I recently participated in a panel discussion about marketing in emerging markets at the Indie Summit 2017 in London. On the panel was a representative from China, India and Singapore, respectively. I represented Africa.
The problem with this is that all, except Africa, are one country (big as they are). So, when a question is asked like;“What are the barriers to entry for building brands in your market?”, my question is 54-times harder to answer than any of the other emerging markets. Well maybe not exactly 54, because one could argue there are different provinces, in for example China, with different customs that need a different approach etc. That is true, but not multiple governments. India has 22 official languages (and another ±150 unofficial) to navigate, while Africa has ±1500 – 2000 languages. Add to that a plethora of religious beliefs and different historical factors, it becomes hard to draw comparisons. Yet we continue to do it; treat Africa as one market, one people, one country.
When I consider the challenge of creating meaningful conversations with the complex African marketplace, I always think of something Fairfax Cone once said: “Good advertising is always written from one person to another. When aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone”. Sadly, most brands are still marketed this way in Africa. The same message is aimed at a billion people and expected to have an impact. The typical practice is to “localise” a global campaign, making it understandable on a primary level. The assumption is that the universal human insight, underpinning the work, will resonate globally. The problem is it doesn’t. In fact, we often see different responses to global campaigns in various regions of the same country.
Take for example the “ice cold” visuals used in beer advertising worldwide. You know, the one where half the advert is made up of ice cubes or condensation. Now, what if I told you the Tanzanian consumer doesn’t like cold beer? Bar owners keep the beer at room temperature by quietly switching off your beautifully branded promotional fridge. But why? Tanzania has a heritage of homemade beer. When it comes to homebrew, there is a direct correlation between the beer’s temperature and its potency. In other words, there is still a belief that warm beer gives a bigger “kick” than cold beer. Unreliable power also means fridges are off for extended periods of time, resulting in beer usually being warm anyway. It’s something consumers are used to. So simply rolling out more campaigns showing ice cold beer is not going to grow your brand in Tanzania.
So how do you change your strategy to have greater impact?
Take an outside in approach
Determine what the consumer really wants, then accept it and give it to them. Many brand owners find it very hard to understand that. Often, the consumers’ reason for buying your product is different from the reason you want them to buy your product. You can’t dictate what your brand means to the consumer. They don’t want your beer because it is ice cold, they want it because it is low in calories and has premium packaging. They don’t want your whisky because it’s triple distilled, they want it because of the associated status of drinking whisky.
Localise, localise, and then localise again
Historically, brands that customised their message to be more relevant per country did better than the ones who didn’t. However, in future that won’t be enough.To really have an impact it is better to think of them as markets (regions, provinces, tribes), rather than countries. The deeper a brand is prepared to drill to thoroughly understand each market, its nuances, customs and uniqueness, the more successful it will be. Remember the ink is still drying on the borders drawn for Africa. In my opinion, most African countries still struggle with the practical implications of the foreign concept of “being a country.”
Grasp the subject, and the words will follow
The direct translation of the global message is often the root cause of the confusion. The problem on the ground is; the person who is translating the work doesn’t understand the context, history, brand guidelines etc. On the other hand, the person approving the translated work often doesn’t understand the local language. That is how “We try harder”can become “We do what we can” or “How can we help you?” turn into“How the hell can we help you?”. Instead of translating, rather invest your time in training the local marketing team to understand the strategy and ethos of the brand. Then give them the freedom to tell the story their way.
As each market on the continent develops, and becomes more sophisticated, only the brands that understand the different nuances, and craft their strategy accordingly, will succeed. How you talk to consumers will ultimately mean the difference between success and failure. Between your brand being embraced or ignored.
Cobus van Zyl is chief operations officer at Aggrey & Clifford, an East Africa-based, full-service advertising agency, which has been named as one ‘The World’s Leading Independent Agencies 2017’, by thenetworkone, in association with Campaign magazine in London.
This story was first published in The Media’s Africa Annual. Click on the cover to read the magazine.