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    Africa is not a country Africa is not a country

    Take everything you know about economics, marketing and consumer spending and throw it out the window.  

    By Jessica Wheeler | November 5, 2015

    Take everything you know about economics, marketing and consumer spending and throw it out the window.  That’s the best way to approach the African middle class.  With a clean slate; devoid of influence by some rather overly-exaggerated reports of billions in potential spending power, hyper-growth and mass consumerism.  The African consumer (if such a stereotype did, in fact, exist) is unlike anything the marketing world has seen before.  And worse yet, the existing data and insights into the African marketplace differ considerably from source to source, making it very difficult to hang your hat on anything remotely strategic with which to launch forward with your endeavours.  Yes, Africa is indeed a confusing and terrifying place.  Where, might I add, marketing history is waiting to be made. 

    Often we sit here on the southern tip of the continent and marvel at how right the marketers are getting it in developed countries.  Those campaigns that are bred from a solid, universal human insight that seem to transcend demographics and become truly powerful across the world.  Guess what? That’s what’s needed in Africa.  Not marketing circa-1990.  I think marketers are quick to assume that a developing continent and its people need a back-to-basics marketing approach.  This couldn’t be further from what’s truly needed to succeed on the continent. 

    Africa is not a country.  In fact, consumer profiles even within single countries are more diverse than those found across the whole of Europe.  And yet, we are still approaching these markets with Euro-centric adaptations and a ‘keep-it-simple-stupid’ marketing philosophy that has seen giants of the FMCG world crumble in their attempts.  What’s needed to truly resonate with the African middle class consumer is a steadfast mind-set that really, there is no such thing as an ‘African middle class’.  We are men, women, children, grandparents, wives and husbands, much like our counterparts across the channel.  To win here, the consumer needs to be at the heart of the marketing strategy.  Not your desire for a quick buck and continental fame.  And to get to that consumer, there really is nothing more effective than on-the-ground presence and true cultural immersion.  You need feet on the ground, preferably local feet, who know more about their communities, cities, cultures and countries than we could ever hope to conclude from the hordes of relatively inaccurate and hopelessly contradicting research and data that exists on the African market place.   

    Once you’ve got those real, human-borne insights, there’s a few more things you may want to consider when marketing across the continent:

    • Ignore spending power and growth potential and take a far closer look at the spending priorities of your identified consumer segment.  You may find that your competitors aren’t category-specific.
    • Corporate social responsibility ranks high as an effective brand building tactic.  The meaningful, authentic kind.
    • Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.  We know it’s important, but what’s even more so is feature phone integration and low-as-possible data cost implications for the consumer.
    • There are massive vernacular language implications especially when you intend on penetrating outlying regions.
    • You’re going to need thick skin, patience and a decent budget to get it right.  The consumer landscape is vast, tricky to navigate and the risk of failure is potentially huge.
    • Be open-minded.  I’ve seen large monolithic businesses need to tweak their Brand identities to remove potentially offensive colours from the self-same brand logo that has driven global success.

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