Apr 192009

African Branding
Kampala– and much of Africa– in incredibly brand-conscious. Entire buildings and building blocks are painted (often just for the cost of the paint and labour) in UTL blue, Warid red, Zain purple-pink (a particulalry hideous shade that makes me think of a little blood mixed with Pepto-Bismol– see below), and now Orange.

Bugolobi trading centre hurts your eyes as you pass

Signs and billboards are everywhere, clogging the streets (though often representing the only street signs) flooding brand awareness of Nissan, Orange, and the MTN sponsorship of the 2010 World Cup (how many Ugandans will be able to attend? Likely not many, but MTN is the sponsor).

Intriguingly, a stove manufacturer who has approached CEIHD (the company I’m seconded to through MBAs Without Borders) for carbon financing is painting his stoves Zain purple, and is calling them Zain stoves. We have now arrived at tag-along branding.

Competing stove manufacturers– tag-along Zain stoves on the left.

African Marketing & distribution
The flip side of this is that Africa’s production capacity is actually pretty good: there is a lot of skilled and semi-skilled labour, engineering expertise, manufacturing skills. One of the biggest things that I see lacking is in marketing and distribution channels.

Entrepreneurs everywhere get marketing mixed up with advertising– but more so in Africa. People know they need to invest in marketing, but it ends up being copycat marketing– trying to flood the airwaves and print media with ads– all of which get lost.

The opportunity
If you can get marketing and distribution right (and almost no one is– certainly not the international mobile telcos) you will make a pile of money in Africa.

Some of the promising work that I’ve seen has been in microfranchising (i.e., the Avon model– in fact, Avon is doing incredibly well in South Africa).

At some level, Gordon Gekko is right: (some) greed is good. That’s why I personally think that the for-profit models of development will ultimately achieve faster, more sustainable development than NGO models. What’s it going to make to make our partner enterprises’ excellent pro-poor products stand out from the crowd? To get people to invest in technologies that save money over the long term and have associated benefits? Leave thoughts. I’m excited to hear them.

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