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The world has a habit of generalising about Africa, seeing the continent, her people and countries as one mass. Africans are also often viewed as ignorant with humble needs simply because their markets are underdeveloped.
Both views are wholly inaccurate. Though there are a number of regional truths and common attitudes such as Ubuntu (the belief that we are only people because of other people), African consumers are as diverse, complex and as sophisticated as consumers in any other part of the world. Needs, cultures, languages and beliefs can differ widely from country to country and even from town to town.
To develop and maintain a successful brand in any African country, marketers must connect with the consumer on their terms and display strong community mindedness. Extensive research conducted by leading marketing strategy, brand development and design agency Yellowwood, revealed some of the best techniques to engage with African target markets and to create long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
Connecting with African Consumers – an eight-step journey
Invest, don’t extract
Marketers must make products that customers want, rather than making customers want products. In doing this, they will find many business opportunities and align with the attitudes of the local people.
For your brand to really matter to African customers, pay your taxes; find ways to lessen social ills, offer opportunities and paid collaborations, and transfer skills to staff.
Offer more for less
The majority of African consumers are poor and price sensitive, so brands that offer great value (more quantity and quality) will do well.
Be careful not to try to achieve this through cutting corners; there are too many competing producers who will find ways of doing things more efficiently and economically.
Technology, telecommunication and financial services are rapidly merging, supported by African innovations such as mobile money players. It is predicted that many other industries will do the same.
Convergence is easy when you start with the customer; understanding their unmet needs, priorities and social context allows you to define new industries, rather than recreating what already exists.
Bring people together
Marketing and communications that bring people together have huge potential in Africa where national identity is an ongoing process. Consumers are ready to embrace brands that provide a sense of community and unite different ethnicities, tribes and cultures.
Walk before you run
Marketers must have strategies for distribution, sourcing, product quality and pricing before any promises are made to consumers. It is equally important that constraints and abilities are understood. Functional benefits are good enough if you are the only business who can deliver them, or if you can deliver them in a more competitive way.
Listen before you speak
Show respect to the consumers in your market. Listen and respond to genuine needs, and add value to consumers rather than to try and force the latest trend on them.
Don’t change the culture
West is not necessarily best. The origin of certain brands can be helpful if that country is associated with positive attributes (German luxury cars, for example), but there is nothing inherently better about being a global brand and African consumers are proud their local culture.
To create marketing that is culturally relevant, collaborate with local artists, musicians, celebrities and designers.
Build something to believe in
African citizens are optimistic about the future. Brands that tap into this mood and enable consumers to do more with their lives will be most likely to succeed among African target markets.
Be bold, decisive, quick and creative
Enter Africa with an iterative, adaptive and experimental approach to marketing.
Youth culture and tastes change rapidly, so brands need to be bold and focused on creating relevant marketing.
Get them where they’re going
Brands must focus their energy on helping consumers attain their aspirations and ambitions. This requires market research and insight, as not all life goals are for bigger, better and more ‘bling’.
To survive, grow and thrive in African markets, you will need a sense of humour and adventure, as you will face many challenges. There will be setbacks, misunderstandings and deliveries that don’t arrive. Things may take longer than you expected or happen in very different ways - if they happen at all.
Don’t give up
Africa is a hard place. To stay in the game, create products, services and marketing that will withstand the reality of the markets in which you operate.
For marketers and business enterprises to successfully break new ground on the Africa continent, they will need to do away with their outdated biases and antique views. Each market must be respected and treated as a unique, complex region, and consumers must be recognised as distinct yet altruistic individuals with strong community ties.
In Africa, the key to success, prosperity and wealth is the human connection.