Posts Tagged ‘branding’

Competitive Advantage & Customer Relationships: Lessons from Market Mummies of Ghana

Source: Gerry van Dyke presentation

Source: Gerry van Dyke presentation

How would you differentiate yourself in this informal retail market? Ghanaian market research guru Gerry van Dyke took a closer look at the market ‘mummies’ – Mama Biashara, as we call her – and their consumer marketing techniques in the “non-label environment”. His findings form an excellent foundation for understanding marketing and customer relationships in the informal sector. You can explore insights from his presentation here (PDF).

The story that follows tells the interesting marketing skills that reside in the traditional African market and the similarities in the tools employed by modern marketing.

Professionals stand above the competition: Branding lessons from street vendors of Africa



Farai Mushayademo’s distinctive dress sense, with a different shiny suit every day, makes him a darling of customers and helps him beat the “rising competition,” he said.

This article on the increasing competition for the burgeoning informal economy of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, came less than a month after we saw this smartly turned out fruit vendor plying his trade in the streets of Accra, Ghana.



For communicating brand quality, the Ghanaian gentleman surely deserves an award. His read to eat fruit was as smartly packaged and labelled as any consumer brand in a supermarket.

cth8lhbxyaqv0lyI’ve written before on the topic of ‘Branding the Unbranded’ – whether its the humble avocado being sold by the side of the road in upcountry Kenya, or a designer BBQ meant for the emerging middle class – but these distinctively dressed gentlemen on two opposite ends of the vast African continent come under an entirely new category of product and service innovation happening in the informal sector.

How do you set yourself apart in the unbranded informal economy in response to rising competition is a challenge. Ghanaian market women’s customer development and retention strategies in a commodity market (potatoes) were documented a decade ago, and found to rely on social skills, including non verbal ones such as eye contact and encouraging smiles. Yet, her advantage is that her potential customers are slowly walking through the market, looking for the best potatoes to purchase. She has the time to call out and attract their attention.

For these men on the streets, walking through traffic, that advantage is fleeting or nonexistent. They must grab attention *and* communicate their messaging in an instant (can they have been reading Gladwell’s blink?) – and the fruit vendor, with his spotless white gloves, and packaged fruit, clearly rises above the rest with his strategy.

The police are also, one hopes, less likely to chase a man in a three piece suit off the street. This is one pan African trend worth keeping an eye on.

Branding the Unbranded: The story of Cookswell Jikos, Kenya

Nakuru jua kali market, Kenya, Aug 2010 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan


These are jikos metal stoves that use charcoal – displayed for sale in the jua kali market in the town of Nakuru, Kenya. Made from scrap metal, using the most rudimentary tools, under conditions of resource scarcity, they are one of the everyday products churned out by the informal manufacturing sector. These are made of metal, as you can see, and are not very efficient. A couple of decades or more ago, Dr. Max Kinyanjui was instrumental in the development and dissemination of a simple yet impactful innovation – the Kenyan Ceramic Jiko (KCJ).

Nakuru jua kali market, Kenya Aug 2010 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan


According to wiki:

The KCJ is simply the traditional Jiko mated to a ceramic liner, producing a stove that is at least one fourth (and up to 50%) more efficient than traditional all-metal alternatives, costing only $2 to $5. The initial model has a distinctive shape, differing from the traditional cylindrical jiko, with the top and bottom the same diameter, tapering at about 30 degrees to a waist.

Nakuru jua kali market, Kenya Aug 2010 Photo Credit: Niti Bhan

This energy efficient version is also available for sale throughout the East African region. You can see many variations on the theme displayed for sale in the photograph above. These products are unbranded and handmade by artisans across the country in makeshift workshops. There are no warranties or guarantees of quality or performance or even after care service. This is the informal trade ecosystem – spanning material supply, fabrication and sales.

Branding the Unbranded

The next generation of Kinyanjuis at Cookswell Jikos, Kenya. Photo courtesy

Recently, I had was able to connect with Teddy Kinyanjui, Dr Max’ son, and speak with him about the company he runs with his sister – Cookswell Jikos – just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. They manufacture and sell the energy efficient charcoal oven, ceramic jikos of course, and lately, innovative and inspired designer barbecues and space heaters.

Cookswell Jiko workshop, Kenya. Photo courtesy

While I’ll probably be referencing again the extremely fascinating insights Teddy was able to share with me over the phone, in this post I’m going to focus on how Cookswell Jikos sets themselves apart as a reputable, branded manufacturer of products more commonly made and sold in the informal sector.

