John Paul Murunga is GeoPoll’s Regional Director for East Africa, and oversees our business development efforts in East Africa. Below is an abbreviated version of a conversation he had with Shannon McCrocklin, Marketing Specialist, about his experience in market research and what excites him about GeoPoll’s work.
Shannon McCrocklin: Tell me about your background before you came to GeoPoll – what space did you work in?
John Paul Murunga: I am a statistician by training and on top of that an Accredited marketing professional from the Chartered Institute of Marketing in the UK. Before I came to GeoPoll I was working as a marketing research consultant with a focus on commercial or consumer research. Prior to GeoPoll, I worked with Synovate and then Ipsos, and earlier I was with Nielsen. Hence, I am a research industry person out-and-out.
SM: What drew you to GeoPoll and how long have you been with the team?
JPM: I have been with GeoPoll for 4 and a half years, it’s funny how time flies! What first drew me to GeoPoll was seeing how much research was evolving and wanting to be part of the next generation in research. Back then, people would not consider SMS as a method of doing surveys, and online/remote research modes were frowned upon.
Presently we live in a world that is moving so fast, we cannot afford to wait for months to receive information that should inform decision making. Can you imagine waiting for 2 months to identify what your target consumers think about your product offering? We have seen for instance from the COVID-19 pandemic how a week can alter the world as we know it. Research solutions must be timely and be specific to remain useful.
SM: Can you briefly describe your role now?
JPM: Currently, I am the Regional Director for the Eastern Africa region. I oversee a team of dynamic, highly skilled, and motivated professionals whose mission is to support clients across the region with information to inform their decision-making. We work with customers across various sectors, including large multi-nationals, local organizations, and small and medium-sized enterprises. Because our solutions are varied, we are well-positioned to support a diverse range of clients.
SM: What do you most enjoy about working for GeoPoll?
JPM: I cherish many things about working with GeoPoll – GeoPoll epitomizes what research in the information age looks like. When research is paired with technology, I think that is where the magic happens! This axis constantly inspires me: Quality research-delivered on the back of technology, delivered with speed, at a fraction of what traditional research would cost making it more affordable.
SM: What has surprised you about GeoPoll and the projects we work on?
JPM: Many things, but early on it was how suddenly, working with the same clients, we were able to be efficient in study design, especially from a questionnaire length perspective. For clients who traditionally would have 40-50-page questionnaires asking all sorts of things, we were able to conduct studies for them with 10-30 very definite questions tailored to specific objectives.
The speed of how projects can be turned around was mind-blowing at the start, but now I am used to it. Can you imagine doing a survey of n=3,000 nationally in 2-3 days, and delivering the results displayed on an online dashboard immediately once data collection is closed? This is work that would take weeks or months in other settings. In face-to-face research, interviewers would still be on the ground, with clients worrying about if an interviewer in fact went to the field. Meanwhile, GeoPoll would have reported the results, and the client made informed decisions for their businesses and moved on to other pressing issues.
SM: What are you excited about in terms of where GeoPoll will go in the future?
JPM: I think the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to infuse technology in research. GeoPoll is at the center of this and we are already pioneering many efficient, forward-looking research solutions for customers across multiple geographies. We will continue developing these as we go into the future as this is the direction the world is taking.
SM: Do you have a favorite project or experience at GeoPoll you’d like to share?
JPM: I have always given this as an example of how best research studies can be executed in today’s world. The project was looking to reach farmers in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan. The end client was in the US; the agency implementing the client’s intervention was in Afghanistan, and I was the project lead was based in Nairobi. We conducted 1,000 successful IVR interviews in the local languages (Pashto and Dari) remotely from our Nairobi operations Hub. This done within 2 weeks, and the client had their study results and went ahead to implement the recommendations from the research.
SM: What’s a fact about yourself that people may not know right away?
JPM: I love farming and am a smallholder crops farmer. I like giving back to society whenever I can and work with various charity organizations. I am always keen on being outdoors and visiting new places, and this year was planning to do the famous Cairo to Cape route by road joining from Kenya but was hampered by COVID-19. We will be back in 2021 inshallah!
SM: What does it take to succeed in your line of work?
JPM: There are no excuses, and one must put in the grind – hard work and consistency are key. You also must be widely read and have a flexible mindset, as we work with clients across multiple industries. As a market research consultant, having knowledge of various industries is vital, or else you are not going to have proper engagements. Finally and most important is nurturing human relationships. We are in a people business, and humans require authentic interactions. We must be understanding, communicate effectively, and be empathetic in how we undertake our work.