How to do market research in South Africa

by | May 23, 2023 | Market Research

Diversified research in a diverse country

Ever taken part in a “Can you guess how many jelly beans are in the jar” contest? That’s what market research in South Africa is like. You’re dealing with upwards of 60 million people with diverse cultures, backgrounds and situations, so it’s important to know who, why, where, what and how you’re targeting your audience.

Don’t know what market research is? Let’s return to the jelly bean jar. There are 573 jelly beans in the jar and you must guess how many of each flavour, what each flavour tastes like, and why these jelly beans were chosen for this contest.

Be honest: You’d probably back out of the competition, right? But that’s the thing about market research: Back out and you risk promoting a product to people who don’t need or want it. You must put in the work to categorise the jelly beans.

This is what the South African jelly bean jar looks like:
  • Yellow (Social diversity): Many cultures and languages to accommodate
  • Green (Economic diversity): Different sectors with unique dynamics
  • Purple (Lifestyle diversity): Various consumer groups to consider
  • Red (Internet penetration diversity): Consumer habit and platform differences
Before you get excited, there are many other jelly bean flavours still out there, and only the right market research tools and techniques can find them all.


Why is market research important in South Africa?

Two words: consumer insights. You must know your consumers better than they know themselves – only then can you determine what tickles their fancy.

For example, you sell jelly bean competition jars, so your target market is both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C). Why? Because businesses may want a fun activity for their employee engagement campaigns, and pregnant ladies want games with snacks for their baby showers.

But pregnant women and businesses aren’t your only target customers.

Although your initial selling point is glass jars for jelly bean competitions, you can branch out to other uses, like jam, swearing, tea lights, biscuits, flowers, and anything else you can do with glass jars.

Before melting sand, remember you’ve only identified what makes a glass jar cool. You have no idea how many other glass jar fanatics are doing the same thing or if people would buy yours.

Remember: Just because you’re selling a product or service you feel is viable doesn’t mean people will buy it.

Market research is about identifying what people want or need, why they need it, how many businesses are already giving it to them, why some glass jar manufacturers don’t fit the mould (pun intended), and how to create a better product.


How to do market research

  1. Understand what market research involves
When conducting market research, you gather information about the market needs and preferences affecting your brand, product, service, marketing and sales. Once you understand why your audiences behave and feel the way they do, you’ll be able to better meet those needs and expectations, predict changes and stay on message.

Four main elements of market research include:
  1. Existing, past and non-consumers
  2. Product or service design, pricing, positioning, promotion, sales
  3. Competitor behaviour, offerings and performance
  4. Industry growth, health and direction

  1. Decide what and why you’re researching
Market research isn’t only about identifying your audience, so you need to set a clear goal for the research to ensure you collect accurate, usable data. If you don’t, you risk spending time and money asking random people questions about what they buy at the grocery store.

Let’s play a good ‘ol game of fill-in-the-blanks:

“I am doing market research to ___”
  • Find out which product features are trending.
  • Understand a new target audience.
  • Identify changing needs of my existing audience.
  • Develop a new brand identity.
  • Discover recent marketing trends.
  • Enhance my customer, employee, and user experience.

  1. Do some myth- and assumption-busting
Whether or not you have an existing product, you’ve likely made a bunch of assumptions that you need to confirm or deny. For example, “Everyone loves playing the jelly bean guessing game”. Um, no. You and your friends like it, but Thoks from the IT department may hate the idea of ditching his codes and playing along.

Jot down a bunch of pre-suppositions you’ve made about your industry, product and market, and determine which are true, to give you insight into the product or service.

  1. Choose the right research method/s
Qualitative and quantitative data sets can be equally critical and fortunately, there are many ways to get both. But the effectiveness and efficiency of the research depend on your budget, time constraints and the data you’re looking for.

Qualitative data helps you understand what, why and how behaviours change (this research generally happens through surveys, interviews, focus groups and Tom Cruise spy missions), while quantitative data is numbers-based and measurable.

  1. Ensure that you ask the right questions
Surveys, interviews and focus groups are great research methods, provided that you follow a few rules:
  • Always explain why you’re conducting the research.
  • Ask them if they’re comfortable with being recorded before you hit record.
  • Don’t ask a trillion questions. Keep it short and straightforward.
  • Focus on their goals and the roles they play in your industry.
  • Don’t jump straight into “Do you like our product? Well, do ya?”.

  1. Pack your toolbox with smart resources
If you’re a start-up, chances are your budget won’t like where you’re going with this. But you don’t want to sift through mountains of data by hand, stopping only to wipe your tears of boredom with a flip file.

This isn’t the 1960s. Befriending technology and automation doesn’t reduce the quality of your data, nor does it make you a corner-cutting weakling. In fact, the internet is a plethora of free tools and templates.

The point of collecting data is to turn it into information and, like with anything you collect, data research needs a virtual basket to live in. Market research tools simplify the process by collecting and storing it automatically, making it more digestible for you to analyse later.

  1. Create a few character personas
Use the survey, interview and focus group data to create user personas that outline your audience, their main goals and the pain points preventing them from achieving them. User personas are characters developed from the psychographic and demographic data of real-world customers using similar products and services.

When creating these personas, especially in South Africa, don’t forget to focus on your primary customer and diversify your audience for the most accurate data. But be careful not to overdo it. You don’t need to construct a scrapbook of family trees. As long as you have primary needs and expectations, you’re good to go.


Market research is like pizza…

From jelly beans, it was pizza or bust! If you think about it, and we have, customer trends, preferences and behaviours are the pizza base, and product development, pricing and market strategy are the toppings that make the final product edible.

Pineapple and banana toppings are your assumptions, and they’re mostly wrong.

Controversial statements aside, ensure that the pizza you deliver is the one that was ordered. Otherwise, your kitchen will have all the pizzas, and all the jelly beans, and no one to enjoy either of them.


Is market research too hot to handle? Reach out to market research gurus.

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