MY BIG FIVE: A front-row seat to AMRA 2018 Forum on Research in Diverse Africa

ESOMAR was delighted to to be once again a partner of AMRA (The African Market Research Association) jointly with other African market research associations, NIMRA (Nigeria), MSRA (Kenya) and SAMRA (South Africa) in producing the 2nd AMRA Foruym held in Nairobi on 22-23 February.

Diversity was the key focus of the forum. A fantastic line-up of presentations from all corners of Africa and beyond were selected, with more than 12 countries represented! The Forum was certainly the key event of the year for the African continent.

We wish to thank the Programme Committee for the enthusiasm and motivation shown throughout the whole preparation and at the Forum. Their excellent cooperation – together with the unrelenting work and dedication of the AMRA team – have been key to the success of the Africa Forum 2018!

Jonathan Karanja, AMRA Programme Committee & MSRA Member. Managing Partner, Frontier Consulting, Kenya tells us all about his experience:

MY BIG FIVE: A front-row seat to AMRA 2018 Forum on Research in Diverse Africa

In most countries, conference breaks are an opportunity to grab a fresh cup of coffee and use the bathroom. In Africa, it’s an opportunity to break out into dance, rehashing steps from various dance moves across the continent. This was the case at the just concluded 2nd AMRA Forum held in Nairobi Kenya.

The theme was Research in Diverse Africa, and diversity was in no short supply through the presentation of content, personalities and program activity during the 2 day forum. From Artificial Intelligence from IBM and the use of predictive modeling to help reduce bank queues in Lagos Nigeria, to “Wakanda” handshakes and selfie-snapping before presenting rich data on Africa’s youth; the 2nd AMRA forum had no shortage of color, cultural nuance and camaraderie among researchers and clients.

It’s almost impossible to put into words what the atmosphere felt like each day during the forum. The energy and engagement levels were somewhat intense at times, perhaps because of the novelty of such a gathering of market research professionals in Africa. The take outs from the forum are much easier to distill and detail in words. In keeping with the publicized, legendary Kenyan safari theme of THE BIG FIVE, here are some BIG FIVE highlights that were unique to the AMRA 2018 experience.

The African Insight Renaissance is REAL

It’s not just that the AMRA Forum timing seemed to coincide with global hype around the release of Black Panther, the movie which has done astoundingly well in Box Office Sales. There is a very palpable energy in Africa’s market research and it tells of a coming of age. The people, the practice and the purpose of market research have found ownership and resonance among practitioners and users.

There were lunch time conversations on expanding global spaces in forums such as World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR) to include Africa’s voice through the formation of an Africa Chapter. Iconic African brands such as Safaricom disputed global data norms through analysis of their own data to draw locally applicable conclusions. The customary view on politics and brands is that consumers are likely to buy or boycott a brand based on political impact. Safaricom has witnessed a new expression of brand loyalty with the emergence of brand advocates and brand defenders.

Initiatives from GFK Verein and BBC Media Action have embraced an initiative to train, skill and accredit African qualitative experts to provide depth to the mining of insights by African researchers. Using 360 video recording, the initiative is able to use footage of the good and bad practices, to raise a new crop of trained and tested moderators. AMRA interaction will now see more qualitative researchers volunteer for enhancement and growth of qualitative research.

The Collaborative Potential Is Powerful

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is Africa’s second largest country and the world’s 11th largest country by land size. Consider that in Kasai province, it is culturally unacceptable for women to speak publicly or in the presence of a man. Similarly, in other northern parts of the country, using the wrong local language can subject your research to local rejection on the suspicion that you are a government spy. Political, lingual, cultural and geographic diversity all greatly impact the market research practice. A major takeout is that without an intimate appreciation of local context and the strong under-currents of culture on a population it would be hard to accomplish any meaningful progress in market research. It would be inaccurate to interpret data without giving this consideration, plus raising an important practice of experiencing culture while collecting data. Global actors must rely on the skillful navigation of local research partners.

