African knowledge is key to opportunity
Written by Opinion desk on June 21, 2010 – 5:48 pm
By Graham Leigh, founder and director of brand agency HKLM
Experience has taught us that Africa is diverse and by no means predictable. There are multiple layers of complexity when it comes to communicating to a multilingual and multi-ethnic environment. As branders, we can’t take anything for granted.
Marketing success depends on our ability to identify and respect national nuances and then fuse them with universal truths that resonate through these cultural and economic layers. If we take the time to immerse ourselves in the local society, learn the culture and understand the diversity, the rewards will be plentiful.
While Africa can be daunting for marketers – an estimated 2 000 languages are spoken in nearly 50 countries – we’ve found a way of building successful brands that transcend the diversity.
The branding solutions that HKLM developed for Mozambican mobile telecommunications operator mcel demonstrated the need for flexibility and creativity when building a coherent brand across different markets. We rely on the market intelligence that our design and insight teams get from spending considerable time locally. Part of our success can be attributed to our willingness to understand cultures, language and nuances, buying habits and the elements that influence those.
On the strength of the success of our mcel work, HKLM was awarded one of the most important accounts in Mozambique: the rebranding of the country’s power generator, Hydro Electrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB).
One of the key findings of the insight phase of the project was that HCB, as an electricity supplier for both national and export markets, was seen as a potent symbol of national pride and a vital key to economic development. The element of national pride was translated into brand promises that unified culturally diverse markets.
The tag line for HCB was “The Power of Energy” which is an obvious metaphor for electricity’s ability to change lives and uplift society.
With HCB and mcel, HKLM inspanned its strategic and multidisciplinary design capacity to develop the new brands. In keeping with our belief in skills transfer and the importance of local partners, production work for the HCB project was handed over to local media houses and for the mcel project,local contractors and agencies handled the advertising, marketing collateral and shopfitting.
Experience has also taught us the challenges of building brands in markets that span established urban economies and informal, rural ones. With mcel, where the distribution spanned the spectrum of retail – from flagship stores to stores-within-stores, kiosks, franchises and informal vending points – it was vital that the brand could roll out as easily within a rural environment as it could in a first-world urban retail space.
Our previous SA experience with Mercantile Bank, a subsidiary of Portugal’s state-owned Caixa Geral de Depositos, provided useful learnings on Portuguese heritage and influence in developing these two proudly Mozambican brands. The old colonial languages such as Portuguese, French and Spanish can be an effective communications strategy in Africa; and working with mcel, we identified a strong South American aspiration in Mozambique through the common language, so we brought the spirit of Brazil into that brand.
Our recent appointment as brand partner to Petro SA will further broaden our experience in Africa, particularly in the oil, energy and resources sectors. In fact, Angola is a focus area for HKLM with the developing economy providing brand opportunities for organisations across all sectors, particularly as consumers face increased choice, move away from price-driven buying and become more sophisticated and discerning.
That’s obviously a longer term view but we see plenty of opportunity for organisations to get in early and establish a strong brand presence. In the Lusaphone countries where Portuguese is still prominent, there are material similarities including their shared colonial history and economic relationships with SA and Lisbon. These give rise to some common consumer trends.
But this certainly doesn’t mean “one-size-fits-all’ and we know from our Africa experience, that developing unique brands requires a unique approach. Africa has an inimitable ability to reinvent, adapt and redefine. Understand that – and Africa’s diversity – and opportunities will unlock themselves.