The importance of market research

Why TV Advertising? And why Radio Advertising? And why Billboard Advertising? And why Print Advertising, for that matter?

In my 30 years in the South African advertising industry, the one thing that always intrigued me is the subjective way that some advertisers approach their advertising.

There have been many times where I’ve sat across a boardroom table to be told by a client that the decision has been made to advertise during a certain TV program, for example, MNET’s Carte Blanche. Now, I have nothing against Carte Blanche (in fact, I think it an interesting and well-produced program and watch it weekly), but it’s the REASONING behind advertising on the program – and folks, I’m just using Carte Blanche as an example to illustrate a point here – that floors me….

The reason provided? Because the client (and his family) watch Carte Blanche every Sunday and make a point of never missing it..

Now, that is not a reason to advertise on a program…not in my opinion, anyway.

I’ve always believed that advertising needs to be approached scientifically. There is so much data and so much research – across most media – available in South Africa, that deciding where, and on which channels or programs to advertise on, based on subjective criteria or a whim, is often criminal.

Now, clearly, more sophisticated marketers (the large advertisers like Pick n Pay, Checkers, FNB, Unilever, RMB, Nandos, Investec, Discovery, Toyota, Kia etc) will absolutely undertake research or be guided by their advertising or media agencies before signing off on any media buy or media schedule, but it’s the medium-sized and smaller companies that often base their advertising decisions on a thumb-suck or gut feel. (Not all of the time, obviously but sometimes).

Coming back to the Carte Blanche example and my meeting with the client: I explained that yes, whilst the company’s target market may well view the program – no guarantees – there were other programs that would deliver a far bigger audience, and at less cost per viewer. I eventually won my argument, but not without explaining to the client that it was really risky planning his company’s advertising around his personal and subjective likes or dislikes!

I have in my time seen this scenario play out on many occasions, and often times, it’s due purely to a lack of knowledge on the part of the client. Truth is, many business owners and marketers are just not aware of the in-depth advertising research and data available. In this country, we have highly skilled researchers, working in either market research companies, media planning companies or in research departments of advertising agencies.

Researchers who upon being briefed can quickly advise as what type of research would be needed, depending on the budget and marketing objective(s).

To use an example: your business wants to launch a pool acid to rival HTH. You believe that the majority of sales would come from pool owners in Gauteng. You expect sales to peak just before summer, and feel that if your pool acid was priced below that of HTH’s pool acid, sales would pour in. On this basis, you come up with an advertising way forward.

Hopefully…HOPEFULLY….the sales do pour in…..but you’d be pinning your hope on what exactly? Guesswork?

The sophisticated marketer would research the heck out of things before chancing anything.

He or she would want to know, for example, how many pool owners there are in Gauteng? Where are they? How loyal are they to eg HTH? How open they might be to changing their brand of acid? When might they typically buy pool acid? And from where? Do they consider HTH pool acid to be reasonably-priced? If not, what price would they consider acceptable for a pool acid? etc etc.

Now, these are important questions and need to be asked. The more information you are equipped with, the greater your understanding of things and the better your chances of success in the market.

Answers to questions like these can be provided quickly through telephonic research or, for example, through focus groups – and I know a number of good market researchers in Johannesburg who would be able to conduct them.

Commissioning market research (especially for a new and untested product) is essential in my opinion. It doesn’t have to be costly, and it can save you from making costly marketing blunders down the line.

Any good advertising agency, when being briefed on eg the launch of a new product or brand should insist on knowing as much about your product or brand as possible. Your target market(s) too.

Who are you targeting? Where do they live? Who makes the buying decision? When and where do they make the buying decision? What is important about your product of brand that your target audience should know? What are their pain points? How could your product help relieve their pain? Why should they buy YOUR product?

If you haven’t done the necessary research, how would you know the answers to questions like these? And how would you be able to brief your ad agency correctly?

Fact is, the better your brief, the better the agency’s advertising recommendation – and the better the advertising creative resulting…

It’s all about input and output…

Too many (small) advertisers skip the research process as either a) they think they know their product and the market b) they’re in too much of a hurry to launch.

Good solid research can give you the ammunition to go into battle and win.
It can show you when to advertise, to whom to advertise, and most importantly, where to advertise…

TV advertising? Cinema advertising? Radio advertising? Billboard advertising? Street pole advertising? Maxi pole poster advertising? Newspaper advertising? Magazine advertising? Bus advertising? Train advertising? Facebook or LinkedIn advertising?

Or maybe none of the above..

Maybe in-store advertising would work harder for you? Or activations in shopping malls?

Without researching the market, without knowing, you’d be putting the success of your new product at risk..

Gerard Kavonic is an experienced copywriter, conceptualiser of advertising ideas and co-ordinator of marketing projects. He resides in Johannesburg and runs This country’s smallest ad agency, Kavonic Hone. See He has been in the South African advertising industry for a good 30 years and during this time has won a number of awards for copywriting. He works on a full agency or ad hoc project basis and also offers a consulting service to small and medium-sized businesses. He can be contacted on +27 83 444 9888 and His skype address is gerardkavonic.

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