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Stories, insights and anecdotes from the frontline of digital market research

Mobile research trends in Africa #1: Device agnostic research

1 June 2015

In May we presented at the Market Research in the Mobile World Conference in New York on the trends that we think are going to form the pillars of mobile market research in Africa over the next 10 years.

We’ve identified three key trends, and here, in three posts, we’re going to share them with you. So let’s get to it…

The fragmented mobile market

Africa is the fastest-growing region in the world for mobile right now. It will still be the fastest-growing region 5 years from now, and be second only to the Asia-Pacific region in terms of number of mobile connections, according to the 2014 GSMA Mobile Economy Report – so it’s a great place for mobile research.

But this growth isn’t driven by smartphones alone. While smartphone growth has been phenomenal, the number of 2G connections in Africa is predicted to continue increasing into 2016 – at which point they will comprise about 70% of total connections – before beginning a long slow decline.

Because 2G connections are such a huge chunk of the mobile market, and smartphones are such an important and growing part of the market, researchers who want to reach representative samples in Africa have to design surveys that work across multiple devices and multiple technologies.

And our prediction is that this is going to continue to be the case for at least the next 10 years.

So what’s maintaining the feature phone market?

Firstly, the prices of low-end phones have fallen dramatically over the last decade, but more importantly, in Africa there is such a demand for phones that old phones are a valuable commodity.

Second hand feature phones aren’t being discarded. They’re being passed on, repaired and sold, so that smartphones entering the upper end of the market are helping push feature phone penetration deeper into Africa – into even lower income brackets and even more rural areas.

This is happening to the extent that, according to the GSMA, it’s only by 2020 that the number of smartphone connections will finally overtake feature phone connections in percentage terms.

What this means is that for at least the next decade, feature phones will still form a very significant part of the mobile landscape.

device agnostic research


Device agnostic research in Africa

Because of this market fragmentation, researchers need to be able to design surveys for the lowest common denominator in terms of device and technology in order to reach broader, more representative samples in Africa – this is what we now call ‘device agnostic’ research. It’s research design that works across devices and technologies to deliver valid, accurate samples when different technologies are being used by respondents.

These technologies include SMS, USSD, IVR, feature phone apps and smartphone apps across various platforms.

Each of these has different limitations – an SMS, for example, has a limit of 160 characters. USSD has a limit of 182 characters, but can achieve a more real-time interaction. And both of these can potentially reach more respondents than an app.

If you’re in the US or Europe right now, this probably sounds like ancient technology that’s very limiting. But between relatively poor infrastructure and device fragmentation, these are still some of the best tools we have to reach Africans in under-developed markets.

Don’t forget the upside to device agnostic research design…

Designing a study for the lowest common denominator forces you to write shorter, simpler surveys. And this is both important and helpful when talking to many Africans who might have limited formal education, or for whom English is a second (or third) language.

A survey that’s simple and fits into an SMS is more easily understood by respondents – resulting in more valid, reliable data. And of course this wouldn’t be a market research blog if we didn’t also point out that shorter surveys with fewer options are more likely to engage System 1 thinking, measuring respondents’ gut reactions about your products.

Often the hardest part of this is not designing a device agnostic questionnaire. It’s getting clients to understand why a shorter, simpler mobile survey actually works to their advantage. It also encourages dialogues with respondents – instead of one long, tedious monologue, as is so often the case.

But the good news is that in our experience clients catch on pretty quickly.

What does this mean for research in Africa?

For researchers, it means being able to design and field research across multiple devices is essential for reaching broad, representative groups of respondents in many African countries. For clients, it means adapting long, traditional survey designs into sleek, bite-size chunks when conducting digital research in Africa.

Got any questions? Get in touch or post them in the comments below.

>> Go to trend #2: Collaboration and partnership
>> Go to trend #3: Respondent engagement