It is doomed to fail unless you understand the consumer dynamics at a hyper-local level. Don't expect to rely on Big Data - not only is it difficult to gather; it is incomparable across markets due to varying collection methods, quality controls and infrastructure. Ideally, you need to build your own data from the customer up, but this takes time and resources that few have at the outset.
It's a long road to marketing effectiveness. Yellowwood suggests a few simple steps to get you going:
Get to know your prospective customers at a personal level. Do the road trips and talk to hundreds of people to get a good enough feel for the different types of customers out there. Do it in less formal, ethnographic ways and take pictures for the team back home.
It sounds expensive, but it's cheap insurance against poor decision-making in the future, and it allows you to add anecdotal colour to the data you find and recognise which sources of data to trust.
Most countries in Africa think they are unique, but digging into consumer behaviour reveals that we are all more similar than we think. Ask yourself how you can cluster countries together so that you can be more effective and efficient in your marketing efforts. Cluster in a way that makes sense for your business - whether by regulatory constraints or consumer needs, growth rates or competitive landscape, size or potential.
Task an experienced person and a multi-country workshop team to sort, group and ring-fence the broad types of consumers. It may help to imagine a week's calendar for the different segments. This brings idea-sparking colour to the segmentation, and also makes it clear who does not fit in. Alternatively, start with consumer segments at a country level, and aggregate these into a consolidated segmentation.
Overlaying country clusters with consumer segments creates a multi-dimensional view of the market for sizing profit pools. It also helps you develop more relevant products and services and allows you to connect innovation ideas to social initiatives that are relevant and engaging.
Once you have your marketing objectives for each cluster, it's easier to identify the partners to help you deliver the right customer experience. If you have a cluster of countries like Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria - and you know that winning in this cluster requires a reputation of leadership amongst trend-setting 18-24 year olds, then you immediately know the type of brand associations to build through collaborations.
When you understand your customer segments from the bottom-up, you can quickly identify tactics that will work. This frees up your local teams to act as the need arises - responding to changes in the market and tapping into topical issues to stay ahead of the pack.
Africa is a tough nut to crack. While the opportunities are growing rapidly, it remains a challenging place to build brands. Marketing's imperative is to understand the people you wish to connect with - intimately and in a sufficiently aggregated way to make efficiencies possible. As in any market, the most successful marketing is grounded in solid insight, makes the right strategic decisions and responds creatively to customer needs and context.
This article first appeared in Finweek