Insight and Brand Building in Africa

08 Feb 2013|Added Value

As markets in Africa start to become key growth areas for global brands, it is necessary to gain insights into what makes the consumers in those markets tick. Doing so, however, is a complex task often fraught with challenges.

Added Value South Africa told the Financial Mail, a leading South African weekly business magazine, that the challenges can be overcome if brand owners are flexible enough, and are prepared to accept less traditional approaches from time-to-time. These are excerpts from that interview.

Africa’s potential:
Six of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa and, although there are differences in economic activities between countries in Africa, it has been noted that the African collective gross domestic product (GDP) reached $1.6 trillion in 2008.

In addition, Africa is one of two economic regions where GDP rose during the global economic recession experienced in 20092.

However, a thorough understanding of the African consumer and their world is necessary to tap into this growth as well as fuel growth in the continent.

For example, at Added Value, we have observed that often held global category norms or understandings may not necessarily hold true in different markets across Africa.  An often quoted example is that of the insurance industry, which is regarded globally as highly important. In Nigeria, however, this is not the case2. This is because the perception of time is circular (repeating cycles of nature) and not linear, people live day-to-day with emphasis on survival. Insurance as such is probably the last step on the ladder to personal growth wealth; other needs need to be satisfied first.

It is equally easy to under-estimate the potential of Africa, hence the need for an appreciation of the consumers and their world.

A decade ago, for example, the mobile phone company Kencell (now Zain/Bharti) estimated that about 100 000 Kenyans would be able to afford mobile phones. Its rival, Safaricom thought the figure would be much higher. Kencell, which marketed itself as an elite brand, got 100 000 subscribers within a year. Safaricom, which targeted all Kenyans, brought in over a million subscribers within five years4.

What informs consumer involvement in Africa?:
Three broad areas are said to inform consumer involvement that is the product characteristics, situational effects and the backgrounds of the consumer (culture, psychographics and values).

However, the diversity of population in terms of ethnicity and social strata, underdeveloped infrastructure, disorganised and fragmented retail landscape, unclear and ever-changing government regulations, illiteracy, corruption pose huge challenges when it comes to unearthing insight on the continent.

A study seeking to understand the middle class in Africa found that among the stack of reports produced by economic experts, donor agencies, the armies of non-governmental organisations marching across the continent, academics and governments, it is almost impossible to find a single reliable statistic. Normalcy does not make news.

As a result a focus solely on product characteristics in conducting in insight is Africa is short-sighted. This is short-sighted because context plays a heightened role in Africa, and an understanding the cultural landscape and social dynamics is important.

Insight and making sure a portfolio and brand strategy can work effectively ‘on the ground’ is a crucial driver of successful branding in African markets where brand language is underdeveloped.

At Added Value, we use a proprietary methodology called Cultural Insight to explore the local expression of global ideas. This ensures alignment with the global brand while making certain that that expression is locally relevant.

We seeks to go beyond insight but to ensuring that insight lives within the clients organisation. This entails not only debriefing insight but working with the team through workshops to take insight into specific action.

As part of the WPP group, we select our partners based on their unique set of skills and capabilities required for each project, while endeavouring to use sister WPP agencies.

We approach insight from 360° dimension, including cultural Insight. This helps us to understand the culture of different ethnicities, provides a more holistic image than traditional consumer research, can overcome language barriers that affect focus groups and quantitative questionnaires, and can take place in rural areas where over 60% of the population still lives.

Importantly, through an in-house semiotician, we use various cultural insight techniques such as ethnography and the use of semiotics to decode the cultural landscape.

Important learnings from Africa:
Most importantly, conducting insight in Africa requires patience, understanding, flexibility and, at times, an innovative approach.

Secondly, socio-economic conditions determine not just how but also when the insight is done. For example, knowing the wage cycles influences will help inform when you should do research for a retailer.

Then, often one needs to think out of the box to reach areas that may be difficult to reach.  For example, Nokia has a research centre in Nairobi seeking technical insight. They use senior students to ensure a cultural and language match between the researcher and respondents.

There are also very specific considerations you need to take into account to ensure the right level of participation. An example here would be an awareness of cultural sensitivities – one cannot photograph pregnant women, for example; in-home visits are not permitted by males or non-Muslim females.

Key, too, is preparing for all eventualities. Accessibility to some regions and lack of appropriate research facilities, require alternative and unconventional research techniques to be used. You need to be flexible to these differing market conditions.

In addition, the accommodative nature of the African respondents and an eagerness to please means that they are open to staying longer and sharing more, despite often arriving late!

This nature also impacts the types of questions used to unpack their feelings. For example, if you are doing a rating system, you need to be aware you will hardly get a negative rating. During the World Cup time, Added Value used soccer cards (red cards, yellow) as a rating system.

And finally, we learnt time and time again that insight alone does not suffice…how that insight is expressed is equally important.

The balance between African and Global:
There exists a unique dichotomy between international aspirations and local identity. Most African consumers want to be African first, but at the same time want to be worldly … while maintaining a uniquely local identity. The challenge is to balance the positive aspects of Africa (local relevance) with international aspirations.

The social role the brand plays has an influence in driving consumer involvement.  The mobile industry has aggressively driven penetration of mobile not only as a communication device but to offer broader offerings that make a real difference.

MTN, the new entrant into Top 100 Global brands in the BrandZ study, is an example of great success in this area. It set up kiosks in rural areas and has given agents motorbikes to reach the remotest places. The brand’s regional innovation centres in Cairo, Amman and Abidjan ensure that the company’s deep consumer insights result in truly customised products and services.

What is key to building brands in Africa?:
In building brands in Africa’s markets there is a need to adapt to each country’s – or each region within a country – individual conditions. For instance, Nestlé has mobile coffee sellers in Ghana that tap into a number of local needs and dynamics. As a great deal of time is spent in traffic and on the move, the sellers make certain they are there, in the traffic jams. In addition, people can only afford to purchase single unit sachets. Finally, having this route to market addresses the local need for employment, and allows individuals to earn an income

 Top 10 tips for insight & brand development in Africa:

  1. Many languages and dialects, especially in more rural regions, therefore getting appropriate translations, translators and moderators is critical
  2. For lower socio-economic consumers, local researchers need to match the consumers for maximum comfort. There is power in the being an outsider as it gives to you to license to ask naïve questions.
  3. Respondents in Africa need to really understand the value of the research – in order to give full participation
  4. It may take a much longer time to build rapport and trust in more sensitive categories. IN some categories consider starting the groups differently, with a light conversation over snacks.
  5. Need to really understand the specific cultural sensitivities that exists. For example dress code, dress for respect and authenticity
  6. Select partners based on their unique set of skills and capabilities required for each project
  7. One often needs to build in extra time for the research process to cater for unexpected eventualities
  8. Socio-political volatility changes the situation from minute to minute – keep updated by local agency
  9. Do not be alarmed if a wrapped gift rather than money is used as more acceptable form of incentivising.
  10. Accessibility to some regions and lack of appropriate research facilities, require alternative and unconventional research techniques to be used. Be flexible to these differing market conditions

1.    African Consumer: Trends and Challenges (2012, Feb. Ernst & Young)
2.    Consumer Involvement and Marketing in Africa: some directions for future (Ayantunji Gbadamosi)
3.    The African Report: December 2011/January 2012
4.    The African Report: the middle classes: moving on up (Parselelo Kantai)
5.    Accenture

Image found in the public domain.

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