As Africa becomes an increasingly important geography for global brands, HeyHuman's Neil Davidson explores the misconceptions non-African marketers hold about the vast and diverse continent and what they need to do about them. 

A recent report revealed that non-African brands account for a whopping 84% of the top 100 most admired brands in Africa, and 99.3% of the most valuable. The business opportunity for Western marketers is vast, however, expanding into the world’s second-largest continent is no easy feat. 

Recently we have seen the likes of Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ withdraw from Africa due to poor sales. The failure of these brands shows how western brands can’t expect success if they just cut and paste their global brand positioning into these territories.

Western brands looking to make a play for Africa need a comprehensive understanding of the continent’s many different markets and cultures, however, all too often, marketers make incorrect assumptions about what will work in a particular market, and adopt a rudimentary ‘one size fits all’ approach to courting African consumers.

There is no ‘stereotypical’ African individual. You wouldn’t launch an ‘American’ campaign, and you wouldn’t expect the same campaign to work in England and France, so you shouldn’t expect the same thing for Kenya and Ethiopia.

At HeyHuman, we have worked with Diageo for more than a decade to deliver pan-African campaigns for leading beer-brand Guinness. In recent years, we have launched campaigns in Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Ethiopia – and with all of these campaigns, we have learned the importance of thinking about our content from both a global and a local perspective.

This localisation isn’t just about the message you are conveying, but also the communication channel which you are using to reach your target consumers. For instance, many novices would be surprised to learn that mobile is one of the fastest-growing communication channels in Africa, with recent research revealing that more than half of Sub-Saharan Africa is set to be connected to mobile by 2025.

The world of m-commerce is also significantly more pronounced in Africa than it is in other territories, and we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of people accessing the internet and making payments via mobile. In our own work in Africa, we have seen how mobile can be leveraged to target a brand’s audience – especially when it comes to younger consumers. For instance, a recent text-to-win campaign, we received 3.34 million mobile entries across Nigeria alone.

When launching campaigns in Africa, marketers should also recognise the importance of experiential. It’s easier to pull off an experiential or sampling campaign at scale than it is in the UK because it’s not as cost-prohibitive to recruit large numbers of staff to go out and interact with target consumers on behalf of your brand, and this can prove invaluable in building brand affinity and awareness.

Whilst there are clear nuances to be aware of when launching campaigns in Africa, it should also be remembered that there are key similarities between African and UK consumers. People’s needs, fears, and aspirations are broadly similar from continent to continent – and there are some basic marketing rules which are as applicable to African consumers, as they are to any other territory.

For instance, simple campaigns are going to have the best cut-through in Africa. Like anywhere else in the world, images speak louder and quicker than words, and campaigns built on behavioural psychology, true insight, and a clear idea will be most effective.

Brands should also not underestimate the scepticism of African consumers. There is often a perception among Western marketers that Africa is ‘behind’ other more developed markets, and that consumers won’t be as savvy to marketing tactics. However, our research into African target audiences has shown that this isn’t the case.

Africa represents an exciting commercial opportunity for brands, but in order to make a success of this market, they need to make sure they do their homework. Instead of making assumptions about what strategies will work in African territories, or committing to an over-hasty and misjudged ad-spend, brand need to embed themselves in the local context of each individual territory.

A successful African approach requires great care and consideration, and the potential rewards on offer are huge.