Key considerations to building your brand across Africa

South Africa

Key considerations to building your brand across Africa

With many fast-growing economies and a large, aspirant and upwardly mobile youth population, it’s no wonder that global companies are increasingly turning their attention to Africa. The nuances and peculiarities of working across the continent however mean that building brand presence and affinity is far easier said than done, and the best way to tackle this challenge is by working with a credible local agency partner.


As the saying goes, ‘Africa is not a country’, and organisations looking to scale their marketing and communications efforts need to take a closer look at the prevailing conditions in order to ensure that what they say and do is locally relevant. Here are 7 points that companies need to consider before taking the leap into Africa.


  • Budgets

Just because it’s Africa, it doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Going north of South Africa, services are dollar-based, and companies tend to underestimate the costs for localisation of content as well as translation fees. In addition, as paywalls go up, there has to be a budget that is split between earned, owned and paid media.


This is crucial as several leading Africa-focused publications are actually based out of Europe, and they are continually looking to promote advertising or advertorial opportunities in order to feature editorial content. While the ratio of the allocation might be different as compared to the US or European markets, given that there is still good mileage to be gained from editorial content pitched into the continent, there still needs to be an allocation toward paid elements. Editorial can provide that initial, credible reach, before paid options (whether advertorial or LinkedIn adverts) are used to further amplify the message.


  • Continental media expertise

With 54 countries to choose from, there is a need to carefully understand which tactics to use in which markets. For example, in South Africa, you can still get organic coverage for a thought leadership or opinion piece, but the media are loath to publish new product or partner announcements. In several countries in the rest of the continent, it is the opposite – they are more than willing to publish product announcements and company news, but placing thought leadership requires payment.


Then there is the need to identify which are the most credible news sources, and what mediums are preferred by the locals. While some markets have embraced digital, others still place their trust in the printed press or their favourite radio station. It goes without saying this means that you need to work with an agency partner who is locally credible and experienced in order to navigate these options. Do not assume that your global newswire strategy will have the same impact as they potentially do in the US or Europe.


  • Geographic targets

Rather than concentrating on a single country, spreading your budget to cover two or three countries tends to yield the best results. It is advisable to focus on the major African economies – Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya – even if it is not your preferred destination for doing business. These countries have an established media sector and are host to the major, quality news publications on the continent. In addition, they tend to cover stories that are of value from across the continent, and their content often tends to get syndicated into publications in other Africa countries.


  • Localisation

Regardless of what a brand has to say, readers (or listeners or viewers) from around Africa are more interested in what your story means for them. This requires going beyond simply changing spelling or grammar to the local version of English, or changing the language to Arabic, French or Portuguese, and instead ensuring that what you have to say can be matched with the news agenda of the day.


This requires a deep understanding of the local or continental business landscape to ensure your messages make sense. Examples include being mindful of the unique challenges (such as high data costs or erratic energy supply) and even the great successes where Africa takes the lead (mobile money, payments, etc).


International companies should also have the willingness to work with local agencies and collaborate on  brand messaging to ensure that it aligns with local realities. Ideally, they should allow their local agency partner (which has a proven track record) to guide them on how to position their brand and its products and solutions in the market.


  • In-country representation

More often than not, having the ability to localise content in a way that still has relevance and impact depends on the availability of in-country spokespeople who have local experience, know what the trends are, understand the local market challenges and can align their messaging to address these issues. There is also a growing hesitance from African media to profile internationally-based spokespeople, even if they happen to be the EMEA/MEA Regional Head of the business.


Here, media training for key spokespeople is crucial. It will help them understand the landscape, build a content strategy to suit local narratives and provide commentary that is matched with the local news of the day. It also ensures that they are aware of news cycles, and that current affairs and breaking news takes precedence over their company news.


  • Building media relations

Relationships are bigger than brands, no matter how big your brand is, and it takes hard work to get the local media invested in your company and your stories. One-on-one engagements with members of the local media help familiarise the brand and build relationships with local spokespeople. If you want true long-term sustainable PR activity, you need to work with an agency that has proven media relations capability in Africa.


  • Giving back

Don’t assume anything, especially not that your global messages will resonate across Africa. There is deep political history in Africa that needs to be carefully considered in your communications strategy. Your brand can’t be seen to be simply taking from Africa, or exploiting people for cheap labour.


Increasingly, genuine corporate social investment or corporate social responsibility has taken centre stage, especially in African markets beyond South Africa. The media want to know how your product or service is making a difference for people, for the environment or the country as a whole – and it’s crucial to illustrate the positive impact of what your brand is doing in Africa.


This also applies to partnership announcements – while these may be a great commercial strategy for your business, it’s not so much an effective media strategy: local press are tired of partnership announcements and are instead interested in what the outcome/ results of the partnership is.


Africa is ripe for foreign investment, while also presenting brands with a massive news opportunity and room to further grow in untapped markets. However, brands need to carefully consider what news they are putting out there, and whether it will be seen as uplifting for the continent and its people, or predatory in nature. The right partner will be able to guide companies toward sustainable brand elevation and getting the best return on investment.