Marketing in Africa: Lessons from Yellowwood

Gerhard Reinecke of Yellowwood with the ALN Ventures entrepreneurs.

Gerhard Reinecke of Yellowwood with the ALN Ventures entrepreneurs.

by Moira Ndlovu, ALN staff

Ever wonder what it takes to market yourself successfully in “Africa”?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation hosted by Yellowwood on how brands can better market themselves in the African continent. Being an “African consumer” and reflecting on my peers’ tastes, I thought, “That’s easy, just look to what America is doing and you’ll be good.” Turn on a local radio station, which is catered to South African youth, and you’ll hear an American or someone effecting an American accent on the show as they play American music. Walk through downtown Joburg and you’ll find dozens of stores using pictures of Rihanna and Beyoncé to advertise their services. In Africa, America sells. I believe that a large part of the affinity to that which is American is in large part due to the trust and quality that that successful foreign brands have made synonymous with America.

However, there is more to appealing to African tastes than simply imitating America. The three other major contributing factors to the success of a brand, according to speakers David Blyth (Group Managing Director of Yellowwood) and Carol Abade (CEO of EXP Agency), are:

1. Understanding the African consumer.

African consumers do not typically conform to the tenets of marketing as applied in Western markets. Yellowwood has identified eight African archetypes prominent in key African markets (South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria): Go-getters, Inventors, Bosses, Survivors, Traditionalists, Caregivers, Mentors, and Optimists. The composition of each archetype varies from country to country and depends on the prevalent cultural norms. Many companies make the mistake of having a strategy for “Africa”, without recognizing these different archetypes that dominate the different African markets. To be successful, companies must stop thinking of one collective “African” consumer. 

2. Understanding African attitudes.

The way in which a person interacts with their environment is largely related to their attitude and how they view the world. African countries are no different. Segments of the population will have fundamentally different needs and attitudes, and therefore you will have to approach them differently in order to win them over. For instance, take the dichotomy between the “Traditionalists”, who are skeptical of outside influences (especially Western influences) and  want to preserve the way things have always been done, and the “Inventors”, who seek to challenge and change the way things are done. A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy simply does not exist.  

3. Connecting with African attitudes.

The attitudes that have been found to resonate the most in Africa are:

  • Generosity. It is important for people to know you do not just want to pull money out of themyou are also genuinely interested in their well-being.
  • Togetherness. Embrace convergence and ignore formal boundaries of what you can and cannot do.
  • Innovation. Be sensitive to what works best in your target market, where unexpected challenges may exist, and rethink your standard methods of distributing your products and services.
  • Humility. Your goal should not be to challenge the existing culture, but rather to engage with it.
  • Optimism. Create products that give people something to look forward to.
  • Tenacity. Create something that will withstand the stark realities of the markets in which you operate.
  • Ambition.  Reflect the aspirations of your target customers.

4. Building a knowledge base.

Companies must research and collect as much information as they can on the markets they want to target. Only brands that understand African attitudes and archetypes will survivea solid knowledge base is essential to getting a true understanding of your market. It is essential to know who they are, what their key needs are, and how you can win them as customers. 

ALN is grateful to Yellowwood for inviting us to participate in this session. In addition, the ALN Ventures entrepreneurs participated in a separate marketing and branding training with Gerhard Reinecke, Senior Strategist at Yellowwood. We’re lucky to be able to learn valuable brand building lessons from one of South Africa’s most innovative marketing consultancies!

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