Marketing research is a paramount component of successful business. With the integration of social media as a tool, marketing research has been able, more than ever, to explore the inner desires of consumers, catering to their exact needs of products and services. Tamer El-Naggar, the CEO of TNS North Africa, one of the world’s leading marketing research companies, talks to the Daily News Egypt about the potential of social media in delivering the highest levels of consumer satisfaction.
You’re a renowned veteran in this industry; can you please brief us on your history in market research?
I’ve been privileged to be part of this industry for 20 years. Working across the region, I started in the Gulf, moving to Morocco, then back to Egypt. I’ve witnessed a sharp growth in the industry, which makes it quite exciting. In my view, market research is synonymous with market maturity and development and consumer choices being developed.
If you look at the history of a country like Egypt, during the very socialist regime people went to stores and would not have much of a choice. There were maybe one or two brands under each category; consumer choice was a missing element. In order to convert that to a more consumer-driven society and economy research becomes a key catalyst.
When companies recognise that they need to listen to consumers and understand their preferences, their choice drivers and levels of satisfaction, which is essentially the onset of marketing practices being development and consumer understanding is established and economies taking off on a different pace. So I think research obviously plays a very important role.
You said you’ve witnessed a sharp rise in the industry, could you please elaborate?
Just to give you some figures about Egypt, over the last 10 to 15 years, this industry has picked up from being worth EGP 30 million to close to EGP 250 million. It also went hand in hand with the development of Egyptian economy. Of course I’m referring here to long-term development. I am talking about an economy that from the late 1970s to early 1980s was predominantly government-driven or a state-dominated economy to a more capitalist type of economy where Egyptians were not just standing in queues with their ID cards to get their quota of oneor two types of consumer goods. We’re actually creating the type of economy that expands the choices for consumers and creating a state of democratisation of consumption and of consumers. Research becomes an essential tool and gateway for creating that kind of change.
Do you see democracy and consumerism going hand in hand?
I don’t overload the word democracy with too much meaning, but allowing a choice for consumers is certainly a change in values. As opposed to imposing choices, brands, products and services on people, you’re creating a different type of dynamic where people tell you what they want and you answer them with the right products and services. This definitely helps improve the quality of life across the board. Whether the product is toothpaste, a mobile service, a car or a TV programme, you obviously need to put consumer needs at the centre of these choices.
In your opinion, what were the effects of social networking on the 25 January revolution and vice versa?
I think there is significant debate about whether the rise of social media was one of the contributors to the revolution or vice versa. In Egypt, social media picked up way before the revolution. It created the kind of environment where people had an outlet for expression. So of course it was a catalyst or contributors. It would be naive to think that social media drove the revolution but it has certainly created a communication platform for many people to build the consensus that something needed to change.
What it quite interesting is the place of social media in the minds of Egyptians when the revolution was taking place. Before the revolution, social media was primarily a channel for people to interact, connect and socialise, but one of the fundamental differences that came through with the revolution, especially with the loss of credibility of the various types of state-owned and even private media, is that Facebook in particular became a source of news, not just an outlet to connect with friends. Suddenly it’s a source of news from people I trust. So through the network of your friends and acquaintances, one had a higher level of confidence in believing the information and bits of news they shared with you.
It is very interesting that in the midst of all the chaos and lack of credibility that surrounded the revolution, Facebook became a safe haven in terms of credibility.
According to TNS’ Digital Life study, only two percent of the population shop online. To what do you attribute such a low percentage?
There are a variety of reasons. One of them is the fact that not a lot of Egyptian products or companies are selling online. If you look around, you will be able to deduce that the bulk of what is being sold online in Egypt is products from foreign companies such as Amazon. Second, we have to recognise that the means of payment for online shopping are predominantly plastic (credit, debit et cetera).And the percentage of Egyptians that use plastic money is very minor. Thirdly, the element of credibly and habit; the comfort of having bought something online before.
What is TNS’s method of identifying growth potential?
TNS globally is a large multinational and the leading ‘customised research’ provider in the world. One of the exciting things that happened at TNS earlier this year is that we introduced a new strategy that we apply organically as an entity and also offer to clients, a method that we call ‘precision growth.’ What we’re looking at is that whatever research we do for clients is a catalyst for them to grow their businesses.
There are four key pillars that allow us to create growth with our clients and we do it in cooperation with them. We create a kind of partnership with them, we are their eyes and ears in the market with regards to consumers and we get the feedback and we interact with them in developing their strategies and make sure that there is a growth element that is right at the centre. One way is increasing the customer base or attracting new customers. Secondly is increasing the spending of existing customers, in other words, intensifying and growing their relationship with existing customers. Thirdly is creating product extensions that offer additional products and services. The fourth pillar is entering new markets or expanding the markets. These are four basic and intuitive growth strategies that we’re able to use to help clients and in some cases it could be a combination of more than one of those pillars.
