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South African Market Research: Need for reform


Over the last two years, the number of research projects commissioned to external market research suppliers by MMI Holdings’[1] (MMI),  has seen a strong decline. There is a perception that market research suppliers are servicing the needs of corporates in the same way, without offering outcomes that are unique to the business or differentiated from that of its competitors.  Over time, market research suppliers continue to gather knowledge about the different corporates and this gives suppliers some competitive advantage (and not necessarily the client). As such, the knowledge gathered seems to benefit the supplier more than the buyer of the insights.

MMI Holdings’ (MMI)  purpose is to enhance the lifetime financial wellness of people, their communities and their businesses. As such, MMI strongly relies on its internal Consumer and Market Research capability, which in partnership with specific external market research partners; assists the business in unlocking real insight into the client and consumer behaviours associated with financial wellness.

In this article, the first in a three-part series, a brief outline is provided of MMI’s experience of the key challenges faced by the South African market research industry in remaining relevant to the insights needs of its business.

Skills profile

The first issue concerns the skills profile of the general “consumer and market researcher”. In South Africa, a career in market research is seldom the objective of students at the start of their tertiary education. Instead, the development of a career in market research is often happenstance, and the field is populated by individuals from diverse academic backgrounds. In view of this, there is often some lack of understanding the basic tenets of human behaviour and the core fundamentals of basic research design, both which which inhibit the quality and value of insights delivered.

Continued Professional Developement

The second issue deals with the matter of continued professional development and accreditation. As with most recognised professions, a formal accreditation that emphasises the importance of keeping abreast of the latest research and technological advances in the field cannot be underestimated. Locally, there is a gnawing reluctance on the part of many individual market researchers to become a member of the Southern African Market Research Association (SAMRA). In MMI’s experience, this lack of accreditation and continued professional development undermines the maintenance of a golden standard for research execution, and therefore a lack in quality and consistency of insights.

Scientific Rigour

Closely related to both the first and second issues, is that of scientific rigour. In MMI’s experience, there are often suggestions of epistemological problems inherent in agencies’ conceptualisations of research questions and the justification for the use of particular methodologies. The result is a lack in scientific rigour.

In closing, the lack of critical skills and appropriate qualifications, absence of accreditation and CPD and the subsequent lack of scientific rigour support our view that the market research industry in South Africa requires reform.  The question is, how can this reform be best enabled and supported?

In the next article, we’ll discuss some suggestions.

Monique_SchehleMonique Schehle, Consumer and Market Insights Manager at MMI Holdings

Pieter_RossouwPieter J. Rossouw, Market Research and Consumer Insights Manager at MMI Holdings

Pieter started his career in the human capital management and psychometric test development industries after which he spent 6 years working at different market research agencies. Having developed a significant interest in motivation and the psychological foundations of financial behaviour, he has changed his focus to the financial services industry in 2014 and is currently studying toward his PhD. His research focuses on the motivational underpinnings of financial capability in adolescents.


[1] MMI Holdings Limited (MMI) is a South African based financial services group listed on the South African stock exchange, the JSE.