1) Can you tell us more about TNS and the genesis of the company?
TNS is part of Kantar, and we’re one of the world’s largest insight information and consultancy groups, [with a] presence in over 80 countries, and operating in 19 countries in the MENA region. At the end of the day, because of our size, we have more consumer conversations than any other company globally, and I think that’s quite an advantage. I think the genesis of the company [comes from] market companies’ need to understand how people think and behave in order to be able to translate that into marketing strategies.
So for example, Afia oil uses a logo of a heart with a tick marked across it indicating that it’s good for the heart. This logo was reached after market research was conducted to understand consumers’ concerns, and address them in the marketing strategy.
Another example is that although Saudi Arabian women are not allowed to drive, believe it or not, they hugely influence the purchasing decisions of cars; they want to have a big bench in the back so they can have space for discussion. How do you get that information? By talking to people; by having conversations, and that’s the genesis of our company.
2) Every company has an iconic culture about it. Can you describe in two sentences what TNS’s is?
In the MENA region, it can be put in one: “working together to deliver the extraordinary with passion, pride and purpose.” But the key is working together to make sure that everybody is both emotionally and strategically aligned to what we have to do in the business.
3) Who are your clients?
Some of our clients include General Motors, Americana, Etisalat, Kraft, Henkel, PepsiCo.
4) How different is it to work from one client to another? How do you approach different clients with different sectors?
There are four broad sectors that we work with: FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), banking, automotive and telecom. You can divide this up broadly into services and products, but by in large, the research that gets done is the same because it is all about understanding consumer behaviour and attitudes. The only one that would be different would probably be automotive; they have a specialist way of doing their research because it is a very different sector to FMCG and other services.
5) In all market research, do you use both quantitative and qualitative, or in some sectors it is more consumer-driven quantitative?
It will vary, but the rule of thumb is 80% quantitative and 20% qualitative. Qualitative is in-depth, one-on-one conversation with people, and focus groups. And that is meant to really [work out] some of the big themes, but marketers want proof and empirical evidence.
6) You try to help clients better understand and communicate with local consumers with winning marketing strategies. Can you tell us more about these strategies and what specific strategies you usually use with clients?
Clients come up with their own marketing strategies. We are indebted to them. So, where we play a critical role is that we operate in a very complex, fragment market especially since Egypt is going through a lot of change right now, and clients want to be able to deliver sustainable growth. In order to do that, you need to help them focus on different parts of the business, and TNS is focused on helping clients grow their business. For us to get more sustainable business growth, there are two ways: get more customers, or get more money from your existing customers. That’s marketing 101, but you can take it one step further and look at the business you have today and try to get more loyalty and spending from existing customers. How do you do that? Product-line extensions, added value, and services. Banking is a classic example, through introducing premiers, gold cards, platinum cards, credit cards. On the other end, you’re expanding the range through promotions and going to new geographies perhaps.
The next step is introducing your products and services, and Apple is a classic example of that. First, it was the iPod, and then it was iPhones, then iPads. Now they have more customers and more money at the same time, and the fun thing is looking at new geographies. Our job as market researchers is to try to understand which one of those combinations is going to work best.
7) What are the most common and pressing issues that your clients are facing?
There’s only one: growth. That’s it, and anything that we do to help address that issue will help them grow.
8) In the case of Egypt, aren’t there issues about surviving in the market?
No, it’s growth. You’ve got campers, climbers and quitters. Some people are camping now because they are a little bit scared to invest and don’t know what to do, but you have got to climb. Egypt has a huge opportunity, and it’s not the current political situation that’s going to stop that; the fundamentals are still there. So it is about growth, investing now for the future.
9) Can you tell us more about your company’s TRI*M technology for monitoring customer experience? And how has this methodology proved successful for clients?
It’s [largely] about getting the voice of the customer, knowing the customers’ issues, then talking to the business to understand the issue, and then bringing those two together to understand what’s critical to the customer and what’s critical to the business, and how that influences growth, profit and sustainability. So what we go out and do is about customer satisfaction, and to be more precise, it is about customer engagement. So how satisfied and loyal are they? You get different levels of loyalty and different levels of satisfaction, and you can have somebody that is very loyal but perhaps not that satisfied; they’re a hostage. They’re in a bank relationship; maybe their bank deposits their salary in that bank so they have no choice but to use that bank. So loyalty can be high but satisfaction low. But what ultimately everybody is looking for, service companies in particular, is high satisfaction and high loyalty. We have certain benchmarks where, when you get a certain level of loyalty, engagement, and satisfaction; you get a certain amount of word of mouth, which translates into dollars.
10) So how do you study consumer behaviour especially when their needs are changing rapidly due to political and economic changes in MENA?
The reality is you have got to do more. Stay closer to the consumer. The clients that we have who are more advanced and savvy are the ones who are doing more ethnography. [This means] studying human behaviour and keeping an eye on what’s going on, to really stay closer to your customer, so you do more of it. Also the reality is that consumer behaviours and attitudes take a long time to change. The one thing that has changed in Egypt is less disposable income, so it’s forcing a change in behaviour, but the attitudes, values and principles are the same. That’s the key
11) How do you view the Egyptian market at the moment, particularly post-25 January?
The same as I did before. The fundamentals of the country and the economy are still very strong. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term BRICS, there’s also a term called N11, which stands for the next eleven, and Egypt is there and remains there, because it’s a big population, extremely well-educated, pretty savvy in the marketing front, fantastic in the cinema front; the fundamentals of the country are still very strong. So when you view it from medium to long-term, it’s just a blip. Egypt is a place to invest for the future, and it has growth potential.
12) You’ve met customers in your visits in Egypt and you have met people before the revolution. Have you sensed any drastic change in the sense of business initiatives, strategies, marketing, and maybe even future vision?
[It depends] on the sector. If you look into the telecom sector, certainly there are people that still need to communicate, probably communicate even more as a result of what’s going on. [But] if you are looking at non-essential items, day-to-day, you may do with less. On the other motive side, you may delay your purchase for a year or two. So the strategy there is about getting closer to the consumer, making sure that you know how they’re thinking and behaving, but we haven’t seen anything drastic yet.
13) How have your operations been affected by the economic situation in the country?
So far, it has made us think long and hard about the structure of our business and how efficient and productive we are, so we had to re-visit that and make some changes. The bottom line is that business is growing, so we have to be flexible, innovative, and adapt to meeting our clients’ needs, especially with the economic environment. But fundamentals remain the same; people need to understand how people behave and how they think, especially now, to stay competitive. If a client has information that a competitor hasn’t got, he’ll have competitor advantage and is leveraged on return and investment.
14) Are there any sectors that you have seen become stronger in the market during this period, in comparison to before the revolution?
What’s interesting now is that the real estate sector is, in fact, beginning to do more work – how to pitch their business, how to market it – and I call that a new revenue stream. The telecom sector has always done relatively well, and probably did even better.