| January 04, 2010
When I think of Africa, I think of a place that's warm and sunny, and so if you're like me, you may find it tough to think about marketing in Africa when much of the Northern Hemisphere is covered with snow. However, I would like to draw your attention to a new Millward Brown Point of View on marketing in Africa written by my colleague Matthew Angus. Matthew's POV, titled "Brand Building in Africa in 2010: A Field Guide for the Final Frontier
," is an excellent read for anyone involved in marketing anywhere in the world.
In creating the POV, Matthew has combined his passion for Africa with Millward Brown's extensive experience of working with global, regional, and local clients across the continent (over 20 years in at least 15 countries). While the POV is a fascinating summary of issues specific to Africa, it contains much that is relevant to marketing everywhere, such as this paragraph:
The lesson here is that life in Africa is unique in many ways, and many of the daily challenges faced cannot be conceptualized by outsiders. There is, however, the risk of oversubscribing to the “This is Africa” philosophy. Many of the concerns and challenges faced by rural Africans would be familiar to a New York banker. Africans are different, except when they’re the same. Only strong research and insight will help you tell the difference.
The statement "Africans are different, except when they're the same" touches on the fundamental problem facing all marketers. People everywhere are different, except when they're the same. Marketers need to identify and draw on the common bonds and motivations that tie humanity together without losing sight of the differences. All too many attempts to market to new target audiences, within or across a country's borders, fall afoul of differences that undermine the initiative.
As I described in this post
, written almost a year ago, many extremely successful businesses have attempted to go global and been thwarted when they lacked a full understanding of local expectations and shopping habits. The challenges are not limited to the differences between developing and developed economies. U.K.-based Tesco entered the U.S. market in 2007 with its Fresh & Easy stores, expecting to break even by 2010. (Click here
for an interesting video on Fresh & Easy in the United States.) But last April, the company announced that profitability would not arrive on schedule. The combined effect of the economic downturn in the U.S. and market research that may have been misread resulted in a loss of more than $150 million for the trading year.
As an article
in the U.K.'s Guardian
newspaper points out, "The store concept was based on minutely detailed market research, which saw Tesco executives living in the homes of American consumers to watch what they ate and how they shopped." If the research was carried out properly, it seems that some of the observations may have been misjudged, perhaps colored by viewing through a British cultural lens. For instance, the video I referenced earlier draws attention to the different connotations of the word "fresh" in Europe and the United States, which may lead to rather different expectations. Such misinterpretations can prove costly; in the Guardian
article, Mike Dennis at Piper Jaffray estimated that if Tesco decides to pull out of the United States, the venture will have cost £1billion.
One way to begin to disentangle commonalties and differences is to draw on the talents of both global and local managers. As the experience of Tesco suggests, direct personal experience of a different culture can still lead to misunderstandings. Real insight (as noted in my previous post
) relies on convergence, not just of data but of understanding and insight. When it comes to working across borders, it helps to have input from people who have an intimate knowledge of the local culture.
Searching out and reviewing all forms of marketing intelligence is also key; Points of View such as Matthew's are invaluable sources of insight.
Do you have any thoughts on this topic? When dealing with a new country or culture, where do you look for local insight, and how do you decide what approach is likely to work?