IIeX North America 2019 Podcast Series

IIeX NA 2019 Conference Series – Sheila Akinnusi – Nedbank

Welcome to the 2019 IIEX North America Conference Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Sheila Akinnusi, Senior Manager of Consumer Marketing and Insights at Nedbank.

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Sheila Akinnusi with Nedbank.  They are a monstrously massive, large bank out of Africa.  She attended IIeX this year with the intent of finding out what the rest of the world was doing as well as bringing home some best practices.  Again, I just want to underscore how good this event is for connecting your brand with, specifically technology, with perspective buyers. One of the things I really struggle with, as an exhibitor of events for a few decades, is nobody is usually there with a fire to purchase right away.  Instead, it feels a lot more like the long tail but, having said that, it is really a good way to put a face to a name, especially if you’ve been interacting on social with attendees. Anyway, I wanted to offer that piece of advice. If I was going to be exhibiting, I would be looking at the companies that are going to be attending and that is a published list.  And then I would be reaching out to them on social, creating some level of connection – not in the way of like asking but in the way of properly interacting. Like see the things they’re posting about; find out what’s interesting to them. And then, you actually have some context for your conversations. Hope you enjoy the episode. I certainly did. Sheila, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.       


Sheila with Nedbank, South Africa.  You live in Johannesburg. So, this is your first event at IIeX.  Is that correct?


It is, it is.


Tell me a little bit about what you do there.


So, I’m a Senior Market Research Manager in a large, I suppose, corporate bank.  I do everything from strategic insighting, research projects, consulting internally, managing vendors, governance.  Being a bank, obviously, there’s a lot of that; there’s a whole lot, whole lot. Jack-of-all-trades as researchers are known for.  And, yeah, I get sent to places like this to find out what the rest of the world is doing and bring home some best practice and bold leadership to instrument.


So, today is Day 2.  Do you have any big takeaways from the first day?


I did actually.  I think what was most encouraging is that we’re challenged by the same things even way across the ocean, which is quite encouraging for me.  I did feel like I was going to be bit overwhelmed. but I’m actually feeling quite comfortable in a crowd, which is really, really nice. The sessions that I attended were really quite interesting was the online influence one, how to leverage social media influences for your brand.  That was pretty cool. Yeah, the Women in Research event was really nice. Met lots of great people. I think everyone in the States is quite open. You guys are go-getters and just getting stuff done. It’s really nice to see.


Have you been to any other market research conferences?


I have, not here.  I’ve been to ESOMAR so a few years back, I went to Nice, France.       


In general, ESOMAR, the Insights Association, of course, what we’re doing here, IIeX, the GreenBook – all of them, I think, market research, in general, is a very open community.  And it was good; we met at the WIRe, as you said, last night. One thing that I’ve seen as a trend, obviously, we’re seeing this globally, but it’s been really pushed hard over the last ten years in the WIRe organization is an atmosphere of inclusion because it creates a better picture of what the world really is and helps us identify truth and, honestly, it’s just more human.  It’s interesting, like for me, having these experiences where I’ll be (This sounds a little bit odd, especially in context of our Game of Thrones conversation,) but I’ll be like at a WIRe event, and I’ll be the only guy talking to three women at the same time.  I’m like, “Gosh, I feel really uncomfortable right now.” It’s just a funny…


Right, right.  It’s a bit strange.


It’s a really strange context as a white male where normally I’m the most represented people group in the [laughs]


I hear you, but we were actually having a chat with another lady from Toyota.  And we were actually saying we’re quite encouraged to see a lot of guys there yesterday.  To be honest, I didn’t expect to see many. I thought, “Well, you know, it’s going to be all…”


That was the largest group of guys I’ve ever seen at a WIRe event.


It was really, really nice.  It’s great because I mean back home it’s mostly a female-dominated industry.  I think we were talking about it in terms of the skills that are applied. Most guys just, it’s not their thing.  But to come and see a lot of male representation is awesome; it’s awesome. So…


That’s an interesting point you’re making because I think if you look at market research from an industry perspective like sort of at the operational level, it’s female-dominant.  Now, I haven’t seen that in a survey, just anecdotally in the companies that I’ve worked for and interacted with. But as soon as you sort of move into the executive level, it seems like it’s a lot more male-dominant.  That’s right, yeah, for sure.