Which type of products do you believe are more susceptible to be sold online?
Everything… Our life will be almost virtual in a few years. There is no such thing as products that are better sold online as opposed to others. Online has become very interactive; its not just text on screen, there is video, webcam video conferencing. Because of that element of interaction, anything could be sold or service could be sold.
You spoke of the significance of online brands. What should Egyptian companies start implementing to increase their chances of online sales?
First they need to be online of course. They also need to have more than just a portal because the definition of being online has evolved. In the past, companies considered themselves online when they had a website. That definition is being challenged now, because companies could have a website with little traffic, or a website that is only viewed if the people search for the address to visit them. We’ve seen companies that are online through promotional banners or pop-ups, having fan pages on Facebook or social media networks, by having people talk about the brands, creating some sort of an experiential relationship with the brand. Also chasing the audience, their targeted groups or consumers.
There are technical ways of doing that, like looking at cookies for instance. So, your search online is an indication of the kind of interest that you have. So if there is a cookie, a sort of profiling tools that tell us that you’re interest is in cars for example, then you are more likely to receive a commercial on cars online. It has become imperative for brands to create a higher level of engagement. Now marketing executives are becoming more aware that there needs to be a level of engagement with the consumer.
The mission of research is to understand consumer needs, and there are many needs that are not very visible to producers and service providers. So it is very important that we unearth these needs, identify them and offer them as guidance to companies to create the kind of products consumers need.
Before the invention of social media, if you had asked anyone would they want to have Facebook, they wouldn’t need what we’re talking about. But because there is a need for people to connect, which is an implicit need and not something that people are very vocal about, products and services have been created to cater for these needs. So I think it is important that we tune in and find out the needs of consumers, and create that kind of bond between what consumers need and what kind of products and services that we’re offering.
In terms online marketing, how should companies steer away from pop-up pages, or other conventional methods of online advertising that somewhat repel people from visiting websites?
I think what we faced earlier in TV, we’re starting to also face with internet, only with much more intensity. And I am referring here to the clutter and intrusiveness of the commercial. While some TV commercials are repetitive and thus repulsive and imposing, we also see that online; we’re starting to see commercials that pop up and ones that block the page until you make a click. They’re becoming more intrusive and I think its something that marketeers need to be very careful with because we don’t want repel consumers online.
What we need to do is a couple of things; the first is to make sure that there is enough content to divide the big traffic across different portals and use that to profile. For instance, if I am of a certain age bracket, I would like ideally to see commercials that relate to my age and gender. I think creating that kind of relevance to the communication of the person is extremely important. Once we create a stronger, more focused, relevance, I think we can maximise the target of online advertising.
Google is a fantastic example of that, and is definitely one of the pioneers. What makes Google such a successful company is the algorithm that went behind their search engine. It does that sort of profiling by looking through your search history and identify the kind of tendencies, the products and services that you are more likely to be receptive to, and hence you see that kind of communication happen through their portals.
Would you say that print media is on its way to becoming obsolete with the advancement of online media and advertising?
I think it’s inevitable that online increasingly eat a greater share from print media. Its really up to print to look into ways on how they can sustain themselves, or in other words, slow down the erosion of their business because it’s happening and it’s unstoppable.
I am sure there will be space for print of the future, but whether that space will be one percent or ten percent of what it is today is up to the evolution of consumer needs and the value that comes with it. More and more people are getting their news from online portals of print publications. Obviously once online takes the traffic it takes the advertising with it as well. So what would sustain print is a very big question mark that the print industry needs to figure out.
Any final thoughts?
As far as our industry is concerned, market research is a core driver and a catalyst for change across the board, which we see in the evolution of products and services. Many people are not aware of that and its worth educating the public about the fact that a lot of the products and services we see today would not be there if it wasn’t for market research. So we do research with mobile operators on daily, hourly and minute basis to track customer satisfaction, communication reaction and the evolution of needs and desires. There is a lot research on the products that we consume as individuals. In any given market, consumers are not all similar, so what are the different needs, behaviours, and aspirations and how can we cater for this variety of needs, aspirations, emotions and motives differently. So it’s not a mass type of society anymore; there are things that we’re growing alike in, but within that there are many variations that build up. People are becoming educated in a different way and shaped by a growing and a very versatile media in a very different way.
The historical changes that have been taking places over the last couple of years imply that the nature of Egyptians in itself is changing. We’ve done extensive post-revolution research to try to figure out what exactly happened to Egyptians, how did the mind set of the youth evolve and change pre-revolution and post-revolution and how would that affect marketing practices.
At the expense of sounding cynical, I think what happened in Egypt, the revolution that took place, is a sign that somebody had not been listening and we don’t want marketeers to make the same mistake.