Africa, a melting pot of languages, cultures and beliefs, offers a largely untapped market for foreign and local businesses alike. Multinational African brands and global brands alike are all hoping to participate in this land of new opportunity. Yellowwood recently published a report African Attitudes; marketing beyond the numbers. The report examined findings and learnings about connecting with people on the continent that goes beyond GDP, growth rates, market penetration and average income.
It seems that Africa is perfectly suited to welcome foreign investment and industry growth, and it is. However, Africa is often misunderstood and portrayed in the most simplistic ways. To heighten chances of success, investors need to discard common prejudices and falsehoods that may alienate consumers, leading to brand failure.
Below, a few commonly held misconceptions are shattered:
The African consumer – African consumers are as diverse and complex as consumers in any other region, and the contexts that shape them are significantly different. For example, Kenya’s biggest trading partners are the UK and China, not Tanzania or Ghana, and so their products and ideas don’t necessarily travel well across Africa.
It’s just not a volume game – Many corporate businesses treat consumers as target segments from which value can be extracted. This view is staid and ineffective. Brands should collaborate with their target markets to find out what their pressing needs are and invest in social innovation that makes them materially better off while cementing the brand in their lives.
Middle class does not mean the same thing to everyone – “Middle class” is a relative term within a country based on income, lifestyle and assets. Brands that enter Africa with products and services geared for a Western middle class will struggle to find relevance.
New money is not all bling – Emerging middle classes across Africa are not all motivated by status. Community-mindedness persists even amongst the newly middle class; they don’t just want to look good, they want to contribute to the success of their community and even their country.
The consumer isn’t ignorant – Urban African consumers have modern, sophisticated tastes and in many ways are no different from urban consumers elsewhere. Marketers, investors and businesses hoping to make it in any of Africa’s markets need to listen to the people on the ground and act on their suggestions and advice.
The “outside-in” approach
Knowing your country of interest and connecting with your consumer will increase your chances of succeeding in Africa, but these are not the only hurdles. Other challenges include infrastructure, corruption in most markets, cultural and linguistic barriers, low marketing budgets, and low disposable income.
The above challenges make doing business in Africa difficult, but if you commit to an “outside-in” approach, prosperity will be more likely.
First world consumers want customisation and personalisation, but consumers in Africa require products and services that meet their real needs and are relevant to their culture. Marketers need to start with the African consumer and work backwards to the products, services and marketing.
Africa is a continent rich in valuable natural resources and wonderfully diverse populations that are striving towards security and affluence. Clearly, these markets are ripe for investment, but business success can only be achieved if consumer populations are respected as varied and distinct. It is vital to understand the context, points of view and needs of African consumers; only brands that understand African attitudes and values will achieve success and longevity.
For more information on the report African Attitudes; marketing beyond the numbers, visit