Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Connectivity, Communication, and Commerce: The 3 Cs of Africa’s Smartphone Led Future

Recent headlines touted the decline in marketshare being seen by smartphones on the African continent, and the concurrent increase in sales of basic devices. Yet a closer look shows that this shift might only be numerical due to the opening of new markets in heavily populated DR Congo and Ethiopia – first time buyers are likely to start with entry level phones.

In fact, role of smartphones in Africa is not only likely to grow and evolve over the coming 3 to 5 years but its very likely that it will be connectivity apps driving their adoption. We Are Social’s latest report shows Africa’s internet user numbers have been growing by over 20% year-on-year.

The 4th C – the Challenge of Unquestioned Assumptions and Great Expectations

With connectivity and communication, commerce was expected to take off but anyone tracking the headlines would notice the challenges faced by African e-commerce platforms. Some point fingers to connectivity as the issue, expecting to reap benefits from scale of penetration. Others point to high costs of data and devices, or challenges with completing the transaction online.

Looking at the patterns exposed by all the reports and the articles makes one wonder whether it’s the underlying assumptions and expectations that are the real problem. The untapped market is hyped out of proportion by each new entrant who rush in with their disruption to revolutionize the African consumer, only to rush back out again when the traction fails to succeed. This has been muddying the waters of what could have been a considered thoughtful opportunity to transform the social and economic landscape.

Yet its not all negative. If someone was to ask me about how connectivity and communication are driving commerce in the African context, I’d point to the plethora of informal trade in goods and services being conducted daily across social media platforms. Everyday there’s a new product or service launched with a tweet. Groups on Facebook encourage and support the entrepreneurial journey. Cryptocurrency trading is making Kenya famous as a first mover.

The difference in traction seems to be that which is self organized and organic vs that which is institutionalized and/or introduced from elsewhere. The external pressure to succeed in the same terms as that visible in the Silicon Valleys might actually be a greater barrier to the sustainable development of the African online community led commerce, increasing pressure on founders and startups with every negative headline. Maybe the lesson from the informal organic growth online is that might actually be a matter of throw the technology at them and see what emerges without lifting the lid every other second to check progress?

Maybe all that is needed is more locally relevant content, such as already being seen emerging from Nigerian and Kenyan tech blogs, rather than the imposition of metrics and heuristics from developed nation contexts.

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

zimbabwe-flashy-vendors

Zimbabwe

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.

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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.

Lowering barriers: Its about access, not the device

When Vanderbeeken sent me a link yesterday about Nokia working closely with Facebook to get the next billion online, it reminded me of this crude diagram I’d constructed back when I was watching this space far more closely than I do now. Twitter and Facebook are the two big names that weren’t even on our radar, although one could argue that neither is a technology provider per se but instead they are the connectors, once people find themselves online.

Reflecting on this diagram now, a full 4 years on, one can see that while there have been bumps in the road for each of the players, they are each still active in this space. Emphasis however has changed. Whereas it used to be more about the mobile operators and the devices i.e. the Nokias and the Vodafones; today its more about the OS and the applications. Particularly of note are Google’s activities with Free Zone – their aim to become a global ISP for the next billions, far more than Microsoft who increasingly seems like a passive player in this segment.

The challenge still remains, I believe, to connect everyone coming online, to each other, just the way the internet enables us to communicate and conduct commerce. That is, while social networks like FB are certainly paving the way in the developing world with attempts to help lower the cost of data, the last formal barrier to complete integration of the planet’s population has yet to be cracked.

On the other hand, one wonders if  literacy per se, may not be the sole barrier among this demographic as much as the intimidation of user interfaces which maybe unfamiliar or strange. There is a natural barrier of contextual knowledge and textual communication ability that services like Twitter and Facebook contain by virtue of their nature. One sees the efforts to focus on what is known as “the third billion” – women, who make up the largest proportion of the uneducated. And they are the ones who probably need this connectivity and all it implies, the most.

Ken Banks wrote something earlier this week after attending the Vodafone Foundation’s invitation only event “Mobile for Good” that highlights a bigger barrier, imo, and that is the approach and attitude of those seeking to serve the overlooked and underserved at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP). Aptly titled An Inconvenient Truth, here are his takeaways from this prestigious seminar in London:

My five takeaways after a day of talks, debates and demonstrations were:

1. Everyone is still excited by the potential of mobile
2. The same projects surface over and over again as proof mobile works
3. Mobile is still largely seen as a solution, not a tool

4. It’s up to the developed world to get mobile working for the poor
5. The top-down mindset is alive and well

Suffice to say, all of these conclusions troubled me as I sat on the train home.

