Communications boss on entrepreneurship and how to target your market

Karabo Songo started Olive Communications in South Africa in 2009, a full-service brand and communications agency specialising in the fast growing black consumer market. 

Karabo Songo

Karabo Songo

Along with his Nigerian business partner, Olatoye Amosun, he has developed marketing campaigns for a number of leading international and South African brands such as Nestlé South Africa, Tiger Brands, SABMiller, PepsiCo, SA Taxi Financial Services, KFC, Colgate Palmolive and Kraft Foods. The company’s services also extend into a number of other African countries.

The agency has grown to 19 employees and has received industry recognitions in a number of competitions, including being a Young Entrepreneur Award finalist in the South African Premier Business Awards 2013/14 and a Marketing Innovation Award finalist in The Maverick Awards 2014.

Songo has also recently been named a finalist in the 2014 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award. How we made it in Africa asks him about some of his entrepreneurial lessons, as well as his advice to companies looking to better communicate their brand with consumers across the continent.

Suggest three tips to better reach/communicate with customers across Africa.

1. Create a compelling vision

It is important that you, as the founder, can have and are able to share your clear idea of ‘what’, together with all stakeholders the goals are. A clear vision also helps with continuity as different people may join and leave the business. The best vision statements are clear and short, so people can share them effectively at all levels.

2. Create unique/WOW! factors

In a business environment where competition is constantly growing, we have to ask ourselves brutally what it is that we are selling and how it is adding value to clients? Based on this, a company can create unique factors about their brand communication that breaks through the clutter.

3. Thought leadership

There are many opportunities in all industries for you to be a major champion on a particular subject matter in your field. Many industries either don’t have a champion, or the major players are just too busy to pay attention.

How do you market your own company’s services, and what has been your most successful method?

We have a full integrated marketing plan which we implement as per the different stages. We also have a clear understanding of how we market our corporate brand and our product/service brands as well as a key focus on the personal branding of the people in our organisation. There are a number of ways out there for SMEs to thrive and get media coverage on major platforms  ̶  but the story they tell must be correct.

Your services extend beyond South Africa. What other African markets do you operate in?  

We are currently in BotswanaMozambiqueKenya and Nigeria through affiliates in order to both get established and to build a solid market entry strategy.

Describe the potential this larger market holds for your business.

The potential Africa has for our business is significant. Most of our clients are multinational and require similar services in all African markets.

Why do you think more South African companies are looking at a broader African strategy?

Africa is the answer for growth for most companies especially those whom have conquered their South African market and have ambitious growth targets. It is also a great inspiration for innovation as it represents a different set of challenges for organisational structures and can lead to better products/services even in the local market. Diversity is the ultimate source of inspiration.

When picking the right business partner, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

It is important that business partners have a similar vision and commitment for the business. They also should possess different skill sets as the strength of a team is in the differences. All entrepreneurs must realise that once you feel a partnership is not working, it is important to move on without destroying the business.

What is your greatest fear as an entrepreneur?

That would be to stop growing and innovating with the teams. The path to success is also closely linked with personal growth, which is why it is critical for it to continue.

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out as an entrepreneur, what would it be?

African companies have the potential to be global leaders within many industries. And the potential of that vision can only be driven by good strong leadership of the business, obviously coupled with great product/service that delivers on its promise.