Why Africa needs more home grown brands

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AfricaEvery year, Interbrand undertakes an extensive probe to determine the world’s top 100 brands. The branding consultancy is among the world’s front-line experts in its field. Along with a parallel ranking conducted by Brand Finance, Interbrand’s top 100 brands survey has become a global standard.

In Africa, the Brand Africa Forum’s own ranking is quickly cementing itself as a true barometer of brands on the continent. In 2011 (according to Interbrand), 6 of the world’s top ten brands hailed from the ICT sector. Just over a quarter of the top 100 brands were ICT focused but not a single one hailed from Africa. Not yet.

Many start-ups and ICT concerns are popping up across the continent on a daily basis. The arrival of increased bandwidth, open source software and reduced costs of launching a venture online have triggered a hive of activity. Perhaps the truest beauty of the internet is its ability to avail opportunities devoid of any bias or prejudice as often witnessed in the “real world”.

An online creation can be birthed from any corner of the world and succeed or fail based on its merits. While no African company exists in any top brands surveys, this presents entrepreneurial Africans with an opportunity to build home grown brands. The benchmark has already been set by MTN, Africa’s biggest telecommunications company and most valuable brand. It is home grown and commands a brand equity breaching the US$ 4 Billion mark.

A visual by Interbrand plots the world’s leading brands by origin, 50% of the top 100 brands last year were from North America. HTC became the first brand from Taiwan to be included. MTN is likely to become the first African brand on the list in the near future.

Rather than being confined to simple aesthetics, branding is about identity and value. When MTN became the first African company to sponsor the first FIFA World Cup in Africa, this move had both social and economic significance. Brands ensure that companies stand out and are known for something. This in turn adds more zeros to their bottom line and ensures sustainable growth moving forward. They also help in positioning their country/continent of origin. Many Africans at home and in the Diaspora, have often lamented the misinformation peddled about the continent around the world. They often acknowledge that Africa has its challenges but find some of the following fairytale questions to be absurd:

  • Do you speak African?
  • Do you have a pet lion?
  • I know someone from Africa, he/she lives in the province of Tanzania, do you know them?

Along with other major challenges, there is a mountain of perceptions that need to be addressed for more economic growth to occur across the continent. While some factors are beyond control of entrepreneurs, the ones that can be influenced should be dealt with. This can best be done by increasing the rate at which people access ICTs and by building more creations like Ushahidi. Who would have ever thought that an election calamity in Kenya would  lead to a platform that has helped save lives in disasters across the world.

From the Japanese earthquake to snow storms in Europe, Ushahidi has not only helped save lives but immensely contributed to building Brand Kenya and subsequently Brand Africa. Add that to the success of M-Pesa and a thriving mobile ecosystem and what you have is a country in which venture capital and skills are flowing in abundance. Many entrepreneurs moan and groan about what’s missing, the Kenyans went to work and built something amazing from nothing. It therefore comes as no surprise that Nokia has selected Nairobi as its R & D hub for Middle East, India and Africa.

If money is power and perception is everything, both established companies and start-ups need to pay greater attention to their branding. This begins by defining what they stand for and consistently communicating this across any touch points that interface with stakeholders. From the naming of products to brand identity and organisational culture, we must be more deliberate in cultivating home grown brands. This will lead to an indirect increase in jobs, commercial value and long term sustainability. Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu, MTN, M-Pesa, Ushahidi and even a Zimbabwean startup called Tengesa.com capture this spirit. They all have more than a commercial thrust as they deliberately or coincidentally sell more than themselves…

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  • Chanyani

    M-pesa is a smart idea by any standards. I knew they had something big when they worked out cashing money from an ATM machine without having a bank account. Why is Kenya successful in s/w development? I think its a combination of the following:
    a) Long history of diaspora community working in hi-tech centers (i.e. silicon valley, MIT)
    b) large populations (sometimes its a numbers game)
    c) the Indian connection (there is a large population of Indians with links to indias s/w development companies)
    e) NGO support of ICT for Development (Hivos has links with kenyan Hub which in turn has links with USHAHIDI and Nokia – could be a population thing)
    f) Kenyans are active in chasing global research funds (try http://www.fundsforngos.org)

    I don’t know whether Zim can learn anything from any of this. I believe that we have nascent developer networks forming and they will be the bases to build on.

  • Mbune

    Loved this article. not enough companies and startups paying attention to branding. Econet is one big culprit, they have 2 logos for the same Econet Solar brand, or is it Econet Energy? 

    There’s one thing I don’t agree with in the article, and it this: “Add that to the success of M-Pesa and a thriving mobile ecosystem and what you have is a country in which venture capital and skills are flowing in abundance.” VC money and skills are not flowing abundantly in Kenya my friend. As the Kenyans.

  • http://twitter.com/cmutambo Clinton D. Mutambo

    @mbune than. Well yes VC money is not flowing in the silicon valley sense but there are more than 10 institutional VC firms willing to look at startups. If you look at the following link to VC4Africa’s investor section, the principal focus for most of them is East Africa: 
    http://vc4africa.biz/investors/ with Nairobi being the epicentre of this. But as you allude to, they’ll always be more ventures than  VCs…

  • Chanyani

    Software skills are in short supply through out the world. So you are right in implying that they are not “flowing in abundance” in Kenya. Compared to Zimbabwe though, it can be argued that Kenya has a higher skills base. This is supported by the fact that Kenya got into the mobile applications quite early. One of my friends used to tell me that scores of developer support agencies from US/UK where flocking to Kenya to check their mobile app industry (especially on the payment side.). Also note that Google’s programmers boot camps in Africa used to be in Kenya and South Africa only (I understant Nigeria has been added to the list)