As the African markets increase in opportunity and visibility, the corresponding increase in need for experienced personnel is also felt. Many consumer facing companies hire “old Africa hands”, often former employees of various nonprofits and their projects. The assumption is that knowledge and experience among “poor” Africans implies knowledge and experience of African consumers and markets. This is most visible among social enterprises who struggle with the tension between social benefits and sustainable revenues.
Why is this assumption of expertise a problem?
Beneficiaries are likely to be perceived differently, and are also likely to behave differently than if they were customers in the market for the same product or service. An analysis of attitudes and assumptions had been conducted with a client organization facing this challenge with their top management team back in 2012.
What are the biases and barriers facing both the company and their customer base when a for profit company in a high growth, stable consumer market is managed like a humanitarian NGO experienced in high conflict contexts of extreme adversity?
Here are the findings:
From the company side:
- Guilt over making profits or revenue
- Anything goes because anything free has always been gratefully accepted by singing and dancing – impact on product and service design, as well as quality
- Poor, dumb, savages who don’t understand the good we’re doing
- Need help, training, aid to buy our product or service
- Little or no accountability traditional in donor supported charitable initiatives as compared to corporate reports on sales performance and customer retention to give one example.
- Thus, patronization embedded in the experienced “knowledge” of the population
On the customer base or target audience:
- Will accept anything gratefully, no marketing required
- Will say or do anything for freebies – higher mistrust of customer’s ability to choose or decide
- Will seek to game the system or the market research
- Thus, treating demanding customers like passive beneficiaries without agency, even while attempting to sell them something.
Type of companies who have already failed due to this problem include social enterprises, social impact organizations, Bottom of the Pyramid marketing, public private partnerships. That is, any organization that relies on third party experts for the voice of the customer or to identify end user needs and aspirations.