Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

In a tight economy, data is the factor that can make a difference to business success, becoming the currency in which everyone wants to invest. More specifically, the world wants data on Africa and Africa itself needs to gain insights of its own to guide business strategies, decisions and forecasts.

Multinationals on the continent have a dismaying tendency simply to repeat the same research study in all 70 African markets. This is the result of research becoming commoditised and contracted by procurement officers – much like shopping for the ingredients of a five-star meal on the basis of cost, not provenance and flavour.

It’s a cost equation that dumbs down market research and does not allow for an understanding of the nuance of a local situation. Often local offices must execute global orders that give very little space to localise or innovate methodologies in niche markets. Research projects should be launched locally, so that appropriate local skills can be leveraged to produce enlightening and useful local outcomes.

This is reflected in the fact that millennials, who will make up half the consumer base worldwide in 10 years’ time, want to engage only with meaningful brands that strive to understand the local market where they operate and treat it with respect. As such, success in Africa comes only by having a finger on the pulse of Africa. 

And what of big data – the buzzword on every marketer’s lips? It can be too easy to succumb to the idea of big data – which is really a sexy way of describing the enormous amount of data that is floating around. The catch is that more data is not necessarily better – you need the best data available. Any data is useful only in so far as it provides leverage for clients who want to understand, engage with and manage all their stakeholder groups – which means that well-curated data at a local level is vital.

Unless you have people on your team who know how to make sense of data for your purposes and can drill into it to establish the facts and profiles you need, you are more likely to end up with data fatigue than to reap any benefits from big data. Working with the data to enable a strong connection for the client is key to this, as is finding innovative ways to drive home the insights the data reveals.   Accessing smart data in this way leads to immediate and agile decision-making. Agile responses to dynamic market conditions can then drive business growth.

For research to be valuable, those working with it must have a creative approach, an understanding of what data can do, as well as sophisticated numerical skills. If not, there is a risk that the assumptions and deductions they make on behalf of your brand could steer you in the wrong direction.  On the qualitative side, researchers should also develop their eye for context by having an up-to-date knowledge about the wider world. This helps counter biases and preferences.  

Ultimately, research companies need to invest in people – with the right skills to present data in a smart format for clients to reap optimal benefits from the insights.

The big take-out: Data on Africa should be researched by people who have insights into local culture and nuances. The way in which data is presented and assimilated determines how useful it is to clients.

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