Africa has long been seen as the next frontier for brands, technology companies, and other businesses. The combination of a huge youth population, growing consumer class, and rapid adoption of mobile technology has encouraged the view that Africa holds untapped potential for many sectors. Yet countries still struggle to grow, with even economies in markets considered tobe promising such as Kenya and South Africa failing to improve their economies in the past few years.

In addition, global businesses often find it difficult to break into markets that operate so differently from those in more developed regions. Poor infrastructure, disparate access to technology, and a reliance on informal trade to sell goods make the African landscape unique. The diversity of the continent, which is made up of 54 countries ranging from more developed nations such as Tunisia to the extremely poor such as South Sudan, also makes it difficult to understand the continent in its entirety. A lack of readily available market research compounds this problem. Below we go through some of the challenges and opportunities surrounding market research in Africa.

Challenges of Market Research in Africa

Market research is used by companies looking to gain a better understanding of a market and consumer base, but in Africa, research is challenging to conduct due to multiple factors, including:

Disparate Communications and Technology Access: Access to communications tools such as mobile phones and the Internet is varied across Africa. While both basic mobile penetration and smartphone penetration rates are growing among wealthier and urban populations, in rural areas, mobile phone penetration often remains low. Access to the Internet also varies widely depending on the population studied. Access to technology limits the modes through which research can be conducted in Africa, especially when researchers are looking to gather a nationally representative sample or one that reaches lower socioeconomic groups.

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Infrastructure Challenges: Inadequate roads and maps and a lack of access to clean water and electricity in certain areas can pose a challenge to researchers, especially those looking to conduct face-to-face research. It can take months for a team of researchers to cover the vast areas of land necessary to gather an adequate sample size in many countries in Africa, especially when collecting data from rural populations.

High Number of Languages and Cultural Context: There are estimated to be at least 1,500 languages spoken throughout Africa, with many people speaking multiple languages or dialects that can be extremely specific to a region. This diversity means that research often needs to be conducted in multiple languages at once. Additionally, certain populations in Africa have a distrust for outsiders that can further hinder market research efforts. Due to these factors, in-person or telephone enumerators must be specifically recruited and trained for the population they are interviewing.

Opportunities for Market Research in Africa

Despite these challenges, there is a need for more accurate market research data for the global and local corporations moving into the region to understand their specific markets and audiences. While getting a full picture of the sub-Saharan African landscape for fast-moving consumer goods products would be a challenge, companies can gain insights on specific segments, such as the Kenyan landscape for beverage products. To conduct effective market research in Africa, researchers should keep the following guidelines in mind:

Narrow audience targeting: Due to the diversity of Africa as a whole, applying a research study to the entire continent is unlikely to yield useful results unless they are split into smaller sub-populations. Researchers should focus on a specific country, a region such as East Africa, or demographic group, such as urban youth populations. Those who are looking to conduct broader studies should ensure their sample sizes are large enough to compare results by country, region, or demographic group.  

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Consider methodology and mode challenges: Researchers should consider what methodology will best suit their project and the population they are trying to reach. Projects with higher budgets and those looking to reach rural or illiterate populations may be better suited to an in-person method such as CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) or voice call method such as CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing). Those with lower budgets may choose to conduct research via SMS or online through web-based links. Focus groups administered either in-person or via online or mobile-based focus groups may also be appropriate for certain projects.

Hire local experts: Leveraging the experience of local market research firms is extremely valuable when researching in Africa. Market research companies who operate out of the countries they conduct research in will have a stronger knowledge of the local market than outside groups, and often have their own trained enumerators. GeoPoll has offices and call centers throughout East, West, Southern, and Central Africa, and can bring valuable local knowledge to any research project.

Conduct Market Research in Africa

GeoPoll has a wide range of experience conducting research throughout Africa utilizing our database of respondents and mobile-based research methodologies. To learn more about GeoPoll’s capabilities in Africa, please contact us today.