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Delving into the African truth

To truly get to grips with marketing to the modern African consumer it is essential to realise that you are appealing to a “peculiar” audience. Throw away the theories and rules that you thought you knew and spend more time studying the behaviour of these consumers.

“It is no longer about building a product or marketing it, it is about building solutions to answer the real African problem and productising these solutions,” says Allen Kambuni of Kenyan-based Bean Interactive.

Speaking at a recent Pan African Media Organisation (PAMRO) conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, Kambuni challenged the audience — comprising media, advertising and marketing delegates — to delve into “the African truth” and apply design thinking aimed at solving problems instead of trying to apply a formal sector or class approach to a broader African audience.

Demographics are no longer relevant

According to Kambuni, targeting an audience based on demographics is no longer relevant. “It’s easy to say ‘sports is a man’s game; gaming is for kids; women are homemakers; and men buy cars’, but when we look at the facts, 60% of sporting goods shoppers who engaged with relevant You Tube content are female; 45% of video game searchers are older than 35; 40% of home goods searchers are men; and 60% of auto searchers on mobile are female. Targeting based on demographics is no longer effective. Today it is all about signals. What is your audience telling you about their preference?”

By way of example, Kambuni spoke about a Kenyan nappy manufacturer who wanted to know how his company could increase sales. He spent time in a slum area in Nairobi simply observing. What he noticed was that during the day parents let their children run around “free” without a nappy; only at night did they put a nappy on them, to go to bed. To cater for the practical and economic needs of this sector, the manufacturer began selling the nappies in singles instead of just bulk packs.

“In Kenya, this is what we call the Kadago economy,” Kambuni says. “Matching modern trade to proximity trade, to match the growth of the spaza.”

Finding African solutions

“When it comes to finding solutions most people in Africa have cut their teeth in an environment of scarcity. No one is waiting around for the government to offer solutions. Ask anyone from Nairobi: it’s about taking what you’ve got and making the most of it. [As marketers and advertisers] we must stop trying to take a solution that fits in the western world and forcing it to fit. It won’t. An example is in the DRC Congo, the robots there actually wave. It’s an African solution that may seem mercurial elsewhere, but it’s sustainable here.”

Typical customer experience journeys are built on what people can do, but the African customer experience journey is built on what people can’t do.  “We need to reach audiences based on their need in the moment to provide simple solutions that change the way they live,” says Kambuni.

This can be seen in a recent shift noticed by researchers at Nielsen, where people are moving away from hypermarkets and reverting to shopping at local spazas and shops. It’s hardly surprising, given the excessive rise in fuel and transport costs recently; as a result, people don’t want to travel, instead preferring shops close to where they live or commute.

Even within more structured shopping outlets like malls, shoppers are demanding “proximity, efficiency, in-the-moment rewards and additional services.”

Digital and e-commerce can play a critical role

Digital and e-commerce can play an important role in this by providing on-demand two-way interactions through easy to use apps and addressable advertising.

Internet banking is huge in Africa. According to a study by the World Bank in 2014, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Cote de Ivoire and Zimbabwe were ranked in the top six in the world for percentage of account holders who made a transaction on mobile in the previous 12 months — coming in ahead of South Korea, the United States, Sweden and Australia respectively. Digital has opened up banking in areas it wasn’t previously easily accessible.

E-commerce is also thriving. In Nigeria, 65% of internet users shop online and 24 % say they intend to in the future, which means that 89% of online users are potential online shoppers. In South Africa, this number is 70% and in Kenya, 60%.

An example of where digital is catering directly to its consumers’ needs is OTM, a Kenyan retail disruptor that gives instant access to branded household goods and offers credit and discounts, packaged in easy-to-use apps. “With access to over 300 000 traditional trade outlets, OTM will be able to offer valuable data and insights into untapped consumer opportunities and behavioural trends,” Kambuni says.

“In Africa digital is neither explorative or exploitative. It’s what we eat, live and need to survive. The companies that will survive in the next couple of decades of Africa need to delve deep into the data that defines this new population.”