This is true. What is sad is that if I’ve seen this in the 6 short years I’ve been observing this space, Ken speaks from longer and deeper experience.

As the diagram above and the activities and changes seen across the developing world demonstrate, we have come a long way, but its not enough. The emphasis has been on the technology and the cost, rather than the people its meant to be used by. Now its time for that to change if we’re to leap across the divide. As Vanderbeeken would say, we need to be Putting People First.

/this conversation will continue.

Why so much “BoP” marketing fails in the developing world

Consumer electronics stall in informal market, Nairobi Kenya 23 January 2012

Increasingly I have been getting the sense that there are some fundamental issues with the way BoP focused organizations are developing, creating and implementing their market entry strategies.  Here are four of the most obvious errors that I’m seeing:

Assuming there’s no competition

Most of these firms, particularly those coming in from the outside and seeking to serve the ‘poor’ in the developing world seem to be operating in a vacuum. Observing their market entry actions point to an underlying assumption that they are entering a virgin market where  no competing solutions for their product or service exist.  If this fundamental premise is mistaken then every element of their marketing, communication, distribution and pricing strategy will naturally suffer.

A caveat here is that it might indeed be a virgin market for branded international solutions in the formal market but this is where overlooking the informal markets and existing practices in user behaviour can be far more dangerous since this is where the competition will come from in the form of substitutes or alternate solutions.

Because of the above assumption, little effort is made to uncover information about the customer, the market or competition or the operating environment. Whether this is due to a vacuum of information on BoP markets or the developing world, or this subject simply not being taken into consideration, the fact remains that this oversight then gives rise to a series of errors (like the domino effect) – those in marketing strategy viz., marketing communications, value propositions and positioning not to mention pricing.

Conflating company mission with marketing strategy

While this is most commonly found among well meaning social enterprises entering these markets for the first time with their life saving products for the poor, large multinationals with previous experience in the developing world are not immune the minute they choose to focus particularly on the BoP (or poor) market.

Tata Nano is the most obvious example of this although here one wonders how much of this had to do with their actual marketing communications and advertising for the Nano and how much to do with all the media hype around the car being specially for the ‘common man’? All the positioning and branding in the world through formal advertising and communication channels could not overcome the public perception of the ‘poor man’s car’ created by every other article – from engineering news to international styling – on the Nano.

Similarly, if all the marketing communications, press reports and online information is geared towards the ‘poverty alleviating” mission of the company then this lack of clear focus or understanding of who the target audience is will come through in the positioning and branding of the product in the marketplace.  And no one will aspire to buy the ‘poor man’s product’ if it means a clear signal of having failed to succeed or admitting defeat among their friends and neighbours.

Confusing value proposition with need

This lack of clarity and understanding about the target audience for a product or service and thus, its marketing communications and messaging then snowballs into incorrect positioning of the product or incorrectly identifying the value proposition for the end user.

The end result might be the same – the customer choosing to buy your product – but the pain points may differ tremendously across geographies and regions, not to mention socioeconomic strata. An example is water saving flush toilet mechanisms being sold in Nairobi as a sustainable, greener alternative – that is, the same positioning and value proposition as that used in the eco-conscious parts of the Northern European continent. Sales are sluggish. But when you take into consideration that there is a water shortage or that many communities need to purchase water in tankers to fill their household storage tanks, a simple shift in positioning to “Spend less money flushing down the toilet” or some such clever quip could in fact make a more sensible approach in this situation for the very same product.

This gets more obvious the lower down the income stream you go – Mama Mboga with her vegetable stand may not have the same priorities nor relate to the same value propositions that social impact investors do.

Overestimating the ability of a faceless brand to communicate value

There is probably a snappier sentence to capture this aspect but at this stage of understanding the BoP markets and their challenges its perhaps better to be clear than pithy.  Some have called this issue one of Trust and in the past, I’ve referred to it as Commitment but the fact remains that this aspect is the most challenging and difficult to overcome as a barrier to acceptance.

Even megabrands accustomed to instant global recognition such as Google may find that not only is their brand unknown and unheard of in these new and emerging markets but others may have gotten there before them.  Which, in a way, brings us back to the first point in the assumptions made at the very beginning of considering market entry strategies in the rising global middle class.