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Made in Africa: building strong brands on the continent

During a session at last week’s World Economic Forum on Africa, held in Cape Town, experts discussed how Africa can tap into local innovation to launch globally recognised brands. Here are the highlights from the session.

Adewale Tinubu, group chief executive of Oanda, says that African companies should first focus providing world-class products and services in their own countries, before going global.

Adewale Tinubu, group chief executive of Oando, says that African companies should first focus on providing world-class products and services in their own countries, before going global.

Brand Africa has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, said Xavier-Luc Duval, vice-prime minister and minister of finance and economic development of Mauritius. The transformation, he added, has not been as superficial as the word “brand” might imply.

“Over the years, Mauritius has been consistent in achieving political stability, consistent in the rule of law, consistent in educating our people, consistent in easing the cost of doing business,” he said, highlighting that a country’s brand is what it does and not what says it is.

He said that other countries on the continent have also been making progress with political stability, governance, education and other factors important to competitiveness and growth. All of this has been good for Africa’s image and has led to the world seeing Africa for what it is: a land of opportunity.

The change in image has, in turn, allowed capital to begin flowing into African countries with greater confidence. Backed by an environment that enables entrepreneurship and innovation, this capital has fuelled growth and the development of local industries and brands.

But, cautioned Adewale Tinubu, group chief executive of Nigerian energy company Oando, this does not mean that Africans should rush to get their brands into overseas markets. Africans should think locally and act globally by providing world-class products and services in their own countries and to the continent, Tinubu said.

“There is this tendency to decouple the brand from the offering, and they’re inextricably linked and the offering becomes the brand,” said Rich Lesser, global chief executive officer and president of the Boston Consulting Group. Lesser echoed Tinubu in saying that the next phase of developing the continent’s brands will require that Africans deliver to local markets and focus on product quality and service excellence. There is strong competition from global products and services in the African market, particularly now that it is seen as a growth area, he said.

Tabitha Karanja, chief executive officer of Kenya’s Keroche Breweries, said that she has encountered many of the things about which Lesser spoke. A large global company dominated the Kenyan market when she started her brewery and it had built up a base of loyal customers; producing quality was the only way to compete. Karanja added that Africans need to act with the confidence and believe that they are capable of competing locally against global brands.

The African brands that dominate the mobile phone network market are a good example of local brands delivering to Africa, said Tinubu. He said they saw an opportunity where global networks did not and were rewarded for it.

Innovation should never be downplayed, nor should African brands take their eye off global markets, added Lesser. He also said that, if Africa is to create brands that go on to dominate the world, the next phase is to focus on developing the continent’s infrastructure and regional integration, as well as improving education and health and empowering women. Empowered women have been shown to have a disproportionately large positive effect on development and the economy, he said.

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