Nendo's Quest for Unchanging Truths in African Research and Marketing

Decade-Long Bets, Papercuts, and What Doesn't Change in African Research and Marketing - Thoughts on the Future

In 2014, if I pulled you aside randomly and asked you what you would have predicted would remain true 10 years later? Instead of considering fancy new inventions like generative AI, an exciting challenge is asking what has stayed the same for the past 10 years.

 Back then, Safaricom's M-Pesa mobile money platform was only 7 years old, while Facebook was only 10 years old. The iPhone 6 and 6S were in vogue. Nokia's X2 was among the dying kicks of the famed mobile powerhouse of the decade past. Samsung's Galaxy S5 was their latest and greatest device, turning heads and hands alike. 

What would you have predicted to be alive and well a decade later? This question has been on my mind recently and was spurred by a clip from the Lex Fridman podcast with Jeff Bezos. In a particular clip, Bezos speaks on an interesting point I've been mulling over. 

He describes thinking about what won't change a decade from now and staying obsessively focused. For the rest of the day-to-day and year-to-year pursuits, he describes those as 'paper cuts' and has entire teams inside Amazon dedicated to building, fixing, and addressing paper cuts while the business focuses on the things that won't change. 

For the past few years, I've held a belief and created talks and articles about the concept that two of the most influential technologies that have transformed the last decade in Africa are the motorcycle and the mobile phone. While the reasons are different, this remains a great lens to look at what hasn't changed. In the next decade, the electric bike has a real chance of creating a new impact. 

Closer to home at Nendo, when I think of our work with generating insight, trendspotting, and forecasting, it makes me consider the weight of this question: What won't change in the next 10 years for my business, my clients, and the people they serve?

I look at this in two ways (since Nendo is a research and marketing company, respectively).

What doesn't change in Research I think that in research, whether it is market research, consumer research, or digital research, there's likely to be a few core ideas that don't change as far as our clients are concerned:

  1.  It continues to be a vitamin, not a painkiller: this may be the bad news, but it is down to human psychology and misjudgment. Clients will often prefer their intuitions, biases, and experiences to a third-party research firm's external insight and evidence. Not always, but certainly a majority of the time. So, how might Nendo tackle this in future? My desire, unlikely as it will be for the majority of the market, is for clients to consider research as a form of sonar to see what's coming and navigate their businesses from this perspective.
  2. Evidence and insights on behaviour and beliefs will become a competitive advantage. Studying human psychology, behaviour, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions will continue to be valuable when solving for what we call Nendo as Nomadic African Audiences. These are customers whose behaviour, lifestyles, and decisions have a pattern but evolve, space, and situations. 
  3. Clients who pay professional services firms will expect it to be increasingly faster (or real-time). They will expect it to become increasingly more affordable and continue to expect it to be impactful to their business and customers.

I'll end with a few quotes summarising some of the great fears of researching in our digital-led age.

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys, and they look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies no and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, "This is where the light is".

The McNamara fallacy (also known as the quantitative fallacy),[1] named for Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (or metrics) and ignoring all others. The reason given is often that these other observations cannot be proven. 

But when the [McNamara discipline] is applied too literally, the first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. The second step is disregarding that which can't easily be measured or given a quantitative value. The third step is to presume that what can't be easily measured isn't important. The fo[u]rth step is to say that what can't be easily measured doesn't exist. This is suicide.

—Daniel Yankelovich, "Interpreting the New Life Styles", Sales Management (1971)

Next week, I'll share insights on what I expect from our marketing business, but this gives me pause and helps the team and me not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

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