Market Research Is Growing At A Steady Rate – Oluwaseun Ajayi, MD, Sterling Research


Market research

Mr. Oluwaseun Ajayi is the founder and Managing Director of Sterling Business and Research Consulting, a research firm based in Lagos. In this interview with Brand Communicator, Ajayi speaks on the business of market research, his experience and other sundry issues. Excerpt…

 Market research business in Nigeria

Market research in Nigeria is growing at a steady rate. A number of important factors are contributory to this rate of growth. For instance, Nigeria is endowed with abundant natural and human resources and that is a unique endowment for us on the African continent. We have a numerical strength that serves as an opportunity for investors who come into Nigeria. If an investor releases a product that costs five naira to produce and is able to sell it in the market with a narrow margin of one naira, by the time the margin is multiplied by the number sold which can run into millions, then you can imagine the profit that the investor will make. For a product that has mass appeal and with wide spread acceptability and consumption, you can be sure that any little effort you make will get you your margin if you are able to satisfy a consumer need.

Having said that, it is also important to know that to be successful in the market, you must introduce what the people need and not what you are able to make. You do that by finding out from them. So, the only way to know the desire and aspiration of the consumer is through marketing research. Market research is a pathfinder that will help you to locate your bearing and establish your focus in the marketplace.

At every stage of marketing, from conception to consumption, market research has a key role to play. When you are thinking of the idea, you must do a screening research. When you have conceptualised the idea on paper, you also need to test concept. After you have done that, you also want to put all the elements together – the marketing mix, how they have interacted and what value they will deliver from the interaction. How will the consumer connect to the brand? You determine this by positioning the mental space occupied by your product in the mental map of the consumer using the cognitive mental schemer. All of these need to be worked upon. These are deep-rooted variables that need to be uncovered through research. Qualitative research has an important role to play at that initial stage. After you have launched the product, you need to place it where it will be seen. You don’t want it to be too cheap just as you don’t want it to be too expensive. You also need to communicate it through the right channels. So, there is concept research, product research, marketing mix research, advertising research, advertising tracking, post-launch and pre-launch research and marketing test, all of which constitute simulated marketing research.

We can also assess the environment for any new investor coming in. Increasingly, they are coming from the outside world to look at this market and their first port of call will always be at the doorsteps of market researchers where they can get all that they need to know about the market including how to get their bearing, what the variables are and where to find the opportunities.

Challenges facing the market research industry in Nigeria

I will describe the Nigerian economy as turbulent and inconsistent. This state of affairs continues to have far-reaching implications on operations within the market research industry with one variable impacting on the other. Recklessness in one sector of the economy will have a contagious effect on another sector. The way it is affecting other sectors is the way it is affecting the market research industry.

Another unfortunate thing is that decision makers don’t appreciate the cost of market research. They need to know that it is better to spend maybe N1 million if they intend to take a decision that is worth N5 billion. I think it’s a wise decision because it is better than wasting all of the N5 billion.

How they can be addressed

Challenges are disguised opportunities because opportunities are embedded inside every challenge. To address this, we have to start from policy formulation. Our leaders must ensure that they place square pegs in square holes and resist the temptation of giving the work of a carpenter to a bricklayer at all times. Those in charge of key ministries like the Minister of Finance who takes decisions on our monetary policies should be appointed based on their competencies. It is not necessary to get somebody who has spent all his years in commercial banking sector and make him Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The person who should preside over the CBN, for instance, should be an astute economist that has proven records of delivering cutting edge policies that will help players in all sectors of the economy. I think we get it wrong in the first place by politicizing the way we appoint people

What informed the establishment of Sterling Business Research and Consultancy Limited?

Right from my undergraduate days, I knew I had a vision and a mission to accomplish. How and when it will happen, I didn’t know. As an undergraduate, I was itching to solve problems. I graduated at the top of my class and received the award for the Best Graduating Student that year. After my first degree, I stayed in the university as a graduate assistant. But when I took a closer look at the lecturing career, I discovered that it was not challenging enough. So I decided to get down to Lagos.

I had opportunities to pursue other degrees and acquire them in multiples. I also had opportunities to travel abroad for the same purpose. But I looked at business people and decided to see how they operate. I got a job with Map Research and Management Consultants and that was where I cut my teeth and had my first experience as a market researcher. As someone with a background in statistics, it was like putting a fish in water. Market research techniques were things that we learnt as undergraduates only to realize they are applicable in the business world.

The first project I handled was Royco Seasoning. I can still remember my contributions to that project with nostalgic feelings. From there, life was never the same again. I developed interest and passion for the job. From there, I moved to another marketing research agency somewhere in Ojodu. While there, I rose to become head of the research unit and I was able to handle a lot of big, ground-breaking projects.

It was at that point in my career that advertising practitioners in Nigeria collectively decided to set up a marketing research business to give them trustworthy data because they felt that media planning and buying had become scientific and needed quantitative experts that can help them to understand and develop the methodologies and techniques of scientific media planning. So, they advertised and I applied like every other person. After a rigorous screening exercise, I was chosen to head the research unit. I joined them as head of research and strategy with Tolu Ogunkoya as the Managing Director. We pioneered the first ever GRP-based media planning in Nigeria. I was in charge of research. I remember the presentation of the project to advertising practitioners after I returned from training to acquire the needed skill in South Africa. During my short sojourn in that company, we published the Media Fact Book. The book is still being published every year by mediaReachOMD till today. I pioneered the first edition.

After that, I got another offer with a multinational, PZ Cussons, to set up and head a research department. At a point while working in PZ Cussons, my portfolio was enlarged. They added media, market research and media buying to my duties. Later, I was given the opportunity to become the marketing manager in charge of personal care.