Advancement in practice and technology also means there is a place for knowledge share across African markets and across continents between researchers and between clients and researchers. AMRA Forum provided opportunities for the dialogue to start across local and global research firms, government agency and industry. Equally important is the conversation among young and experienced researchers. The opportunities are immense, and the benefits will only help to elevate the place of the insight industry in Africa’s future.

The Challenges of Diversity are Surmountable

Imagine Ethiopia and Mauritius taking center stage to spotlight diversity! One is a nation of close to 100 million people covering an equally vast land mass whereas the other is an island nation of slightly over a million people. How much diversity can there be in 1million people? How much diversity is found in 100 million citizen? Cue the erudite wonders of sampling methodologies and you will find just how hard it is to segment a sample of 1 million.

The general consensus is that Africa can no longer be viewed as one whole composite country. Boxing the entire population of the African consumer into one size fits all generalizations is a sure way to miss the many opportunities this vast markets holds. Brands must be prepared to study the uniquely diverse local contexts and adapt themselves to blend with the trend.

Presenters also showed how challenges of infrastructure are being overcome by mobile technology which has shown incredible uptake across Africa? In South Africa the rainbow nation, it was shown that it is possible to endear a brand to different market segments by identifying their unique identities and differentiators. All this is done while remaining true to the brand DNA.

The Championing of Africa’s representation is our collective responsibility

The room had a total representation of 24 countries, 16 of whom were African countries! There was clear excitement in the interaction of Anglophone and Francophone and Portuguese speaking practitioners from across Africa. North Africa to South Africa, West Africa to East Africa were all represented. There was a silent acknowledgement that working in silos isn’t the best for the continent, we needed to do more together. The reality is that advancements across the continent are shrinking the distance and creating a need to speak loud and proud of clients and MR professionals who have come of age in forging the future of insight generation in the Africa’s 52 markets.

This challenge was soundly administered to all Africa’s market research professionals present in the room by Chief Guest, Polycarp Igathe, the immediate former Deputy Governor of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. His plea was simple and concise: Africa’s policy experts and business leaders would do less of “boiling oceans” and “fishing in dry ponds” if market researchers helped them make more informed decisions backed by sound data insights. He challenged the sitting to come up with a “new expression of value” to ensure all sectors are utilizing data in decision making.

Social Media is an untapped wellspring of insights for Africa

Africans are magnanimous. They are warm, optimistic people who are known for their generous spirit in hospitality and so you may be forgiven for thinking that this was the only merit behind the award for best presentation going to Tory Gentes from the United States of America.

It is known that Africa has the youngest population in the world, and this population holds the key to Africa’s future and stability. This segment of the population, owing to advancement in mobile connectivity is also increasingly connected to social platforms as the cost of data reduces. This award was therefore not about a cliché. It was a well-deserved win from a stellar presentation on how social media can greatly improve market research outcomes on the continent. The recognition that social media and Africa’s highly connected, burgeoning millennial population is a low-stress, perfect match for market research made this win very well deserved among many delegates. This eye opener of a presentation helped bring home a more thoughtful appreciation for how social media can be the tool that overleaps infrastructural obstacles and in-efficiencies that challenge qualitative market research successes in Africa.

The ability to imagine what more is possible for market research in Africa is definitely one of the talking points that will continue into the AMRA 2019 Forum in Lagos, Nigeria. Both clients and researchers will from henceforth, embrace 2018 with new motivation to excel in practice and share learnings, collaborate and champion insight, to nurture and embrace technology. AMRA is elevating the practice of market research indeed.

Congratulations to the Award winners, who were Tory Gentes (The Palmerston Group) winning the Best Speakers Award for her presentation on “10 Tinder Dates in a Week”, 1st Runners Up went to Phyllis Macfarlane (ESOMAR Foundation) and Anu Mohammed (BBC Media Action Nigeria) for their paper on “The Future of market and social research is qualitative”. 2nd Runners Up went to John Paul Murunga & Njeri Wangari (Geopoll Kenya) for their paper “Understanding the African Millennials: A misunderstood generation