Social distancing is being taken to the extreme
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing was one of the main ways to prevent the spread of the virus. We didn't anticipate that this isolation would persist – even as the virus changed, African consumers' behaviour did not. What has become apparent is that this epidemic, much like the virus itself, could have long-lasting side effects. Consumers' reluctance to participate in market research post-pandemic was highlighted as a core issue, which currently has no viable resolution.
"You don't even see people's expressions because they're wearing masks. People are becoming more aggressive and are definitely not as forthcoming as they were a good few years back, so it's making research on the whole more difficult."
As Africans, we are woefully unequipped
Because of this behavioural shift, face-to-face research has all but been retired. In an attempt to adapt to this sudden and drastic change in the business, researchers tried to make the transition to online methods. While, in South Africa, we managed to (mostly) make this transition seamlessly, our African counterparts were again met with stumbling blocks. Researchers battle daily against infrastructure challenges, low levels of digital literacy and scepticism due to rampant online scams.
It's not just respondents who are still engaging in social distancing
Think of all the business meetings that took place when Covid-19 first hit two years ago. Companies changed or revised their strategies, retrenched staff, reduced their budget, etc. They failed to consider that consumers had the same meetings in their households – revising their strategies and cutting back on their budgets.
When faced with difficulties and the unknown of a pandemic, one would think that businesses would want to be more in touch with consumers to find out what they're thinking, how they are feeling, how they’ve been affected by the pandemic and how their purchasing behaviour may change.
In our experience, clients tend to cut back on their marketing spend when making budget revisions; naturally, the market research industry was seriously affected by this. During those first few difficult months, there was little to no research activity happening, and many of our colleagues in Africa are still recovering from this.
"We don't have many local companies interested in market research. Most of the research that we do is from external multinational companies. You rarely find local companies engaging in market research; that's a challenge, so you depend on multinational companies."
An optimistic outlook
It's not all doom and gloom, though. While the African market research industry currently faces many challenges, some of which have possibly not yet been unearthed, our firm belief is that the tenacity and thought leadership within our professional community leaves room for optimism.
Back in 1963, when the Organisation of Africa Unity was founded, Africa became a pioneer – the first continent to focus on continental unity, which is recognised annually during Africa Month and on Africa Day (25 May). The feedback from these online research discussions illustrates the dire need for the African industry representatives to focus on unity to address and solve these challenges. Whilst most countries have industry bodies to rely on for support, some of our colleagues have not been afforded the same opportunity. There is a strong call to leverage industry bodies to create more awareness about the industry and rely on these associations to ensure that market research quality standards and professionalism are upheld.