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Marketing in Africa? Educate the Consumer

Marketing in Africa shares some similar challenges with with marketing goods and services anywhere else in the world.  Yet, how you, as an entrepreneur, successfully meet those challenges must fit your particular African context.  One of the major tasks of an entrepreneur bringing a novel product to market is educating the consumers about the benefits the product will bring to their life.

What Are You Marketing in Africa?

What type of product are you planning on marketing in Africa?  Are you improving on goods or services already in the market place.  Are you creating a spinoff of an existing service?  With these types of products much of the consumer education has already been done.  All you have to do is differentiate yours from the competition.

If you are a real, innovative entrepreneur, bringing a ground breaking product to market, educating the public about your product is absolutely crucial to profitability.  The education process, in many cases, will have to begin with educating investors, but that is topic for another article.  Entrepreneurs must make the consumer aware that they have need of the product and that this particular product is a better answer to their need than anything others are marketing in Africa.  This consumer education, done well, broadens the market for your product and, in some cases, it even creates a market.

Western Marketing Techniques Will Fail

Entrepreneurs around the world often see the Internet as their prime medium for educating prospective consumers about their product.  That may or may not be the best medium in Africa.  It all depends on who you view as the consumer of your product.  If you suspect that the consumers of your product are motivated by Western culture values, then just use the marketing techniques you learned in your Western business or marketing school.  But, you will most likely learn that marketing in Africa necessitates a more contextualized consumer education campaign.

Oral Culture

Some entrepreneurs believe that by telling people facts about their new product they are educating them.  You smarter than that.  You surely know that spouting facts is a misguided approach to most urban and rural Africans.  Africans, like people in many parts of the world, are predominantly oral learners.  Here me out.  Africa has come a long way in education.  Many of their modern higher education institutions outshine their counterparts in the West.  The graduates they produce are some of the brightest on the planet.  Yet, it is a matter of culture, past and present, that the majority of Africans learn best through hearing and viewing demonstrations.  That is how most information is successfully communicated on the continent.  You, an entrepreneur marketing Africa ignores this cultural fact at your own peril.

Well written articles by renown experts, pamphlets or .PDFs describing your product, even fact ridden videos are not the best forms of consumer education in Africa.  While those may be of some small value while marketing in Africa, face to face demonstrations or videos of such demonstrations have a much greater impact.

Consumer Education Venues

So, what are the best venues for such face to face consumer education experiences?   Given enough time, you can discover them for yourself.  Walk around the streets of any African city.  Observe where people congregate.

Here are a few productive venues I have learned from over the past thirty-five years experience in Africa.  Bus stations and other public transportation launch pads are full of people waiting to depart.  They have time on their hands.  Open air market places are frequented by almost everyone.  They are hubs through which the latest news and ideas are spread all over the city and into the rural villages.  At lunch time and in the evenings parks filled with potential consumers.

You do not have to rely solely on everyday gathering places.  Organize special events such as news conferences, grand openings, or press conferences.   Attend trade shows.  Show up at festivals and celebrations.

I remember when Tobacco companies sent well clad, hip, young people into the streets of the cities of Benin handing out  free samples.  These young people, just by the way they dressed, communicated the message, “smoke this and you will be like me.”  It was not the Marlboro cowboy on a horse plastered on a huge billboard, it was down in the street, close-up demonstration.  And, I am sorry to say that it convince many young people in Benin to start smoking.

If your product is Internet or smartphone based, or if you just must do some consumer education over the Internet, use videos or illustrations full of images.  That works best when marking in Africa.  Text based discussions or instruction are a distant second.
It would even be good to video some of the public demonstrations of your product.  Or, at public event you might want to be as cheeky as to say, “take out your phones and video this.  You won’t want to forget it.”  And, just maybe, you will get some viral exposure for your product.

Culture Fit

The Marlboro Man may be recognizable around the world, but he does not produce buyers.  Pamphlets, flyers, videos or anything else that was developed to sell your product in a Western context, or any other non-African context for that matter, should be jettisoned, or at the very least reworked to fit the local area when marketing in Africa.   Make written materials, videos or face to face presentations easy to comprehend.  Let actions or graphics do most of the communicating.  The problems you solve or the needs you meet in these presentations must be relevant to the consumers lives.  Show them, don’t just tell them.
The graphics and videos, like the face to face demonstrations, need to take place in African contexts.  I am not only saying use African actors, but actually real African settings in which the product will be used.

Satisfied Customers

The very best consumer educators, the ones that deliver sales any where in the world, are people who have purchased the product and sing its praises to others.  The same is true when marketing in Africa.  Customers who are excited and savvy about the benefits of your product will be putting on their own private demonstrations to individuals and small groups.  You will do well to, at times, shut videos of these customers your product.  Then, upload it to YouTube and tell the customer you have done so. You can bet they will show the video to many others.  This customer enthusiasm builds credibility, which directly translates into increased customer retention and higher revenues.

These are just a few essential concepts to grasp when marking in Africa.  Taking them to heart and working them out will translate directly to increasing your business’ bottom line.

This article has given you some suggestion of how to contextualize your consumer education.  The African cultural context is rich with potentially profitable mediums and venues for educating potential customers.  You can spend months and even years learning discovering them for yourself, you can rely on the experience of others.  We at Africa Mentor have spent more than 35 years learning African culture and successfully passing our knowledge to others.  Take a look at the full range of services we offer or ask for a FREE consultation so we discuss how to market your goods or services in Africa.