The Research Scene Is Back In Fiji

Back in the late 1990s, there was a very active and innovative marketing research sector in Fiji, based mainly in Suva. It was mainly driven by large and well-respected foreign
22 Oct 2016 11:00
The Research Scene Is Back In Fiji
John Ross

Back in the late 1990s, there was a very active and innovative marketing research sector in Fiji, based mainly in Suva.

It was mainly driven by large and well-respected foreign specialist companies who worked here with a combination of expat and local staff.

These were the people providing the education for entrants to the research industry.

The university also had a number of studies going at any one time, financed in the main by the large international bodies such as the United Nations and the EU, divisions of which were active throughout the South Pacific in many areas of social engineering.

These bodies channelled research funding either directly or, more generally, through non-government organisations set up to service the international community.

While a significant volume of this research was not marketing oriented in the usual sense, it did provide some base income that made it possible for the marketing and marketing communications practitioners to survive financially in what would otherwise be a very small market.

And the involvement of the international research companies did lift the standard of the work overall, with positive benefits for everyone.

It bought the evolving techniques and methodologies to Fiji and provided world standard experience to local staff.

At the same time many of the local marketing people were going overseas to study or to work in the head offices of the largest international companies and they were exposed to the research opportunities there.

Aligned to this, the multi-national marketers, the Unilevers, Colgates, Coca Colas and many other leaders started to take an interest in the South Pacific, as it provided an opportunity to expand their coverage and add incremental volume for their international brands.

And they were certainly persistent users of marketing and communications research, so the total market grew.

The demand tempted a number of local people to break out and start their own research service business and with this the business became marginal financially.

A number of the expats left for greener pastures and the quality of the services seemed to fall away.

There were still a small number of internationally supported operators, but to survive they needed to charge rates that covered the work they did and since a significant part of the backroom work was done overseas, costs were high.

Many local marketers shopped around and looked for competitive prices so the technically weaker people had a short period of plenty.

But eventually the marketers in Fiji realised that the studies they were commissioning because of the need to cut costs to match the lower price expectations was leading to lower quality results.

The large number of NGOs had also learnt from their time working with the international professionals and they believed that they could perform the functions in house, using mainly their own staff.

This was attractive because the reduced cost of research allowed for a larger percentage of the grants to be directed to projects that the organisations wanted to expand.

Again, this change made the professional research business even more marginal. The number of companies offering research services fell and only a few remained


Using professionals

But after about 10 years of stagnation the users of research started to again use the professionals.

The main reason was the pressure from the multi-national organisations, both the commercial marketers and the government organisations, to provide research studies that were more technically refined and were backed by the creditability of the international researchers.

So the pendulum has begun to swing back. It is still very early days but there are promising signs.

Now the users of the research product are more demanding and have higher expectations of the sort of studies they want to be involved with.

There are signs that there are more studies being requested that will provide actionable results and not only justify the activities of the NGQs.

Studies are being designed to provide more insightful directions and to be more accurate in their predictions of likely future attitudinal trends, of possible needs that are not visible today and of creating an understanding of issues that have an impact on the lives and well being of significant numbers of people.

Research often was used to answer questions that were being asked of the purchaser of the research but now there is evidence of a trend to use qualitative studies (with many different methodologies) to determine the questions that need to be answered.

There is a belief in significant sections of the business community, the funding governments and the politicians that research has a very real task in the development of the Fiji nation to ensure that the activities being undertaken are for the benefit of the people.

One of the most obvious issues at the moment is the phenomena of climate change and the attitudes of the community that need to be changed if the issues related to climate change are to be managed effectively

While it is true that not all research is good or even needed, it is also true that it is critical to understand the impacts of issues and the way these issues can be managed.

Many of the management tools are attitude or communication based and the resurgence of a wider choice quality research in Fiji holds promise for everyone.

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