The most valuable tech brands in Africa are not African. They are foreign brands that have been able to replicate their success in our land.
Branding is an interesting way of depicting what a company represents. Simply put, a brand is what you are, what you tell and what the customers say you are. To a Nigerian brand, you have not succeeded if people don’t substitute the product name with your brand name. For instance, any black syrup in a plastic bottle is tagged coke. That is what success looks like. Getting your tech brand out there can seem daunting especially in a continent where people appreciate non-tech products more. Blame that on local acceptance and economic instability. The most valuable tech brands in Africa are not African. They are foreign brands that have been able to replicate their success in our land. Even at that, we have a number of up and coming African tech brands selling impressive narratives.
There are different kinds of brands but I like to divide tech brands along social classes.
We have the premium brands that target the elites. Most times, the guys in this category build something slightly superior to that of the local brands but sell it at an outrageously expensive price. Just because it is their brand, people are willing to buy every single time they unveil another version of their product. Most of the tech companies in this category are hardware-focused. Building a premium requires you to bring in tech innovation as well as speak to customers’ emotions. Owning their product is acceptable as an achievement by the society we live in. Market share? Small of course, because they are targeting a tiny part of the society. Nevertheless, profits are huge because they sell fewer products for more money.
Apple is an example of a premium brand. Of course, it is not an indigenous brand but it is one with a firm presence in African markets especially Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Apple is well-known for how they break boundaries to present top-notch features in their devices. They make their gadgets simple to use and ‘sleeky’ to feel. It will surprise you to know that they focus on more things than just tech innovation, they make a brand that commands respect. To make a consistent mark on their devices, they place their logo in strategic positions on the bodies of these elegant aluminium-cased beauties. This is how they built a brand with the ‘cool’ effect that keeps everyone on their toes to get the latest Apple product in town. With a focus on the elites, they are able to sell lesser devices for more money. At the end, it is not how far but how well.
In the middle, where we have another class, are most of the tech brands rooted deeply in Africa. Everyone wants to have a share of the pie here. With different figures flying around, people are made to believe the pie is super big and should be shared accordingly. Mostly software-focused, brands here offer their products for a decent amount of money. Their target customers are those who have enough purchasing power and enlightenment to feel comfortable putting their debit cards online to get a service. From online retail to hotel services, people in this class want an easy life and they are ready to pay for it. Brands that keep their focus here make more noise than any other category. They invest a lot in marketing to capture the attention of their prospective customers from wherever it may be. Unlike the premium brands, these businesses are driven by unit economics which means the more they sell, they more they get. We can call brands in this category local brands but with some exceptions.
Hotels.ng, a local brand was born out of the need to put our hotel services online and ease the process of finding and booking hotel rooms. To make life easy for their customers, they went after getting as many hotels as possible to sign up on their site. This means their customers can choose from a wide variety. They built the brand to resonate with everything local. This is evident in the name of the start-up, which includes the Nigerian-specific domain extension. Walking this path helps your brand receive better acceptance at home. Naturally, people will feel inclined to make use of a brand that represents what they stand for or where they come from. This is not something new in brand development but it raises questions of expansion or globalization of brands. What will hotels.ng be if the company decides to expand to Kenya?
On the other end of the social class is the working class, who are catered to by what I call the free brands. These brands offer their services free with a business model that charges other companies. A popular lingua says, “Where the product is free, you are the product”. The customers here don’t care about being the products. All they want is a product free and good to use. Businesses in this category don’t present any form of luxury to their users except for the value embedded in the product or service. Most of them depend on ads to thrive while some others work with other impressive business models like a freemium. Freemium models put a brand in between the working and middle class. They give you a tiny bit of their product free while you have to pay to access additional features. Some brands developed to serve this part of the market are vocal about the fact that they are helping to reduce poverty – which is a valid point.
For African brands to be taken seriously, they have to develop and manage a brand that is focused on a specific niche and target market, consistently push out their message, and deliver quality and perfection in their products and services.
Out of Nigeria, a Pan-African start-up was created to train world-class software developers and make them accessible to companies. Andela is being portrayed as a saviour here to help Africa out of poverty. They search within the continent for people that are smart and talented, pay them while giving them quality training as well as link them up to clients they will work with within a four-year program. Andela was created with a unique and unproven business model, which made the brand development a little demanding at first. In the beginning, most people thought they were scammers. That is natural because how do you explain your proposal to pay me to teach me? They were able to pull some strings engaging different facets of the media to get the word out that the program is here to save and not to destroy. Also, they delivered pretty well from the onset. They built trust and developed a brand they have been consistent with.
For African brands to be taken seriously, they have to develop and manage a brand that is focused on a specific niche and target market, consistently push out their message, and deliver quality and perfection in their products and services. I look forward to the day when African brands will make it to the noble list where the most valuable global brand names are written. I am specifically rooting for tech brands. 🙂
Taslim Okunola is an ex-Googler. He is passionate about growth and small businesses.