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Branding in the African Context.

Firstly, there is no branding in the ‘African’ context, just as there is no one specific African culture… one-size-fits all branding in Africa does not cut it. in fact that kind of approach does not attract the so called ‘African’ people.

Africa is made up of 54 countries. So when someone says that something is uniquely African, isn’t that labelling a bit too loose? And shouldn’t the African theme be secondary or better yet a tertiary reference from a nomenclature perspective? This would mean that a marketing strategy that works in one African market does not guarantee success in another African market.

The reason we’re writing this blog is to remove the veil from international brands who wants to target an “African audience'” and also for African brands who’ve positioned their product or service as “African”. We want to clear this up for you… there is no such thing as an ‘African’ market or better yet a ‘Africa buying culture’. The mistake too many of these brands make, particularly international ones, is to treat Africa as a homogenous whole. Africa does not have a single culture. A marketing strategy that works in one African market does not guarantee success in another, and to assume otherwise indicates a woeful ignorance of the continent and its diverse people. The vibrant and colourful continent has a kaleidoscope of cultures, traditions and ethnic groups that respect many different values and beliefs.

Brands are often heard describing products and/or services coming out of Africa as ‘African’. For those who have been lucky enough to have travelled the continent you’d understand the problems that come with blanket branding or making the secondary branding your primary branding. Using a blanket approach or even considering one-size-fits-all branding in Africa simply does not cut it.

As the global economic slowdown continues to inhibit opportunities for expansion in home territories, more and more companies are looking to the rest of Africa as a potential growth market. Africans are connected and are passionate about their continent but uniting to identify with one to two common themes on what it truly means to be African. That alone could throw the initiative off track, diluting our message, resulting in the generation of a confusing purpose. So when one says a brand is truly African what is the motivating factor that connects us to that theme.

Agility

Your brand needs to be able to change with the times. Your brand needs to be able to keep up with the evolution of the surrounding culture. Africa has been exposed to various internal and external elements that have created a plethora of micro-cultures, which in a sense guide a given community’s way of life.

It is assumed that by being a South African company, you identify with the African cause and have a decent understanding of the continent giving you a competitive edge when expanding to neighbouring African countries when compared to your global counterparts. However, based on some of the failures that successful South African companies have encountered in Nigeria, we begin to realise the level of cultural dissonance that exists within our continent. In addition, it is also revealed that the agility of brands developed in Southern Africa will not necessarily deliver the desired effect when in another region of the continent. So defining a central African culture to build your brand on is much, much harder than one would envision.

Being ‘uniquely’ African requires more flexibility

Something that differentiates you from your competition. What it means to be uniquely African? Do you have to come from all 54 countries or just one in particular? Do you have to identify with all African cultures or is their one that a majority of the population gravitates toward? What language should the brand use to assert that it is uniquely African and does a majority of the population understand that language? What tone of voice and message is African? Lastly how would one define African essence? Surely all the aforementioned would differ considerably as one moves from one region of the continent to the next. Being uniquely African requires more flexibility than a narrowed definition and defining this uniqueness would take a considerable amount of time and effort to crystallise.


Granted that by going the African route, you’re trying to appeal to a wider audience. But an all-encompassing approach in a way dilutes your messaging from an authenticity and uniqueness standpoint. It also makes it difficult for you to tell your story because it requires you to get buy-in from several stakeholders (54 in this case) and you coming up with a purpose that the entire continent identifies with unilaterally is an ask in itself.

The relevance in African brands will not be found in a continental positioning but a national positioning which takes the rest of the continent into account.

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