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Researchers form association

ZIMBABWE’S market research fraternity has come together to form an association, which is set to be launched next month. To learn more about the plans, Our Deputy News Editor, Omega Ukama (OU) had a chat with the body’s founding vice president, now president, Patson Gasura (PG). Below are excerpts of the interview:

OU: What is the purpose of the association which you have formed?
PG: The Market Research Association of Zimbabwe (MRAZ) aims to ensure and maintain quality, professional research practice in Zimbabwe among members and the broader research industry. There is a need to get due recognition as an industry and MRAZ also becomes a platform for clients to seek redress in case of unprofessional conduct.

We also want to promote formal information sharing and foster networking for researchers and their audience. This will be achieved through regular workshops and annual conferences where research papers will be presented. We will also strive for harmonisation of research methodologies and costing structures on similar profile projects to ease decision-making by clients. Significant work from industry practitioners will also be promoted via MRAZ digital assets.
OU: What does the launch of the association mean for the Zimbabwean market?
PG: I guess the launch of MRAZ can mean different things to different people and organisations, but in the main it means the market and social research suppliers and users interested in Zimbabwe now have a platform to engage issues of mutual interest together literally under one roof.
These issues include co-creating solutions for problems that private, public and developmental organisations are faced with for various reasons. For instance, there is a need for collective research to provide insights into the impact of Covid-19 on society and various sectors, the impact of digitalisation, social media, climate change, modern youth priorities and many other trends. Such research topics are of national importance but cannot possibly be funded and executed by one organisation.
OU: Will the association at all help the country’s economic agenda, particularly NDS1 and the realisation of vision 2030?
PG: Most definitely, because we are saying MRAZ is an opportunity for all professional market research bodies to work together providing data and insights that can impact local decisions positively.
A country’s economic agenda requires everyone to contribute from their various sectors. In basic terms, an economy is made up of the supply and demand side of the market.
Through MRAZ, the market research industry can ensure that there is alignment between the thinking of organisations that provide goods and services (supply side) and the expectations of the consumers and customers of the goods and services (demand side). If you look at it from that perspective, the country’s economic agenda would actually risk failure if it is not guided by market research statistics and insights (evidence). MRAZ is their go-to place for such evidence of citizens’ priorities.
In the same vein realisation of vision 2030 will, in my view, partly require evidence-based programmes and interventions. Evidence comes from nationally robust data and insights. It is therefore most crucial that authorities conduct citizens’ surveys to understand their current livelihoods and local market opportunities. In the end, the results of such research will be used to design support packages that would address vulnerabilities thus enabling citizens to actively participate in sustainable economic opportunities.
OU: Are there any events in the pipeline?
PG: We had our research suppliers networking function on August 25, 2022 in Harare and this was very well attended by almost all local research companies. This was a first of its kind.
The mother of all events is the official launch of the Market Research Association of Zimbabwe coming up on October 5, 2022. We also expect officials from the industry regulator, the Research Council of Zimbabwe. The main guests are market research users from the private, public and non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe. We are also expecting representatives from the Southern African Marketing Research Association (SAMRA) as well as the Pan-African Marketing Research Organisation (PAMRO). We will be deliberating and taking a decision about the first-ever research annual conference when the new MRAZ board sits before the end of October 2022.
OU: In other countries, they have had market research associations for a long time, what has taken Zimbabwe so long?
PG: The honest answer is I don’t know because we have really not researched it. The idea of forming a local research association was mooted more than two decades and so you are in a way right that we have taken too long to stand up and be counted.
The idea was revived in September 2010 and the multi-sector meeting was held on October 26, 2010 to discuss the concept. The late Toverengwa Manene was the first president who actively ran with the concept together with other industry leaders like David Rusike, current secretary general, Walter Ushe, founding treasurer general and myself, then deputy president.
Since 2010 MRAZ, has been gradually involved and having informal engagements with research suppliers via social medial platforms. MRAZ was also recognised and involved in the technical committee of the Zimbabwe Advertising Research Foundation (ZARF) that commissions one of the well-known surveys called Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (ZAMPS).
Admittedly the association has not been visible and formally participating at business fora as expected. For years, the association has not had paid-up membership. Perhaps because the Zimbabwe research industry is a small market all research companies seemed comfortable being busy with their clients in their corner.
The Covid-19 pandemic shook many organisations including the research industry and discussions on the need to work together as an industry became more important. At times it takes hardships to see the need for each other. When things were normal, I guess everybody was comfortable getting business as usual.
The ongoing digital transformation has seen the market research landscape and business models changing together with client needs. Surely these call for a platform where players can share experiences, challenges as well as long-term solutions. Without such discussions, local research users can find it easier to procure research from outside the country which is perceived to offer better quality innovatively and cost-effectively.
OU: What kind of numbers are you expecting in terms of membership?
PG: We have not concluded on exact numbers yet as we just got our board fully constituted this month and our first formal meeting is in October after the official launch. However, the memberships will include private, public and NGOs that use market and social research services.
OU: How relevant is market research in Zimbabwe’s largely informal economy?
PG: The duty of business, formal or informal, is to recruit and retain customers. Market research is the magic for achieving that sustainably. What we find is that many of the so-called small or informal businesses are actually owned by people who are either in the formal sector or used to be in the formal sector. Such people appreciate the concept of risk and return. They also understand the importance of customer-centric strategies. Yes, small businesses may not have budgets for huge formal research but it is up to the research fraternity to be innovative and offer customised research solutions for the profile of businesses we have in the country. Indeed, as the market has shifted, so should our modus operandi.
OU: What do market researchers in Zimbabwe have to do differently from practitioners in other territories?
PG: I have not been exposed to many territories. However, from what I see through SAMRA and PAMRO, in Zimbabwe, we perhaps need to work together more and collaborate more than compete so that we can be able co-run projects and proactively provide information on prevailing trends and challenges. There is more in collaboration than in competition.
There is also an urgent need to embrace technology and ensure research becomes quicker, better quality and more cost-effective with time. A lot of local research projects seem above client budget expectations because of the traditional manual approaches used. As a result, many potential research users are becoming a competition to the research fraternity because they resort to doing their own research internally using digital platforms
OU: A larger portion of commerce is now online, and market research has somehow changed, where do you see it going in the next 10 years, both globally and domestically?
PG: As alluded to in the previous question all research companies have no choice but to invest in digital assets and solutions. Without doing so, research clients will simply do research, especially data collection on their own.
They have rich customer databases. However, the researcher skill that will remain sacrosanct is actually data analysis and insights distillation as well as interpretation and recommendations.
Like the medical field, research is an advisory service based on data. It is not that easy to emulate. We however have to adapt our toolkits to align with the global trends. Adapt or die.