Market Research using Focus groups in the Middle East
Doing Focus groups and in general qualitative research in the Middle East is a bit different from doing it in the west. With the proliferation of data mining, online market research and big data in the west, focus groups reducing in importance as a technique for market research in the west. However, in the GCC, the truth is far from it and even today MR clients are spending as much on Qualitative research as the pas – still an integral method for conducting Consumer research.
Unboxed Consulting Middle East and Africa does both Qualitative and Quantitative Research and though they do Quantitative Research using techniques like CAPI and CATI as well as F2F surveys using pen and paper some of their most inspiring work comes from doing Ethnographic visits to Arab homes, Focus groups or One on One IDIs. The anecdotal and often incisive insights come even from one consumers’ stray mention in an FGD
There are many differences conducting Qualitative Research and FGDs in Middle East and North Africa – be it for concept evaluation, advertising research Brand Equity or Usage and attitude studies
Let us look at why things are different here :
- Often, a focus group is a social outing – especially for Arab women
If you look at the Arab world, women want to lead change and Focus groups for them are a good way to meet other women and discuss things. Unlike the west, where a focus group is a commercial contract, for them it is an outing away from the restricted life they often lead. More so in Saudi Arabia where two hours away from home discussing projective techniques, brand worlds and giving feedback breaks the monotony of the day for Arabs
- Focus groups are not time bound
It is quite common to see women staying back after a 90 minute focus group and continue talking. Extending their outing is fun for them. Also, in the Arab world, time is flexible and we often have to remind clients viewing a group at a focus group facility or via Focusvision, that if groups start 30 minutes late or 15 minutes early – this is the norm as women don’t drive and have to depend on the driver’s availability to get them to the venue. Ever done an In depth interview at midnight? Well, during the holy month of Ramadan Arab consumers can only come after the fast is broken – Focus group facilities are often busy well upto 2 AM!!
- Focus group venues are very different in the Middle East
Focus groups are not always held in a one way mirror facility. For women in Egypt or Sudan, KSA or Egypt, often homes are the preferred venue – and it is usually in their own neighbourhood for their comfort. Viewing is through a CCTV arrangement rather than a one way mirror. There are hardly any ‘premium’ one way mirror facilities and for HNWI research, upmarket hotels are the venue of choice – Arab consumers believe in hospitality and receiving it at a hotel is a sign of their importance
- Simultaneous translation has its own challenges
The Arabic language has a very different sentence construction and unlike the west where most languages can be translated as a sentence is spoken, the meaning of a sentence made by a consumer in a focus group or In depth interview can change depending on how the sentence ends! Hence the simultaneous translator often has to wait till the end of the sentence to begin translating
- Heterogenous groups do not work
In the Middle East, reverence for elders is high and hence it is impossible to mix a group ranging from 18-55, a request we often get from clients. Similarly it is a very power distance oriented society and hence mixing social classes too falter
Add to that the fact that there are four main ethnic groups and 200 nationalities living in Dubai – mixing cultural backgrounds result in disjointed transcripts which are not very usable – for large scale representation we recommend CAPI research with quotas for each ethnicity
Unboxed Consulting is an Independent Market research agency based in UAE and KSA and is an ESOMAR affiliated boutique that does Qualitative and Quantitative research, B2B and healthcare research as well as work among High networth individuals (HNWIs). They have venues that are Focusvision enabled (in UAE and Saudi Arabia). Its founder Dipen Mehta has been working in the Middle East and North Africa region with various FMCG , Telecom, hospitality and finance brands for two decades. Their footprint spreads over Middle East, GCC, Levant, Africa and India.