In late April, Omnicom announced the launch of its research agency, Hall & Partners, in the MENA region. Caroline Frankum, who was H&P’s managing partner in London, will be the CEO for EMEA while Ziad Skaff will head operations as managing director. Skaff previously spent eight years as regional executive director of research and insights at Omnicom Media Group MENA.
Frankum kicked off the event by talking about how the place of brands in the lives of consumers is changing: it’s not enough to engage with consumers anymore, brands need to earn their place in the lives of people. Further, clients should focus on behavior rather than demographics because “behavior changes cross these boundaries [of age, location and gender],” she said.
This means that research needs to be more people-focused, rather than number-focused. For example, H&P’s research showed that people felt guilty about eating at KFC even though they loved the brand. So KFC adopted a family-centric approach positioning itself as a place to bring the family together over a meal, taking the guilt away. Similarly, Kellogg’s Special K cereals introduced a campaign promising people that they’d lose a jean size in two weeks, but couldn’t in practice use that message because the weight loss would differ from person to person; as a result, sales plummeted. Again, research found that consumers would be better advocates for the brand than the brand itself, leading to the launch of the Special K Online Diaries, wherein consumers shared their weight loss stories and experiences.
David McCaughan, storyteller and marketing thought leader, went as far as to say that people are the most important brand today, pointing out that for example, the idea of loyalty has changed. Earlier, consumers would remain loyal to a brand because they liked it and didn’t want to incur the risks of trying out a new brand they may not like. However, today’s consumers feel that they cannot risk not trying out new options, because they wouldn’t be loyal to themselves. Similarly, a global research conducted across more than 20,000 respondents between the ages of 16 and 29, showed that 53 percent of respondents would rather have their phone than their nose (yes, their nose). “Technology has become our fifth sense today,” said McCaughan, who added: “In research, we tend to ask people what’s important to us, not what’s important to them.” In a world where everything is available and consumers are spoilt for choices, what market research really needs to ask is, “What is it that truly matters [to people]?” said McCaughan.
One people’s demand in the region that is left unsatisfied is the need for Arabized content. The agency released its report, titled “MENA Now”, which sheds light on the diversification and Arabization of the MENA market, as well as its healthcare, luxury and mobile industries. A massive 80 percent of respondents use Arabic while surfing the web; but only 32 percent said the quality of Arabic content is much better than that of English content on TV in 2012. Such research should help media hone in on content that would be more popular.
However, research specialists are still facing a number of hassles in the region, as was discussed during the panel hosted by McCaughan, with Mariam Al Afridi, director of marketing & corporate communications, Dubai Media Inc.; Weera Hassan, group regional planning director, Impact BBDO and Kalika Tripathi, senior director of marketing strategy and planning, Visa Middle East. Firstly, an “anti-research” culture prevails in the region, where most people have grown up with their own businesses, built without any research, said Al Afridi, who explained that although there are forms of data collection, there is no integrated method of processing and analyzing this data. Moreover, Tripathi said that balancing global versus local is a challenge when it comes to research, as most multinationals don’t have their head offices in the Middle East and are connected to the “mother ship”. “We do need local insights as the [MENA] region is very diverse,” she said. Indeed, a unique aspect of the region is the major cultural, social and even political differences between the countries that are part of it – not to mention the cultural diversity that prevails within countries such as the UAE. Add to this the young population and dynamic economy and one could very well say that it’s a chaotic situation – which is often the outsiders’ perception of the Middle East. This is what Tripathi called organized chaos: “As the fastest growing region, we need to get under the skin [of consumers], which is where qualitative [research] is really important and clients seem to be reluctant.” Hassan points out that due to the cultural sensitivities and geopolitical situation in MENA, “context and culture [are] very important for research.” This is also why, said Frankum, clients need to be shown that on-ground expertise is necessary and that the MENA region can’t simply be generalized under the “emerging markets” category. Clients are “data obese”, she said, so the agency’s focus is on providing bite-sized insights.
Lastly, Tripathi maybe made the most relevant point when McCaughan asked the panelists for the one question that should be asked during research: “How often do people change their mind is the question I’d like to ask,” she said.