeeded in helping us to up the ante. These days, pen and paper questionnaires are not there anymore.
To address your question, quality control starts in the mind of the interviewer. It starts with the welfare of the interviewer. If the interviewer is well taken care of; if he knows that his wage cannot be delayed; his transport fare will be provided adequately, he will work.
How does CMRG as an agency ensure data integrity taking cognizance of the human factor?
I am not always ashamed to say that I started my career as an interviewer. Yes, I made a good grade in school—Second Class Upper Division, University of Lagos, but the fact that I was an interviewer first few months of my career helped me to appreciate the challenges interviewers go through. As an agency, we train very well. Before a project starts, there is the pre-field training we do, which takes days. What we are trying to do is to ensure that the objectives of the typical interview are well understood by the interviewers. We take them through the nuances, and every word in the questionnaire is explained. There is a question we usually ask them, ‘If you are to explain what we have done here today to someone who is not here, how would you go about it?’ We will need the interviewer to understand every word. That is followed by the mock interview. Somebody acts as an interviewer and another person acts as a respondent and we simulate what is likely to happen. After this stage, we do the pilot phase. The questionnaire is now usable and workable but you just go out there and do the respondent selection as it would appear on the project. After that, you can now say you are ready. Now what we do to ensure quality control is this, during the pilot phase, you will be able to know the minimum duration the interview will last. That is now scripted. We have the electronic version of the project these days. So we script the minimum duration expected of the project. If the interview is to last one hour thirty minutes but somebody goes out there and brings back an interview that lasted for one hour twenty minutes, it is automatically voided. That makes an interviewer do the right thing.
There is also what we call the Group Interview Technique. Here, the interviewers go together, led by the supervisor. They go as a team. In our own case, we provide the company bus, we go as a team and the supervisor is there to check what’s going on (we call it spot-check). We see what is going on and the questions that are not properly administered. If there is a need to go back, we go back. After that, we synchronise the survey and it lands in a bucket. We have a situation room and there are people that will look at it and ensure it went well. It takes an agency that is experienced and worth its salt to do that. Just like we have people passionate about procedures, we also have mushrooming and not-so-rooted agencies. The client should be discerning enough to know where he will get value.
How will you be sure that respondents have given you accurate answers to guarantee data integrity?
When a questionnaire is designed, there is another question that will test each of the questions. There is a consistency check the questionnaire must pass through. No question is a stand-alone. There are other variables in the questionnaire that will check the questions. That is why if you give your questionnaire to a professional agency, you will avoid interviewer or respondents fatigue and chances is that your error margin will be at an acceptable limit.
How can marketing research contribute to the Nigerian economy?
It can help brands grow. If brands grow, the country’s gross domestic product grows. It can help existing brands appreciate their potential, thereby creating employment. Marketing research enables a brand to move from a zero awareness level to 10 to 20 percent awareness level and more.
When the fortunes of brands grow, you see people having more production lines. By extension, it will have a multiplier effect on employment and the GDP. At every point, we are always fine-tuning how formulations can change. It is instrumental in improving the local raw material content of a product. In the place of imported oil, it enables a firm to use palm oil to make soap, for instance. It enables you to make a product test to show that this one manufactured with a local raw material is acceptable or not. If you are able to achieve that, the product moves from being a foreign raw material-based product to a local raw material-based product. And you know the multiplier effect on the economy.
For some time now, we have been talking about cassava bread but all to no avail. Is it a failure of research?
Market research will not force consumers to change their preferences. Market research helps the manufacturer to identify the preferences of the consumer. Let’s always have that at the back of our minds. Market research plays the mediatory role between consumers on one hand and producers on the other hand. Market research is what has happened to the old Omo to become a new Omo detergent.
You cannot make changes without taking consumers along. If cassava bread is not flying, ask yourself, to what extent is it aligned with the bread that consumers want to eat? Rather than jump from 100 percent wheat flour to 100 percent cassava flour, let’s start with the combination. You may start with 70-30 or 80-20. If you do it, you gradually move up.
What is the biggest challenge facing marketing research in Nigeria?
Our biggest challenge as professionals in marketing ch is the incidence of very juicy briefs going into the hands of non-research agencies. Because of the nomenclature management consultants carry, the companies coming into the country are comfortable giving research briefs to them and not research agencies.
Research can kill business, just like it saves them. Are there things you have put in place in your association to ensure some level of sanity in the industry?
Training is one of them. Before an average interviewer goes out to conduct marketing research interviews, he must have a basic training in the area of data collection. It’s key. At some point we collaborated with GfK a German company and leader in marketing research. The company was brought in to do interviewer accreditation training in Nigeria. We are also very passionate about quality control measures, both in-office and in-field. Survey cannot rise above the field work on which it is based. The fieldwork is not done by PhD holders or research executives. How do you ensure that the interviewer, who is maybe an OND holder, does your job with integrity? You make sure that his welfare is a concern to you. In our own case, we provide buses to take them in and out. We give them lunch allowances. The guy knows that he will not be left in the rain. The interviewer feels appreciated. Thirdly, technology has really helped. The onus is on the client to ensure the brief goes to an agency that is professional and tech-savvy.