10 Things you should know when Marketing your brand in Africa

The biggest trend we see in the marketing business today is demand for penetrating the African market.  We have seen it from organisations all over the globe, including from within Africa itself, chasing after the “African Giant” for exponential market growth to increase their revenue.   Now let me tell you, it’s not all “Picture Perfect” as it looks, and there is no way of “Photo Shopping” your way out of the realities of doing business in Africa.

I’m sure you are ready to do big things and eager to start the journey, but here are 10 things you need to know:


Many organisations think a “copy-paste” approach in Africa is going to make the impact they are looking for.  “What we do in Kenya has to work in SA?”  I’m afraid it is not the case.  We have seen numerous solutions that were developed specifically to address a unique challenge in a particular African country, but the moment you extend that into another African market, you may be faced with a much slower uptake or even rejection. Why would this be? There are many external factors that influence the consumer journey, for example, culture, religion, economies, technical infrastructure, legislation etc.  Treat each country and honour what is important to the people of the country you are focussing on.


Over 1000 languages. So many beliefs.  So many cultures it is merely impossible to try and understand each one – but the one thing you can do, is break the barrier between the language and the brand.  It is a lot more work, but far more impactful.  Start asking consumers their language of choice, and start communicating to them in their language of choice.  You will be surprised how amazing this is, and really builds a deeper connection with the consumer.


Many technologies are pre-selected for a campaign, which is not the right way to go about it.  All countries have different technologies available and the red tape to implement them in each country is different.  You may set yourself up for failure if you got your mind and budget set on using a specific technological solution or Call-To-Action to drive your campaign and assume it would be available, because it is available in South Africa.  This is one of the biggest mistakes we see in marketing campaigns.


Brands use South Africa as dipstick research, before they penetrate other markets, but this is not ideal, as the infrastructure we have available to us is not comparable to the rest of Africa which can even be ten times more expensive, even if it is available.   In some cases what will cost you R10 000 in SA, can cost you over R100 000 in some other African Countries.  Not all networks in a country collaborate to provide one number that will work across each other.  This can be a shocking revelation for marketers who plan to launch a campaign in these markets.  Plan your budgets carefully and consult with an expert – giving enough time…


Further to my point on infrastructure, this may have an impact on your timing too.   In an attempt to penetrate African markets, many organisations under estimate the work and preparation that needs to go into a campaign.  If you want success, proactive planning and execution is crucial.  You need to start working on a campaign at least 6 months before you go live.  Regulators may change policies without notifications and there will be many hurdles to overcome.  Recently we had a request for a mobile campaign to run in Nigeria and the regulators advised that they would may need to see the content, approve it, and that could take a minimum of 3 months.  Some regulators may require that businesses make a long term commitment on your campaign, at least 6 months, and with minimum volumes, which may not be feasible for your planned campaign.  This is not always the case, but we have been faced with this many times, as clients only consult experts once they approved the strategy and have unachievable deadlines which makes it impossible to execute.  You are going to have hurdles, and it is all about leaving yourself enough time to overcome them by being proactive.


Every channel you use should have a mobile call to action and allow you to build up a database of people so you can start learning and earning.  These ‘databases’ are hard to come by, very expensive and to own your own database, will become your biggest asset.  We have found that ‘home grown’ rather than purchased or rented databases give the best results.  Many brands, especially FMCG, we find, don’t value their databases enough nor leverage the value they can bring as insights for your brand – making it an invaluable asset.


SMS marketing is the best tool you can use in these markets, as it is the “lowest common denominator” that reaches all no matter the coverage or device.  It may not be visual, but with some creativity, you can be playful with words, and add some gems in there that you wouldn’t even believe possible.  We’ve done many successful campaigns by using voice in a smart and witty way and other times, emotional and tender, but it’s a winner every time.  It’s all about how you put the technology together – for competitions to work well.


We had a few clients that did everything right, but had no idea of all the challenges they would face to get stock in the stores, delivery etc.  It is far more expensive, especially on “African Time” so this is really important to understand, before you align your marketing strategy with distribution. When it comes to prizes in your competition, you many need to think of how a cash prize may be seen to contravene the gambling act in some African countries.  If you are giving away a free holiday…did you educate the entrants on the shots they need to travel to the destination?  Protect yourself regarding allergies to those shots?  Prize logistics and getting the prizes to their deserving winner from rural area can be very challenging!


Always think of “How much data will this cost me?”… your potential customer does!  We are seeing a rise in the emerging markets with ‘Fong Kong’ smart phones; however it is important to understand that the consumption of data on ‘Fong Kong’ smartphones is more expensive .  Don’t let your Call-To-Action become a barrier between the brand and the consumer, because it is perceived or is too expensive for them to access it.


Make use of the services of local consultants and experts and apply their guidance, and best practice to best penetrate the market.  You need to understand the culture, relationships, customs, technology and legislation and it will minimise the risk.

We hope our tips gave you some guidelines as to how you can make a success of your marketing by applying some of our learnings throughout the years.  If you wish to explore marketing in Africa, feel free to contact me.

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