Why traditional marketing is not yet dead in sub-Saharan Africa

Sometimes it can be frustrating when there is so much buzz about something, and it seems you are the only one who doesn’t know about it. And when you get to know about, especially when it’s a lovable product or service, the entire universe appears to compel you to get it.

Kwesi Sakyi-Gyinae

That’s pretty much the same feeling for several businesses when it comes to the online marketing. The internet buzz has been tremendous. No doubts: it has reengineered the way business is done, determined how brands are built, and even formatted how society thinks. Several global brands have admitted the need to reshuffle their basket of marketing strategies. Think of how IBM, for instance, has empowered 100,000 employees to expertly manage online consumer conversations.

Not only are brands developing sophisticated yet fluid online systems to facilitate sales and advertising, but also they are investing overwhelming sums of their budgets into maintaining these systems. With all these happening so quickly in a place now christened the ‘global village’, it is a lot easier to think that traditional ‘brick and mortar’ marketing strategies may not yield as much returns as they used to some ten years ago. And marketers, consummated with the internet frenzy, and in a seemingly overambitious quest to appear global, begin to question their endeared offline strategies. They begin to think it’s all about getting online. Preposterous! It may not be safe to assume that global e-commerce trends – mostly prevalent in developed economies – are instructive for brands in Africa, and Ghana for that matter.

Intelligence begins at home

Not now. Internet adoption for commercial and more so financial transactions in the sub-region could be the focus in the not too distant future – maybe seven, ten years. At least this was the common thinking garnered when I recently engaged a number of prominent marketing practitioners and leaders in a discussion about the evolution of marketing in Africa, and what the focus could probably be in the foreseeable future.

Industry is yet to fully harness the potency of e-commerce in general, and the reality of increased internet access at more affordable rates brings this dream even closer. We anticipate the time when consumers will begin to favour using the internet to do most of their basic transactions – buying household items, groceries, electronic equipment, or even tickets to the movies; not just the subsidiary and oft-passive use of the internet as a communication toy box.

It’s good to know about the thriving partnerships being fostered between telecom providers and mobile application developers to innovate value added services which facilitate mobile money payments. But really, the future lies with a full-fledged e-commerce society; and there is still a lot of room for this to happen – internet penetration in Africa is only 13.5%. Majority of the folks are yet to get online.

Consumers with real concerns

Whichever way you look at it, internet access may be just a fragment of the concerns which hamstrings the exaggerated emphasis for e-commerce and the concomitant online marketing. Talk about security and privacy. In a Ghanaian-set study, 55% out of the 68% of people who have heard about internet banking admitted that security concerns were the major barrier to adoption. Who wouldn’t care when the sub-region has been increasingly fingered for rising cases of internet fraud and cyber crimes? Consumers will need to regain confidence in the new order. People are going to require unflinching assurances of secured online payment systems and data security. Even more, businesses may have the onerous task of convincing customers about the perceived usefulness and ease of use of the internet for commerce. This doesn’t look like the ‘now’!

We still live in a society where large portions of consumers would rather walk into the supermarket, touch and feel products; ask the shop assistant numerous questions, before deciding whether or not to dip out cash out of the wallet. Here’s a consumer populace that deems it realistic, and probably idealistic, to walk up to a mobile phone vendor and purchase the desired denomination of recharge cards. In essence, physical, ‘brick-and-mortar’ presence means a lot to consumers. See why 86% of managing directors and financial controllers claim they will still visit their banks even if they adopt internet banking.

The two-way game plan

Here’s the catch: offline marketing is not dead yet – at least in our part of the world. In the same way, exaggerated emphasis on online marketing for local businesses can produce underwhelming results. Don’t get it wrong here. Yes, scheme to harness online opportunities for your brand; but no, don’t get drenched in its thickest waters just yet. Remember the axiom of globalisation? Think global and act local. Offline marketing methods – such as trade shows, outdoor and indoor advertisements, print and electronic PR, and unconventional street promotions – are still extremely important.

The call now is for a clever merger of both offline and online marketing strategies. Think of how online marketing could help promote offline events. For example when a brand signs up for a trade show, the firm can use online and social media tools to publicise their brand’s participation, invite customers, and offer special discounts to customers who make online bookings. Or, a firm may decide to create a campaign series for a brand, starting with an offline advert but making sure there are online and social media links where customers can log on to partake in the campaign’s creative. The list of examples can be endless. One thing is for sure: that firms can effectively juggle popular offline and novel online methods to improve their marketing lots. In the end, there will be only one winner – the brand!

The author is a marketing intelligence builder and researcher. Continue the conversation with him via e-mail [email protected], on Twitter @ksgsakyi, and on the blog www.brandsenz.blogspot.com