MARKET RESEARCH: Finding Fijian Way

Commercial research is a critical area and a useful tool for marketing companies in most developed countries, and a discipline that is practiced as a specialist service by research agencies.
27 Jun 2015 09:07
MARKET RESEARCH: Finding Fijian Way

Commercial research is a critical area and a useful tool for marketing companies in most developed countries, and a discipline that is practiced as a specialist service by research agencies.
There are a number of very well known multinational research groups who operate in a significant number of countries.
These people tend to work in specialized areas of research and often have very sophisticated ways of working that they have developed and, in many cases, own and protect by creating legal ownership.
Research is also an important tool of government for understanding what is happening amongst the population, what the needs of different groups are and if they are being met, the future usage patterns of government services and infrastructure and the likely patterns of demand.
One of the largest pieces of government research is the census, an overall pattern of the population groups in the country.
And, of course, the political parties use professional research heavily around election time.

It is difficult to get businesses to talk about how they use their resources to carry out research.
In preparing this report many marketing businesses were contacted and a number interviewed, but there was a reluctance to be specific in the level of research done and the way (called the methodology in the research business) they conducted various research.
There is a broad feeling that research is important and that it is a useful tool, but there are also concerns that there are very limited resources to carry out specialized research projects. This is more often articulated by expatriate managers, but is also a concern for locals.
There are a number of individuals offering research services as well as one well known company, Tebbutt Research, and some of the universities, who tend to limit themselves to their own specific disciplines, but there is an overall belief that there is a very limited choice.
Why do they want a choice? Because they are concerned that they may not be getting the best methodology, or the best analysis of the research result, and they would like to be able to shop around.
This attitude assumes that they marketing people are versed enough in the complexities of research, and they generally admit that they are not, which is why they need the services in the first place.
Many of the marketing companies in Fiji also market product for multi-national brands and the head office has a way of working that is strongly based on research, so the local companies need to get research done.
So what sort of research is needed? Research falls broadly under two methodologies, qualitative and quantitative.
Both look at people’s attitudes, actions, wants, needs and such but they use different ways to get this information.
Qualitative tries to create an understanding of the underlying reasons and motives of the people under study while quantitative seeks to give relative values to attitudes and actions.
For example, qualitative will seek the reasons why people buy a certain brand, use a certain service of vote a certain way and the quantitative methodology will try to identify how many people, or what percentage of the population does this.
There are cross-overs in the use of the methodologies, but broadly this applies.

As an example, some five years ago the Fiji Sun undertook a research study to understand the needs of readers in Fiji.
The first phase was qualitative and used focus groups to answer three questions, what did they want in a newspaper, were they getting that, and what else would they like.
The results of this study were very clear and provided a good understanding of the things that should be included in the paper, but there was no reliable indication of how important each of the editorial issues was to readers as a group and which was important to different groups of readers.
So a quantitative study over a large area was conducted using the editorial areas identifies in the first study, but ranking them in order of importance for each reader.
Results were then examined using different target groups such as age, race, location, gender, and the importance of the different content was clearly identified.
From this data, significant editorial changes were made to the Sun and in the next two years the paper moved from second place in the market to a significantly strong number one position.
Reader research continues to assist in making sure that editorial content is kept up to date with changing market needs.
Another area of research is opinion polling, where a single issue is reviewed to understand what people think. This is generally simple to do and results are quiet accurate.

Again, the Fiji Sun undertook quantitative research in the lead up to the last general election and the results were within the statistical margin of error.
To ensure accuracy the collection of data was done independently of the paper through face-to-face interviews so that any readership bias was not influencing the results reported.
An important area of information for marketing people is market off-take data or market share.
Many industries can collect accurate data from government statistics, but there are a wide range of products and services that do not have this facility, particularly grocery brands.
Overseas there are a number of research groups that provide this information, but it is not easily available in Fiji and marketing companies use guess work and industry knowledge to report this information to their overseas principals. Clearly this is not accurate and can lead to a bad strategy decision in the marketing mix, but there is no effective alternative at the moment.

Media audience research is also very limited in Fiji, with different media keeping the results of their studies to themselves and providing selective data to the marketing companies. International standard research is very expensive (one media company got a quote of over $250,000) which is unaffordable here.
One of the biggest complaints from marketing companies is that the cost of research in Fiji is too high and in many product categories is an unaffordable proportion of the total sales of the brand.
This is not a result of the cost of the research but of the limited size of most markets in Fiji.
The cost would not increase if the market was five times as big and the relativity would be more acceptable.
Cost is what provides accuracy. Studies can be conducted more economically, but the margin for error in the results increases in proportion to the reduction in price.
There are ways of getting acceptably accurate results for a lesser price, generally by having a smaller number of respondents, but then the data can’t be reliably broken down by sub-groups. In many cases this doesn’t matter, but researchers appear to be reluctant to decrease reliability.
One other area concerns the marketers and that is the quality of strategic advice given by researchers.
Many are academics who have no experience in the business world, but apply theoretical strategies that often disregard reality in the market place.

Some recommend research that turns out to be non-actionable because of issues they did not understand, particularly with supermarket brands.
There is a real need for research in Fiji in many areas but there is also a need for study designs that accept the reality of the market size and tailor the study to suit.
Many companies will accept smaller studies and the limitations these bring provided they are advised in advance, as the choice for them is either that or nothing at all.
One thing is sure, there is an opportunity for more research providers, but they need to understand the market in Fiji and tailor their prices and study design accordingly.

Nadi’s John Ross has long and extensive experience in marketing and research, in Fiji and internationally.

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