Thuli Phiri, the founder and managing director of The African Storyteller. Photo: Supplied
Thuli Phiri, the founder and managing director of The African Storyteller. Photo: Supplied

Telling your story and positioning your brand in Africa

By Thuli Phiri Time of article published Sep 19, 2018

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JOHANNESBURG – Africa is a fast-growing market offering unlimited growth prospects for its local and international investors. In the last decade, the continent has seen an improvement in the number of investors making Africa their next investment bet.

What are the basic considerations foreign investors should take into account in positioning their brands in Africa?

Not A One Size Fits-All

A number of investors come into Africa with a one-size-fits-all strategy confident that it can be applied across the board. On the contrary Africa is not a single country. It is a continent made up of 54 countries with different governments, policies, cultures, levels of development and a variety of languages (including officials ones).

It is therefore important that investors develop market specific strategies to position their brands in the diverse African markets.

Know Your Market

Since Africa is not one big homogenous society, it is wise for companies to invest in understanding the continent’s markets. This will be the history, the unique cultural, religious, and leadership dynamics that form the social fabric of different African societies. The importance of having a firm grasp on these issues has great rewards…they have a big influence in shaping the way that your local stakeholders will engage; doing business and building strong relationships.

Know The Lay Of The Land

Having an insight on who the main role players are in civic organisations, government, media, non-government organisations and thought leadership is important. This enables you to align your go to market strategy with the country’s priorities.

Build Relationships – Find Common Interests

Establish relationships underpinned by good governance and the common interest to contribute towards a country’s sustainable development. The country’s development strategy which normally has a 20 to 30-year outlook should act as a guide for the type of relationship to establish and the social and economic contribution your company should make. A good example for a country’s development strategy is South Africa’s National Development Plan. The plan which is also referred to as 2030 gives a thirty-year outlook of the country’s key development priorities.


Businesses that have achieved growth in Africa are those that have adapted their global best practices to local markets by tapping into home-grown expertise and know how. This creates a win-win strategy and affords your brand an early acceptance as a corporate citizen that is in tune with the growth aspirations of the country.

Tell Your African Story From Africa’s Perspective

Sharing your African story in a manner that shows how your investment is contributing to Africa’s or the respective country’s growth plans is important.

The days when companies shaped their stories around being the best in their respective fields to gain traction and recognition are long gone.

Africa’s markets want stories that clearly explain “what-is-in-it-for-them” in terms of development. These would be skills development, small to medium enterprise development, innovation, investments, job creation etc.

Focus your stories on articulating your contribution towards development goals that have been achieved rather than promises of what is yet to be done.

Ensure that your stories are shared widely with all stakeholders through one-on-one engagements, maximum media exposure, thought leadership and participating in industry events.

Be Local

Lastly, having a presence on the ground with offices and a local leadership team is of great significance. There is no faster and more strategic way to unlock the opportunities and contribute to social challenges than integrating your company’s brand with the community or target market it serves.

Africa's Media Landscape

The media wields a lot of power and has considerable influence on societies in Africa. Knowing how to forge relationships and work with the media enables you to tell your story and own a significant voice in the local narrative. The quality and type of storytelling varies per market.

So… Who Are The Media Players In Africa?

Mainstream media ownership in Africa is mostly in the hands of private business, government and international news corporations.

The majority of the media in a number of African countries is owned by government. This is your more traditional media platforms such as radio, television and newspapers.

The advantage with state owned media is that in most instances it has the highest reach of the population. The disadvantage is that it is generalists in its reporting and not specialists in any subject matter.

State owned media is also largely seen to be machinery for producing news stories that promote the government of the day. This perception is stronger in some markets and weaker in others. The perception is for the most part influenced by how the country’s government of the day is viewed.

The second biggest ownership of media is in the hands of private investors. They, unlike the state, have identified a niche in specialist media and provide publications that focus on business, technology, sports, innovation etc. Most of the business publications are local but in recent years we have seen the emergence of more pan Africa focused media outlets such as CNBC Africa, Forbes Africa Magazine, Africa Business Review, etc.

These publications are commonly read by business people and decision makers in various fields. They are more high-end and the perception is that they are balanced and authentic. Most businesses invest in building relationships with these media houses in addition to general media. This of course is dependent on the media’s relevance to their business.

Privately owned media has also introduced a number of highly regarded online platforms that have a big following and subscriber base.

Specialist media has also taken the lead in introducing the concept of Thought Leadership events that bring together stakeholders to deliberate on topical issues. These could take the form of panel discussions, conferences or round table discussions. These are some of the flexibility elements that make specialist media attractive to main stream business as a partner in storytelling. A good example is a panel discussion that we hosted early in the year in partnership with CNBC Africa for one of our clients Minet Africa Holdings. This discussion which brought together Africa’s captains of industry discussed “Why Africa’s investment should emanate from Africa”. They also examined the role that African businesses have to play in growing the continent’s economy.

The third type of media owners are the international news agencies that serve as local news bureaus of big international media houses such as CNN, Reuters, BBC, etc.

In the main they are perceived to be non-African and referred to as foreign media. They are generally blamed at times for sensational and inaccurate stories that are reported about Africa to the world. This perception, whether true or not has had a big impact on how local businesses warm up to these news agencies.

The dominant wish is one where their role should be that of partners in promoting Africa to the world on our terms. This unfortunately is hardly realistic.

The fourth type of media, which can be described as semi-formal, is blogging.

Bloggers are opinion leaders who have amassed a huge following because they produce content that is of interest to them and their audience. They have become a big trend in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

It is worth noting that bloggers are mostly followed by the young leaders in society because their style of reporting is laid back, factual and in some instances probing.

Social Media

The last and by no means the least is social media. The latest estimates put Africans who use social media at 350 000 000. Even though it does not have the tag of official media, social media is big in Africa and its content is perceived to be independent and in some instances authentic. Companies have had to contend with the reality that social media cannot be written off as a fad. It has proven to have longevity and has been effectively used as a mobilising tool in garnering support for various social campaigns. Some of these campaigns have had a big impact on the reputation of FMCG companies.

Thuli Phiri is the founder and managing director of The African Storyteller.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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