1. Intellectual Property and Copyright of Design

Teddy says this is something they just don’t worry about. Of course the product design will be copied by the informal sector, its a given in the context of the market. In fact, he says, he’s more concerned if an innovation has not be copied within 18 months, as that’s a signal that there’s no demand for it in the market.

Cookswell Jiko Charcoal Ovens, photo courtesy

For instance, the energy efficient charcoal oven is something his father, Dr Max Kinyanjui, designed. As you can see below, something similar to it is on sale in Nakuru market.

Charcoal oven, Nakuru jua kali market, Kenya Aug 2010 Photo credit: Niti Bhan

The difference, says Teddy, boils down to quality, durability, reliability and performance. And those who choose to purchase the more expensive branded original from Cookswell know that if there’s a problem, they’ll get customer service and repair on the spot. Its a business investment for an entrepreneurial bakery and the last thing you need is high energy costs when you’re a startup. This leads us to the second point, keeping trained artisans happy and incentivized.

Artisan at work, Cookswell Jikos, photo courtesy

2. Entrepreneurial business model that resonates with the informal sector’s mindset and worldview

Cookswell Jikos does not employ their artisans nor do they run their operations like a sausage factory. Each artisan is an independent entrepreneur who works on their premises, being provided with the tools and materials, and is paid on their delivery of agreed upon piecework.

In the jua kali sector – over 70% of Kenya’s manufacturing is in the informal sector – workshops along the entire informal industrial ecosystem’s supply chain work in the same fashion. The guy melting down aluminium scrap to mould parts for an autoparts fabricator gets paid for batch production on delivery.

Cookswell Jikos delivery, photo courtesy

However, as an incentive for quality work, which isn’t as consistently available in the jua kali sector, Teddy doesn’t pay them for any repairs or rework that might be required on their products. He’ll send them out to fix a problem on the spot and this takes time away from money they could be earning that day.

Along with design and quality, timeliness of delivery is part of building a reputable brand. Cookswell’s customers know they’ll get their order on time and just the way it was agreed upon. Which brings us to the third key point in the way they’ve carved out a market opportunity in the informal economy – reaching new customers.

Branding the Unbranded, Cookswell Jikos Kenya Photo collage: Amari Bakery

3. Social media and the aspirational African middle class

According to Teddy, his efforts in branding and marketing Cookswell Jikos products have shown him clearly that there’s an economic emergence happening in East Africa, and much of this is reflected by the role of internet and the mobile phone. Where word of mouth and referrals would build a reputation and thus a brand, over time, now can happen overnight due to social media. He says more and more people find him online, through Facebook primarily and Twitter of course, and place their orders online. They’ve even had a guy in the Netherlands who purchased a container full of ovens.

He said that this online activity was one of the very real indicators of the way people’s buying behaviour and purchasing patterns were changing. He’s also seen signals of the aspirational upward mobility and evolving values. Designer barbecues in the backyard look cool yet still offer the same homecooked taste.


Designer charcoal barbecue, Cookswell Jikos, photo from twitter

Formalizing the informal with new product innovations

Their product may look the same as the products sold on the side of the road by jua kali makers and perform the same function but their target audience and customer base knows the difference. They’ve demonstrated that its possible to build a thriving brand in a highly competitive, price sensitive market with little or no regulation.

Where SABMiller crafted an affordable opaque beer to reach the homebrew drinkers, Cookswell Jikos taps into the aspirations of the upwardly mobile with their branded quality. Either way, they’re bridging the informal with the formal in uniquely African ways to carve out whole, new markets.


Thinking like a user centered designer about brand management

Design is fundamentally a value system, a set of principles, that is then manifested in tangible form.
Conventionally, this has been known as setting the design criteria. However, rather than specification guidelines, as used in engineering, if one were to change metrics and numbers into values or emotional responses, one could, in fact, create a method for building and managing a brand.

For example, once you are able to identify your core value proposition, what sets you apart from the rest – it doesn’t even have to be only your competition or the industry in which in you belong, but in totality – you can then use those characteristics to set your criteria. This helps you develop a “personality” around the brand, or its character in a story or narrative. The “persona” or story, once identified, translates into the ‘design criteria’ or the specification document i.e. the PRD. However, when you take this one step further, into the perceptual or intangible, you can use the same qualities, identified by the persona or story, to articulate the essence of your brand.

