As much as 40% of international companies operating in Africa say they do not understand the market sufficiently, a recent study by Alix partners reported. What these firms might also not know is that many economists indicate that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the emerging world has already surpassed that of the so-called developed world. One of the key drivers of this continued growth is the resulting emergence of the high consuming middle class in Africa. They are in turn fulfilling a desire and demand for brands to meet their high levels of aspiration.


It makes sense to listen to the owners of iconic brands in Africa who are tapping into aspiration and are building highly successful brands across the continent. Characterised by determination and an ability to stay the course in uncharted territory, these brand owners are beginning to enjoy what McKinsey coined as the ‘trillion dollar opportunity’ in as early as 2008.

From a brand perspective, insight into the customer’s inner journey and how that helps to align your brand and your core strengths is key to capturing a market. A number of forces on the continent are bringing the design of a brand in sync with aspiration and the ability to deliver on it as an organisation.


Whereas brands are used in the main as beacons for success, smart marketers are starting to sell the perceived experience with a brand and how that reflects the aspirations of the market.

In markets with less access to information, brands denote success and project a desire for key motivations such as order, achievement, belonging or freedom. Enter the rise of a proliferation of media platforms and mobile telephony access, with increasing smartphone penetration and the use of social media. This greater access to the information has begun to galvanise shared attitudes with early adopters. It is developing a more discerning and demanding audience than imagined. Think Arab Spring and Facebook. 


Growing high consuming middle class

Many markets in Africa are also reporting the increasing role of social media during elections, and that the emerging middle class in Africa is influencing stability with a view towards growing prosperity. It’s no wonder – the unprecedented boom in discretionary income and purchasing power is driving a better quality of life that people are keen to maintain and grow.



The role of peer-to-peer influence cannot be underestimated, but in Africa there is an even higher dependence on referral from family and friends. This is due to collectivism rather than Western individualism, as well as bigger family units in households and greater time spent with extended family, friends and even trusted colleagues.

Africa’s time is now

The overriding zeitgeist in our markets is that this is Africa’s time. From politicians’ speeches, to fund managers’ bulletins, to new businesses opening, to the growing consumer appetite for brands – they are all in unison that now is the time that the continent will be counted.

Leveraging the deeper agenda of the consumer

MTN, the South Africa-based multinational telecommunications provider, won the recent Millward Brown Optimor BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands award for the top brand in Africa. This ranking system is the only one to include consumer data in its arrival of brand value.

Some argue that MTN is successful because of its smart distribution strategy and maintained footprint. Some say it is really the brand presence itself. The truth is that it is a mixture of business strategy designed to capture the deeper agenda of the consumer tied to a dogged commitment to marketing spend and a consistent brand experience that captures its relevance with customers – which explains its continued brand loyalty.

Jennifer Forrester, Executive for Group Marketing, MTN, explains: “MTN is particularly proud of this accolade because the listing recognises that for a global brand to connect with its consumers, it needs to reflect them. Consumers want to see themselves in the brands they admire. They want to see that a brand, local or global, understands them, and knows what they want and need. At MTN, this is further acknowledgement that we are on the right track with our ongoing efforts to enhance customer experience in our various touchpoints in the markets. To this end, we pledge to continue with our quest to make the lives of our customers a whole lot brighter.”

So, relevance through aspiration is a significant part of a brand’s agenda in Africa. It bottles this heady mix of forces contained in technology, spending power, influence and attitudes. It is the glue that can bind audiences and businesses together through creative means. Iconic brand owners understand this. They uncover this deeper agenda with customers and package it as a consistent experience.

Consistency is another key part of a brand’s agenda. The Nike logo and slogan has not changed over the last few decades. Reebok invested far less in marketing and their brand became more erratic, with their pay-off line and brand finding less traction in the market. As a result, over the same period of time, Reebok’s brand did not build the same brand position strength in customers’ minds – both existing and potential. Today, Nike’s sneaker share of the market is far stronger than that of Reebok’s, whilst both brands’ sneakers are very similar products. This type of comparison can be found in all categories and is a combination of consistency and high visibility.

Consistency ensures that the deeper resonance of a brand cuts through consumer filters and sinks in. It cements a position of brand value and ensures ownership of the brand in people’s minds.

Brands are unique and can be transformed if they recognise this deeper resonance and ensure consistency and visibility. In Africa, iconic brands continue to shape and be shaped by their interaction of value with the highly aspirational people of the continent.