And I think it applies, I suppose in any industry actually.  You do find that. I would say definitely the glass ceiling is quite evident in our space and also because people stay for a while.  So to move up the ranks and requirements, family, managing life – all of those things come into play like in any other industry. But what I would say, at least in our space, executive roles in research back home you would find a lot more females than you would in other spaces. HR, general marketing, it is more the more female tendency, kind of roles, which is nice.  So, I’m happy; it’s a great field to be in. And we get to pick people’s minds all the time. I mean what’s better than doing that. So…   


At Nedbank, do you use partners, vendor partners a lot?   


Yes, yes.


And then, my other part of the question is:  Do you also do a lot of the work in-house? Programming, surveys, and that sort of thing.


Ah, well, I suppose I’ll start with our team ‘cause we’re so small.  So, we are only a team of about six or seven people at…


Believe it or not, it’s not a small team.


Really, really.  OK, we feel we’re extremely tiny for the needs that we have to service.  I mean we are a bank of 30,000 staff.


Oh, that’s huge.  OK, so, maybe I’ll take that back.


So, it’s a small team for a lot of work.  So we do have an extension of our team as our partners.  We actually worked with one of the ex-IIeX winners, a South African company called Dove.  They won a couple of years back. So, we try and look for the latest and greatest. We’ve worked with a lot of people from the States here, from London mainly, a lot of local vendors as well.  The technology space is getting a lot more exciting for us and the alteration space is getting exciting; so, we want to try some new things there. And I think that’s why I’m here as well: to look for people who we can work with.  


How exciting.  What do you see as one of the biggest challenges that you guys are facing as researchers?  


Sure, to be honest, it’s re-identifying ourselves in the industry, and literally trying to figure…  “Agile” is big in our environment and all of those changes that come with it. You know, design research.  How do these worlds coexist? So, that’s interesting. So, it’s re-defining ourselves and then the pace, at the rate at which things are changing.  And how to leverage the technology ‘cause, obviously, our skill sets are quite specific. So, how do we work with those who come from outside our industry and leverage what we both have?  Those are the things that keep us up at night most of the time.


The U.S. has a certain like view of ways of accessing consumer insights, usually through smartphones or web.  In Africa, is it a different…? Is SMS more popular? Or are there other challenges that you’re thinking about that North America and Europe may not be thinking about?


Yeah, I think that the biggest challenge we have is we are a melting pot of everything.  So at one extreme, we are in the online community space, using smartphones and all of that.  But then the largest sect of our population really doesn’t have the means, and data is still quite expensive in our country.  So leveraging some of the technologies is a bit challenging, but I mean there’s ways around that. So we incentivize in different ways.  Most people are still more comfortable if they had to do an online survey, I suppose, web- or desktop-based because our questions are still quite lengthy.  To get corporate to change and have the micro-surveys and just let’s get focused about what we’re trying to understand is bit tricky with some executives, especially accountants and banking.  

So our trackers are still really, really long and all of that.  But, yeah, we’re trying as much as we can, and I think in a few years, it will change if the policies change around communication and access to Wi-Fi and all those kinds of things, things are likely to move.  But I think it also depends on the respondent group because language can be a barrier: we have 11 languages in my country. So trying to convey a survey, people get suspicious; there’s trust issues. Sometimes, it is better face-to-face, depending on the market you’re dealing with, especially like mass market.  So, yeah, we do everything, a little bit of everything.


Now I understand a little bit more as to the challenge with a five-person team.  That’s a lot.


Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  A lot of people.


Well, I think they rang the bell, which means that the speakers are…  Yep, they’re starting in. I’m not sure but I think I’m chairing a…


Oh, goodness, so we should go.


My guest today has been Sheila.  Thanks so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.   


Thank you so much.  It was awesome.


Absolute pleasure.


I look forward to hearing it.


Oh, me too.


Awesome.  Thanks.