It is important that companies take an open approach when operating and expanding in Africa by undertaking credible market research to fully understand local conditions, posits independent market research company Ask Afrika account director Jean Moolman.
“While traditionally, South Africa is perceived as Africa’s economic hub, and serves as the entry point for most clients investing across the continent, it is important to understand that South Africa is not representative of the continent, which is diverse.”
As such, Ask Afrika and its clients have learnt that the approach to operating and investing in South Africa cannot be transferred directly to another country on the continent.
“A lot of nuances need to be applied when working in another country, and our clients need to have access, and insight, into the local market conditions of a particular country to inform their approach.”
Ask Afrika conducts primary research and data collection on behalf of clients across a range of industries for those wishing to operate in a particular region in Africa. This research assists the client in understanding the “African consumer”.
Moolman clarifies that this is not an umbrella term, but that it rather refers to local market specifics in particular countries. This enables clients to “go into these markets with their eyes open” and be aware of the market needs and requirements, as well as develop their strategy and/or position their products effectively.
Moolman informs that this research comprises a variety of methods that differ according to the country. In South Africa, it can typically be easily done through efficient methods, such as online or telephonic methods. However, the country’s diversity presents a more in-depth challenge, in that the company has to survey different demographics to ensure the full spectrum of the market is covered with different methods to reach the full range of consumers, whereas many other African countries are more homogenous and, therefore, do not require this approach.
However, unlike South Africa, it is difficult to reach the majority of consumers in most African countries, using the aforementioned methods. Subsequently, the bulk of the research involves company personnel conducting face-to-face interviews with people in the particular country to glean data and obtain reliable insights.
This can incur additional costs, such as travel expenses, but Moolman notes that it is an investment. “When a client is looking to invest in Africa, the invaluable quality data they receive to inform large investment decisions offsets the costs of conducting research.”
It is important to be attuned to political climates of different countries and cultural sensitivities, Moolman points out. Ask Afrika also conducts social research on the continent, which helps clients to understand customers’ perspectives and lives.
Moolman warns against making assumptions about countries in Africa, which is especially prevalent when operating from a South African starting point, as assumptions tend to be made about aspects such as infrastructure, transport and ease of doing business. There- fore, he emphasises the importance of being open-minded, and trying to understand the consumers and conditions prevalent in a particular country and adjusting the approach accordingly.
“These misconceptions should always be questioned as the continent hosts enormous potential for business. Many perceive Africa to be poor and dangerous, but there is an incredible amount of wealth and consumer power, no different from those in countries on other continents.”
While consumerism may manifest in different ways, Moolman notes that every country is a potential growth opportunity if the correct strategy, guided by understanding, is used. It may be difficult to do business in some countries, but it is not impossible – the challenges are different, but not unachievable, he adds.
Information, therefore, needs to come from an inside-out, rather than an outside-in perspective. Ask Afrika boasts extensive experience on the continent, comprising 22 years’ worth in South Africa, and 15 years’ worth in the rest of Africa.