African Marketing Confederation: The billion-person question

African Marketing Confederation: The billion-person question

Targeting a market rich with opportunity is a gift for marketers, but one that asks marketing leaders for a change in worldview.

With a population as diverse as it is numerous, Africa remains an enigma for many organisations, yet it is a land of tremendous opportunity. Its population of over 1.3bn people across 54 member states offers a source of new and enticing customer segments, as well as a rich resource of talent. Yet it is still to realise its full potential on the international stage.

James Sutton, CIM’s strategy and commercial director recently attended the 2nd Annual African Marketing Confederation Conference which focused on the elements needed to break open the untapped potential in the region. At the conference, Sutton discussed the need for strong leadership and continuous learning to meet both innovation and changing consumer demands both now and in the future. Sutton also discussed the crucial role that professional bodies, such as CIM, play in developing a thriving profession by fostering advocacy, enhancing representation and setting standards.

It was agreed that for this to happen, organisations will need strong leadership to navigate a frequently changing – and sometimes challenging – landscape. One of the key speakers at the event was portfolio advisor, investor and strategist, Yaw Nsarkoh. He revealed what makes a strong leader in the African market and their responsibility to make sure that they cater to the full population, wherever possible.

“The responsibility of leadership, in whatever realm, is to make sure that buyers all have access to dignity and prosperity. The key for marketing leaders is to liberate the productive forces in order to improve livelihoods and make society better for the long term,” Nsarkoh insists.

He underlines the notion of ‘long-term’, suggesting that marketing as a discipline “lost its way” when it became all about the quarterly figures, quantifying reach and so on.

Move out of the echo chamber

Leaders’ current failure to embrace the full panorama of opportunity in Africa comes down to the company they keep. “Marketers in Africa tend to be people that have benefited from a good education. They’re sitting in the room with people who share the same upper middle class background. And they think their circumstances are the circumstances of the majority,” he states, revealing that recent Gartner research found 68% of Africa’s population were classed as living in low-income homes.

In reality, the majority of the African population is living on the equivalent of 11 Euros a day. “With half of that going on food, everything else they need in life has to be squeezed into €5.50 a day. Get out of your upper middle class bubble.” Nsarkoh demands.

One of the other implications for marketers is that a country with economic challenges can throw established marketing thinking out of the window. Nsarkoh points out that the average marketing textbook will state that the way you know your brand is strong is you can price it higher. What does that mean when seven out of 10 of your potential customers are living in poverty, he asks.

Effective marketing leaders in Africa have to be fluid in their thinking. “Leaders don’t come to the conversation and say ‘what I know is universally true’. They come to the African market and say ‘this is what the circumstances are, and this is what applies. In terms of your principles, only six make sense’.”

Pragmatic profit

The challenge for leaders has become keeping shareholders happy. This is what is driving the need for those quarterly updates, and the drive to keep including ever higher numbers. This is incompatible with the African market. But, Nsarkoh insists, this isn’t charity. Profit is good. It’s how you structure success that matters.

“I’m not against profit, I am against profiteering. There is a distinction between the two. Profit is a reward for doing a good job. Profiteering means I’m out to make money by any means necessary, cutting corners. Illegal mining in Ghana, for example, just so someone can make a buck.

“But we should be teaching a new generation of marketers about frugal economics, economically efficient models. If you’re working in low-income societies, you still expect to make a return. When all that matters is maximising returns for shareholders, there is no long-term. There is no force for regeneration and the long-term health of society.”

Nsarkoh’s principle – that marketing can be both profitable and beneficial to society – is something marketers the world over have been striving towards. It is perhaps a more simplistic and yet very clear distillation of the concept of ‘purpose’ that challenges marketers today.

Extending the view of marketing leaders

It also speaks to just how broad the marketing leader’s remit has become, and how marketers who seek to be leaders need to look beyond their narrow view of the world to engage fully with their market.

Nsarkoh himself points out that he grew up on a university campus, full of diversity both national and intellectual. Indeed, his early academic life and career were directed to engineering, before landing at Unilever as a marketer. But it was his curiosity, spawned by his early learning and environment, that he believes has set up his vision for what being a marketing leader really means, and it’s a vision that he firmly believes more marketers should adopt if they’re to thrive in a market as challenging but equally as rewarding as the great African continent.

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