Africa and Middle East. The Last Frontier. The only region which is still pretty much untapped by marketers and market researchers.
What comes to your mind when you hear “Africa” or “Middle East”? Do you imagine natural beauty? Arabian Desert, Kilimanjaro Mountain, elephants grazing on savannah? Or, do you see some manmade wonders, historical and contemporary? Pyramids of Egypt, skyscrapers of Dubai, the ancient town of Timbuktu? Or, perhaps, your imagination offers you some pictures from the recent CNN news about military conflicts, people dying of starvation, and refugees fleeing their home countries?
Well, all these associations make sense. AME has everything of that. However, what rarely comes to mind is its phenomenal economic growth. Yes, Africa and Middle East are still much poorer and economically underdeveloped compared to many other regions, but they are quickly catching up. The social-economic transformation which is happening here remind us another that occurred in China and Asia Pacific thirty years ago. It is not a surprise that many multinationals look at the AME region as the “next (and the last) big one”.
If the region continues to grow as fast as it has been doing for the last ten years, we will get a half billion of middle class consumers by 2025. This is of course a very tempting target for marketers and, if international business continue its expansion in AME, that will surely create a huge opportunity for market researchers.
Doing research in Africa and the Middle East can bring a lot of surprises to those who are not familiar with the region. Some basic things you take for granted may not work here because of cultural or infrastructure restrictions. At the same time, these cultural, religious or infrastructural challenges can give you a unique opportunity to successfully employ methods that you cannot imagine using in the developed world.
I believe that Africa and Middle East are capable of not only borrowing experience from the more sophisticated markets but also sharing some experience as well. What we have plenty in AME, and what is becoming scarce in the developed world, is the desire to understand context. In the US and Europe researchers take for granted many aspects of the respondents’ lifestyle, mentality and value system. A lot of qualitative projects have to do with communication tests, pack tests, product concept tests, etc. We do not spend as much time understanding the consumer as a human being, a personality, a member of a certain national culture. In Africa or Middle East we do not have a choice but to study all these characteristics even though we may just be doing a simple ad test.
I may be exaggerating but I think Africa and Middle East research can help shift attention from the utilitarian aspects of qualitative research to a more holistic understanding of consumers as people.
Sergey Sheykhetov is a head of qualitative practice area at TNS East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, and will be presenting on qualitative research in Africa and Middle East at the Worldwide Conference.