East Africa has now had a Marketing industry for nearly six decades. In that time Kenya in particular has moved from a command economy to a market where brands influence consumer decisions. Some powerful brands have been built, and the best have sustained their appeal through the immense societal change created by the digital revolution. Several have become regional; one or two, continental. Of course, there have also been brand failures. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of them. But that’s to be expected: received wisdom says that only one in ten business ideas achieves success.
Today there’s broader public awareness of the value brands, and a high level of enthusiasm for branding within the business community. Years back, the ambition was to create a Limited Company. Nowadays almost everyone wants to build a brand. So that means the work of Marketers is going to get a lot harder. It won’t be enough just to apply a logo to a product or a service and hope for the best. Brands have to be built carefully and consistently over time.
In my view, the challenge that Marketers now face is to create authentic brands. I define authenticity in three ways:
Firstly, brands must be authentic in their relevance. It won’t be enough to participate in a category and hope for a share of the rewards. Future brands will need a winning ambition that is recognised both inside and outside the company. An ambition to change something fundamental for consumers: financial inclusion; longer living; economic opportunity; domestic security. Remember that the first mobile telephone revolution made so many things possible that it stimulated significant GDP growth.Next, brands must make and keep authentic promises. Future brands will not survive on generic or inflated claims. Brand owners must decide what promises they can realistically keep, and commit themselves to delivery. Online consumer power will judge insincere brands very harshly, and whatever is posted online never goes away.
Finally, brands must deliver an authentic experience. The days of customer service by rote are over. Future brands will need to create, maintain and refresh a customer experience that brings the brand promise to life every day. Funeral directors, toothpastes, law firms, hospitals, logistics, boiled sweets, schools, disinfectants, County Governments and Nation brands alike. I can’t think of a single area of human activity where the importance of brand experience will not be pre-eminent.
As we enter our seventh decade of branding, we face greater challenges than ever before. But for the winning brands, and for modern economies that support them, I believe the rewards will also be greater.
Chris Harrison is the Africa Partner of The Brand Inside.