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The power and promise of brands – and the perils of a ‘one size fits all’

Brands are powerful in Africa, but favourites vary by country and age group. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work on this diverse continent. African consumers are highly brand conscious compared with consumers in other countries around the world, and they report a strong and complex emotional connection with their favourite brands.

According to Boston Consulting Group’s 2013 Africa Consumer Sentiment Survey, almost 70% of Africans feel that brands represent who they are, validate and communicate their personal values, and provide a sense of belonging, compared with only 40% of consumers in Brazil, 29% in China, and 24% in developed markets.

Interestingly, income is not the biggest indicator of brand preferences, and consumers at all income levels believe that brands have the power to contribute to self-expression and personal identity. Brands appear to be particularly important for status items, such as clothing and cellphones, and durable goods, such as appliances and electronics. They appear to be relatively less important for consumable items such as snack foods, beverages, and other food items with a high rate of turnover on store shelves. Of course, the relative strength of a brand is also a reflection of how much a company has invested in brand building in a given country. Multinationals with global brands have the advantage of scale over local brands, which tend to be more fragmented.

Brand attitudes can often be in conflict, however. Although 70% of consumers in Africa believe that established brands are the best – compared with a global average of 38% – they are also three times more likely than consumers in other countries to express disdain for their parents’ brands. On the surface, this suggests that multinational companies with well-established and well-known brand portfolios formally entering the African market for the first time could be positively received by a consumer base clamouring for brands that are new to them. It also underscores the importance of rebranding or remaking more traditional brands to better resonate with a changing, more sophisticated, and more demanding African consumer.

Friends and social networks also strongly influence which brands people buy. Africans in our survey were twice as likely as consumers in other countries to decline to purchase a brand or product that their friends disapprove of. In short, African consumers prefer brands that they know, that are familiar to them, that speak to their generation and values, and that are socially acceptable to their peer group.
Brand awareness and recall vary greatly across product categories. While only 68% of consumers surveyed could name a favourite brand of medicine, 99% could recall a favourite brand of mobile phone, and 89% could name a favourite clothing brand – not surprising given the more durable and status-oriented nature of those categories.

One unexpected finding is that brands remain important even as income declines. For example, when we asked consumers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Brands say something about who I am, my values, and where I fit in”, 68% of the lowest-income consumers – those with household incomes of less than US$300 per month – agreed. Similarly, 71% of the highest-income consumers – those with household incomes of more than $3,000 per month – also agreed with that statement. Clearly, high brand consciousness exists across all income levels in Africa – at least for some products.

Certainly African consumers are enamored with global brands, but favourites vary by country and product category. For instance, 36% of consumers in Ghana cited the local brand Golden Tree as their favourite candy, more than three times the number of respondents who preferred Mars, the second most popular brand. But in Nigeria, where consumer favourites are more fragmented, international brands dominate the list of top candies, with Snickers (11%), Mars (8%), Kit Kat (6%), Cadbury (5%), and Bounty (5%) named most often. In sub-Saharan Africa, favourite brands of beer and restaurants tend to be local or regional rather than global.

That said, African consumers expressed a clear preference for global brands across categories such as mobile electronics, home electronics, and automobiles. The home appliance category, for instance, is dominated by well-known, established global brands such as LG, Samsung and Sharp, even though the category is highly fragmented. In fact, LG was cited as the favourite or second favourite home appliance brand by consumers in six of the eight countries surveyed.

Reasons for choosing a brand

Quality, performance, and familiarity were the top reasons given for choosing a brand. In each sub-Saharan country, more than 60% of respondents cited better quality as the top driver of brand favoritism and nearly half mentioned best performance. Across the continent, the primary reason given for not purchasing favourite brands was affordability, although in Nigeria and South Africa four out of 10 respondents also noted a lack of availability where they shopped. Lower-income consumers in Nigeria were more challenged by availability than high prices when shopping for their favourite brands.

These findings suggest that many well-known global brands already have a head start in Africa. But to succeed there, global brands will also have to create an emotional connection with target consumers along specific dimensions, such as values, beliefs, and family – even more so than in other countries. What’s more, multinationals can drive growth by playing up the brand and product attributes that appeal to African consumers – such as quality, performance, and familiarity – and by addressing the obstacles that tend to hinder purchasing, such as price and availability.

This is an excerpt from Understanding Consumers in the “Many Africas”, written by Stefano Niavas, Lori Spivey, Mia von Koschitzky Kimani, and Garett Chau and published by Boston Consulting Group.

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