Throughout this journey, I was meeting people and they were noticing me. There was a time that the Group Managing Director of Leventis Nigeria called me to come and work for the company because he trusted our data. Till now, we don’t beg people for jobs but jobs keep coming on their own through referrals and the quality of the jobs that we have done. These are works that have made clients happy. Some of the jobs that have made me happy are those ones we won through competitive bids. On such occasions, we put the proposal together and competed like every other group and based on the proposals that we presented, we were given the job.

How will you describe your performance in more than 10 years of operation?

We have existed for about a decade and it has been quite eventful. It has been full of excitement, ground-breaking discoveries, learning new ways of doing things, getting innovative and improving on what we met in the industry. We were able to deliver cutting edge insight for clients with a very short turnaround. You may attribute that to our youthfulness and aggressiveness.

I have just concluded a mathematical programme in business simulation. Business simulation is an approach where you study a whole organisation without disrupting its operations. You model it and work on its model, manipulating variables and you take decisions that will affect the organisation positively. That is a unique skill that will help any consultant and anyone consulting for policy formulators in such a way that you get value without losing anything. 

What is the thinking driving Sterling Business Research and Consultancy Limited to success?

When you talk of strategy and goals, they are in layers. Your vision, your mission, objectives, policies, strategy, tactics and the plans that you deploy are what will help you maneuvre in the industry. You need to sharpen your focus because of competition. You are going to look at the resources you need, what is going to be the threshold resources, the unique resources to your organisation. Then what is going to be your distinctive competencies. Those are elements that will help you move your vision to a winning strategy.

When we started out, we knew that we could not operate like every other player in the industry. We wanted to be the preferred marketing research company on the African continent so that when brands think of research anywhere in Africa, they will think of Sterling Business Research and Consulting. We don’t want to be everything to everybody. We distil lucid insights from the maze of information because we know that it is not just data the clients want. We don’t inundate our clients with data. We provide veritable inputs for the formulation of strategies. We oil the engine of marketing by making it easy for them to know where to locate, where they are now and how to get to where they desire to be.

Our mission is that when you think of the best five players in the whole industry, before you mention three, you should think of us. To get there, we know that quality and data integrity, delivered at optimum cost, is of utmost importance. We don’t want to overcharge; neither do we want to work for free. We know that when we work and you are happy, you will come back. We also know that when you are not happy with us, not only will you not come back; you will also tell some other people. To us, the first side of the coin is better. Consequently, we work very hard to ensure that whatsoever we are giving you in terms of data is reliable and it is what you can confirm in the marketplace. This is what has been working for us. It is also the sustaining factor for us in this industry.

What is your competitive edge?

Cutting edge analytics is one of them. We are able to analyze and dig deep into data. We also have a multi-disciplinary team including economists, operations research experts, business management experts, psychologists and statisticians. Each time that these young professionals put heads together, they are able to gain better insights than any single person can ever hope to achieve.

Also, we are able to deliver in a timely manner. Research information is similar to the action of booking and paying for a hotel room for a particular day and time. If the person who has booked the room fails to show up on the agreed day and time, the money deposited is gone and cannot be reclaimed. I use this analogy because in today’s dynamic environment, information is perishable. The decision a company needs to take by two o’clock may be too late if taken an hour later. There are other competitors that are likely to move ahead before that time. So, quality insights delivered on time to the right client and with the right quality assurance is our unique competence.

How authentic or reliable are the data you provide for clients?

There are different types of data. We have the primary data and the secondary data. As regards secondary data, you don’t know how it is gathered. Secondary data are data gathered for another purpose; not necessarily for the purpose for which you want to use it. You don’t know the margin of error neither do you know the objective behind it. Concerning the primary data which we gather by ourselves, we follow scientific procedure in gathering it. Being a statistician, I am excited when I have to draw sample from the population and I want it to be scientific within a specified error margin.

If you repeat our research a thousand and one times, you will get the same result. This is because of the science and technology we bring into it. We have PDA. We don’t use pens and papers for a lot of our work. It is driven by technology. While the data is being gathered, if you tell me you are in Damaturu, somebody is in one of our offices here monitoring you. The person knows when you got to that place, the exact street you are calling from and when you are uploading.

So, research has gone beyond the traditional way except you are not prepared to do it well. If you want to do it well, you draw your sample well and also monitor the field work physically and through technology. There is no room for lapses. It is only when people compromise maybe by not mobilizing the right people and giving them enough support for them to do what they are supposed to do. You are sending someone to Akure and the transport you are giving him is not enough to get to Ile-Ife. He will get to Ife, sit under the tree and fill the form for you. But when you give them what is required and you don’t leave them on their own, you police them, check the team leader and the supervisor and check everyone connected with the project then, it will be very difficult for them to falsify information for you.

At every stage, we incorporate what we call quality control assurance. Quality control during data gathering, during data analysis and we interrogate the data to check the level of consistency and the validity and reliability of the research data.



  1. Yemmy Ojo says

    Thumb up Mr. Ajayi!
    Wao! This is really very interesting and well informative. Keep up the good work sir and don’t relent in your efforts to taking Marketing Research to the next level.
    …wshing you more successes and greater achievements!

  2. tola bakare says

    U don’t appreciate a thing until u have lost it. Some of us live wt gold without knowing it. I am lost for words after interfacing wt d interview/ profile. The world is waiting. If u could do it in d spiritual space, secular space, as we have seen, a walk over. Fantabulously fantabulous.Ur cutting edge/ distinctive competence wl continue to make a room for u sir. Baba isn’t thru wt u yet.

  3. Abimbola David says

    This is amazing, thought provoking, educating and inspirational. This is a reflection of a man with the spirit of excellence. It shows in everthing he represent here.

    What a great portfolio?

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