Telling your story and positioning your brand in Africa

Africa is a fast-growing market, one that offers immense growth opportunities for its local and international investors. The last ten years has seen an upswing in the number of investors that are making Africa their next investment bet.

So, how should foreign investors position their brands in Africa what are the basic consideration to take into account?

Not a one size fits-all

Most investors come into Africa with an all-encompassing Africa strategy and believe it will be applicable across the board. Africa is not a country. It is a continent with 54 countries all of whom have different regimes, policies, cultural differences, levels of development and in some instances main language of communication.

It is therefore an unspoken rule that investors need to have market specific and region-specific strategies of positioning their brands in Africa. Angola is vastly different from Nigeria and South Africa for example.

Know your market

Invest in understanding the target market’s history and in particular the unique cultural, religious, and leadership dynamics that shape the social fabric of its society. These are important because they play a big influence in shaping the way that your local stakeholders will engage, do business and build relationships. They shape the foundation of who the people are as a people.

Know the lay of the land

Understanding who the key influencers, decision makers, opinion leaders in politics, government, civic organisation, the media etc are is important. This allows you to understand who matters, what matters and how you can align your go to market strategy with the country priorities and by so doing align with the already existing work of your prospective stakeholders.

Build Relationships – find common interests

Build relationships underpinned by good governance and the common interest to contribute towards the sustainable development of the country. The country’s development strategy which normally has a 20 to 30-year outlook should be a guide on which relationship to develop and what your contribution social and economic to country in your sector should be. For example, South Africa’s National Development Plan also referred 2030 gives a thirty-year outlook into the country’s key development priorities and provides a solid background in having shared interest to use as a foundation of building a relationship with stakeholders. The same applies with each of the other countries and their respective national development plans.


Businesses that have succeeded in growing in Africa are those that have leveraged their global best practices with local expertise and know how. This creates a win-win strategy and affords your brand an almost immediate acceptance as a corporate citizen that belongs and understands the growth aspirations of the country.

Africa's economy

Africa’s growth today and into the future though varied, is backed up by its numbers that have become a dangling carrot for businesses looking for their next growth phase.

For example according to the World Economic Forum, Africa could be the next century’s economic growth powerhouse. By 2030, one in every five people in the world will be African, by 2050 Africa will add an estimated 1.3 Billion people to its current 1.2 billion people, bringing its estimated population to 2.5 billion people.

Add to this is the vast infrastructure development projects and technology penetration across all levels of the economy. An estimated 90% of Africa’s population has access to mobile phones regardless of their economic status or the level of development in their areas.

The World Bank expects Sub Saharan Africa’s economic growth to continue to recover steadily and is forecasted to pick up to 3.1% this year and to firm to an average of 3.6% in 2019–20.

Some of the world’s fastest growing economies today are in Africa and they far outweigh the growth projections of even some of the biggest world economies. For Example, the USA, Europe and Japan are expected to grow at 2.9%, 2.4% and 1.2% respectively this year.

On the other-hand Africa’s top three fastest growing economies Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal are projected to grow at 8.5%, 7.4% and 7% this year.

These numbers explain why Africa is seen as the land of milk and honey by many, yet those who are in the continent will attest to how unlocking this growth is not as easy as A, B, C

Tell your African story from Africa’s perspective

Telling your African story in a way that demonstrates how your investment is contributing to Africa’s or the respective country’s growth plans is key.

Gone are the days when companies would focus their stories on being the best in the respective fields and gain traction and recognition.

 Africa’s markets are wanting more stories that articulate “the what is in it for them” in terms of development for example of skills, small medium enterprise, innovation, investments, job creation etc. Purposeful storytelling and audience centric communications were also the key take-aways from the recent EMG Communicator Summit.

Focus your stories on articulating your contribution i.e. achievements or accomplishments that has been done versus the promises of what is yet to be done.

Ensure your stories are shared widely with all stakeholders through one on one stakeholder engagements, media leveraging, thought leadership and participation in industry events.

Be Local

Lastly having a presence on the ground with offices and a local leadership team is key. There is no faster and more strategic way to unlock the opportunities and contribute to social challenges that integrating your company’s brand with the community or target market it serves.

Africa’s media landscape

The media also referred to as the fourth estate wields a lot of power and indirect influence on society in Africa. Knowing how to build relationships with the media, work with the media to tell your story and own a significant voice in the local narrative is key. The quality of storytelling varies per market.

So… Who are the media players in Africa?

The main media players or owners of mainstream media platforms in Africa are the government, private business owners and international news wires.

The majority of the media is still owned by government and is predominantly used as a platform to disseminate general news. This would include more traditional media platforms such as radio, television and newspapers. The advantage with state owned media is that in most instances they have the highest reach of the population. The disadvantage of state owned media is that they are generalists in their reporting and not specialists in any subject matter.

They are largely seen to be state machineries that push out news stories that promote the government of the day.  This perception is stronger in some and weaker in other markets and is largely influenced by the country’s governance perceptions of the day.

The second biggest owners of media are private investors who have identified a niche in specialist media and provide specialist publications that focus on business, sports, innovation etc.  Most of the business publications are local and in recent years we have seen the emergence of more pan Africa focused media outlets such as CNBC Africa, Forbes Africa Magazine, Africa Business Review, etc.

These are the publications that are widely read by business people and decision makers in the various fields. They are more high-end and perceived to be balanced and authentic. Most businesses invest in building relationships with these media houses in addition to general media depending on the relevance to their business.

Here is a link to various examples of how some of our clients leverage our good relationships with media to tell their localized stories.

Privately owned media has also introduced a lot of reputable online media platforms that have a huge following and subscriber base.

Specialist media has also been at the forefront of introducing the concept of Thought Leadership events that bring stakeholders together to deliberate on topical issues. This could be through panel discussions, conferences, round table discussions.  These are some of their flexibility elements that make them attractive to main stream business as partners in storytelling. A good example is a panel discussion that we hosted early in the year in partnership with CNBC Africa for one of our clients Minet Africa Holdings. The discussion brought together African captains of industry and discussed why “Africa’s investment should emanate from Africa” looking at the role that African businesses have to play in growing the continent’s economy.

The third type of media owners are the international news wires who are local bureau office of big international media houses such as CNN, Reuters, BBC, etc.

In the main they are perceived to be non-African and referred to as foreign media and are largely blamed at times for sensational and inaccurate stories that are reported about Africa to the world. This perception, whether true or not has a big impact on how local businesses warm up to news wires.

Their role is predominantly seen as partners in promoting Africa to the world but the partnership must and should happen in our terms, which is hardly realistic.

The fourth type of semi-formal media is bloggers

These are opinion leaders who have amassed a huge following and push out content that is of interest to them and their followers. They have become a big trend in the bigger and fast-growing economies such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

Bloggers are mostly followed by the young leaders in society and their style of reporting is laid back, factual and in some instances probing.

The last medium is social media

An estimated 350 000 000 Africans use social media. Although it is not an official media platform, social media is big in Africa and its content is widely seen as authentic and independent. Companies have had to contend with the reality that social media cannot be dismissed as a fad as it has proven to have longevity and a big impact on reputation of companies especially those that are into the individual consumer space such FMCG companies.

By Thuli Phiri, Founder and Managing Director, The African Storyteller


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Posted by
Thuli Phiri 
on July 16, 2018

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