Brands need to rethink their strategy from the bottom up to win in Africa

Global brands are starting to realize that Africa is not one country but an incredibly diverse continent of 53 individual countries speaking over 1500 official languages. And brands that tailor their marketing strategies by country will enjoy more of the economic growth that is up for grabs.

Across capital cities in the formal trade, large retail chains have seen the potential and have been quick to take up the opportunities. Formal retail shopping malls are emerging in key suburbs and they are jam-packed with all the big retailers, from grocery to coffee shops, restaurants, clothing stores, electronic stores and banks.

Brand owners with good relationships with buyers of these retail chains will reap the benefits of their aggressive growth throughout the continent. The big watch-out for all brands is that this will only solve up to 40% of a brand’s sales objective. The remaining 60% comes down to what you do in the established traditional trade.

We believe that brands need to understand and embrace the following 4 key areas:

1. Understand the nuances of the traditional trade

Sadly this is not a one-size-fits-all programme – which would make things decidedly easier – as every country’s traditional trade set-up is different. In Lagos, for example, the markets are massive with streets dedicated to specific categories. Whilst in Lusaka there are many smaller nodal markets, which often surround the nearest commuter point.

2. Implement a flexible wholesaler-retailer programme

The informal retailer is a critical player for brands wanting to achieve total market distribution and effective price points that will translate into increased sales. What is amazing is that the local brands are getting it right more often than the global brands. Work with the retailers to understand what will make the difference, be flexible and work one node at a time, identify the key retailers in the node, and then get them on board; generally the others are forced to follow.

3. Shopper Insights will expose real packaging, pricing and distribution opportunities

If you think your existing brand/ pack mix that has been developed for the modern trade can simply be replicated in the traditional trade, you’ll miss out on a significant slice of this emerging middle class. Shoppers can only buy against the physical cash in their pockets. More often than not, this is only $2 a day. Here people shop to satisfy an immediate need. If that need is a cup of tea, then they are after 1 teabag, not 50. If their child needs a nappy change they will look for 1 nappy for that afternoon only.

4. Think differently about the path to purchase to be more effective

The key points of influence along the path to purchase need to be understood and effective communication applied to cut through the clutter. Street vending for example is a large part of the informal distribution process found in the traditional market. Some brands have utilised it as a seeding ground to capture consumers who are, more often than not, idle and sitting in traffic on their daily commute.

Being effective in the traditional trade is the harder piece of the marketing puzzle. Brands just need to be committed to understanding the way people shop, why they buy, when they buy and what they buy. And those brands that can be more flexible and street smart across their entire marketing mix will be those that enjoy the greater share of the total market.


Grant Hillary is the MD of 34Africa. He spent 16 years at the South African Breweries in a variety of trade, sales and brand roles culminating in a role as national brand activation manager across the portfolio prior to joining 34.

This piece was produced as part of thenetworkone’s second essay collection on Africa. To download the full collection, click here.