Once a picture of this hypothetical brand is captured, to a degree, by this snapshot, every element that supports it, is held up and measured against one question only. Does this activity, action, message or product, work towards maintaining the integrity of the big picture brand personality? Or does it set up a cognitive dissonance in the customer’s mind because it breaks away from the existing perceptual image of the company or brand?

This integrity is necessary in guiding the process of building the brand, marketing strategy, or even corporate planning, particularly in operating environments where uncertainty is the only certainty. Are we being true to ourselves? Are we consistent with our brand promise? Are we keeping the faith?

And as you can see, this process of do, check, tweak, redo, maps on to the definition of design thinking given in bold above and also the basic user centered design process.

Empowerment and co-creation – Entering new markets with a long established brand

From personal experience, the biggest frustration with being a cog in the remote outpost of a global behemoth that actually has to implement or execute the marketing, advertising or branding strategy in the field is tussling with the brand’s identity. Clausewitz has said,

It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans.

When I was a member of the Asia Pacific new products introduction (NPI) team for India at Hewlett Packard, we had themes that were developed by HQ (Palo Alto) for each region that would then be used in each country. That year’s theme was “HP Rocks the World”.

Here is a bad photo of the 3D version of the logo we received as high quality TIFF files and sample marketing collateral designed and sent to us in the field. ‘In the field’ for a company the size of HP meant the various countries in the APAC region.

From regional MarCom HQ in Singapore, I received implementation ideas through the listserv for country NPI coordinators, for example Malaysia had the speakers drive onto the stage on Harley Davidson’s wearing black leather jackets with the logo emblazoned in living colour across the back and other such dramatic concepts. I was horrified. I knew it wouldn’t work at all in India. Here, HP was perceived as a corporate MNC – a global brandname, a Fortune 100, a ’10 Most admired companies to work for’ (in 1996) with all that that entailed in the Indian corporate environment. Our audience of VARs, dealers and distributors just wouldn’t get it if I did something along the same vein, they’d think HP had lost it’s mind. It just wasn’t done.

So my compromise solution (I would have preferred a more appropriate theme altogether) was the most sober implementation of the theme that I could conceive – to create a 3D representation of the logo, using a real electric guitar as the main focal point and echo the rainbow colours along specially made table cloths. I’ll write again on the design brief because that was an exercise in tight budgetary control, widely divergent venues and maximum flexibility in itself.

Coming back to the point, I’d like to put forth the concept that when entering a new market, especially one in another culture, it makes more sense to empower the executors of your brand and messaging strategy to adapt to the nuances of the customer’s preferences than to enforce strictly the corporate identity guidelines traditionally used to protect the brand’s identity.

And this where the concepts derived from the blogosphere – that markets are conversations become important – ask your cogs in the field about their specific markets, they talk to your customers, they know what would work there. Co-create with them your strategies, adapt and tweak them for each market, within the umbrella identity of your global brand. Maintain the flexibility to localize, be willing to let go absolute control to allow your audience to create their own brand experience.

All of these things are not new ideas anymore, they’ve been brought up in so many ways in the news, in blogs, in conversations. If products can be designed to enable the users to create their own experience, can’t the message/brand identity be designed to evolve into each market’s experience?

Seeing the humour in marketing’s efforts to reach the rural

Hanging out at the Airtel duka

From the Chairman of Y&R Africa’s column, this amusing snippet on branding in rural Africa while making an insightful point:

Wall painting is another tapeworm in the belly of the marketing budget. On a Continent dogged by marginal infrastructure, it’s a visual boon. Whole villages and trading centres can get spruced up overnight. They look fabulous in marketing presentations and in colour pictures in annual reports. But what is it like to live in a branded village?

‘ Meet you at the corner at 11.’

‘ What, Coke corner?’

‘Yes, at 11, then we can go to the Airtel duka for maandazis.’

‘Yes, and then the Tusker kiosk for some airtime.’

‘ Before we chillax at the Rinderpesto café, over chai and samosas.’

As I travel I even see whole villages branded with one brand. Imagine if that was your village? How would it make you feel about the brand? Would you see red?  Would your neighbours be green with envy?

Wall painting is probably better executed as an overall amenity development activity – with someone planning a town clock, benches, and road marking in a way that gives lasting benefit to the community.