CAPE TOWN: A brand's attitude is just as important as the product or service itself when it comes to succeeding in African markets a leading industry figure has said.

"Just because a brand is successful in the UK, doesn't mean it will fly in Uganda," Gary Harwood, of Johannesburg agency HKLM, told the Financial Mail. "Many imported brands and cultures are not welcome because they're perceived to be invasive and insensitive," he added.

Despite that, he argued that there had never been a better time for brands to tap the African market, with consumer spending expected to grow strongly at a time when more mature markets were stagnating.

Harwood cautioned however that there was no standard response to branding across Africa and that a different way of thinking would be needed. "The continent is both predictable and unpredictable and none of its populations or its places are homogeneous," he said.

"Diversity presents opportunity but marketers have to truly know and understand the continent's myriad nuances," Harwood continued. For overseas marketers, that meant getting out of air-conditioned city offices and experiencing the reality of rural Africa.

"Seeing is believing," he declared. "Journey deep into the regions to experience your intended brand spaces first-hand."

His observation that the most successful brands were those that managed to balance local relevance and context with international aspirations were an echo of the results of recent research over 21 countries by The Futures Company.

This found that consumers frequently expressed tensions between cultural openness (actively seeking out and engaging with elements of other cultures) and cultural attachment (actively seeking to preserve their cultural heritage).

In general, however, emerging market consumers were seen to gravitate more strongly towards local brands than foreign brands.

Harwood also advised that a single "monolithic" brand that delivered on brand promise was preferable to many smaller brands which risked confusing consumers.

The different way of thinking he espoused extended to looking beyond the use of traditional media and embracing innovative digital campaigns with brand activations that both inspired and engaged.

"The spread and reach of the new media channels present huge opportunity," he stated. "Marketers need to invest time and effort in determining the ideal mix."

Data source from Financial Mail; additional content by Warc staff