ABC is an integrated creative and marketing agency specializing in brand building and management.
We make African brands stronger through innovative platforms and iconic campaigns that connect our clients to their chosen audience.
Foreign brands have dominated African economies for decades. Durable names like Coca-Cola and Nike have repeatedly commanded the admiration of consumers and a huge share of market demand. According to the recently released Brand Africa 100 list, the landscape remains as lopsided as ever. Non-African brands accounted for 77 of the top 100, and swallowed up 99 percent of the total brand value of the list.
To be fair, foreign giants hold a historical advantage. Consumers tend to love best what they know best. As the famous quote of a company executive reminds us, Coca-Cola owes its survival to consumers not suffering “a sudden lapse of memory.” Many multinational brands simply owe a lot of their supremacy to having been around longer and having invested in more places. This partly explains why African brands did not gain market share last year and why their global worth versus their international counterparts declined in relative terms.
Many multinational brands simply owe a lot of their supremacy to having been around longer and having invested in more places.
Still, one African company is bucking the trend. The South African telecom leader MTN has been the most valuable and most admired African brand on the Brand Africa 100 every year since the listing started in 2011. MTN is the only African company on the Brand Africa 100 valued at more than $1 billion and it has routinely beat out companies like Shell and McDonald’s for highest brand value in Africa. MTN has gained a leadership position by doing all the right things to achieve brand awareness and, by extension, customer loyalty. ABC offers insight into how MTN became, in the words of Brand Africa chairman Thebe Ikalafeng, “the pre-eminent global Africa benchmark and inspiration.”
MTN became a telecom behemoth in 22 markets across Africa and the Middle East by increasing its market share among low-income consumers in rural communities. It established large networks of local agents who traveled to remote areas by motorbike and set up kiosks. It also harnessed the growth of the mobile market by investing in telemedicine and introducing mobile apps like iCow, which assists Kenya’s 1.6 million dairy farmers in maximizing their returns. MTN has been a pioneer in responding to the needs of its customers rather than trying to dictate market conditions.
BEAT THE BIG BOYS
MTN has stayed on top by competing with large telecom brands, winning the price war against the likes of Vodacom in the face of stringent regulatory requirements. In the last year, MTN increased its brand value by 31 percent, to $5.4 billion, outpacing its local rivals by a wide margin. MTN offers a useful template for how indigenous brands can harness “Made in Africa” insights and expand their brand-building capacity. At number 88, it became the first African brand to be listed in Millward Brown’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands, in 2012.
MTN has stayed on top by competing with large telecom brands, winning the price war against the likes of Vodacom in the face of stringent regulatory requirements.
INVEST IN INFRASTRUCTURE
Lack of infrastructure is one of the leading reasons why African countries rate poorly in ease of doing business rankings. But mobile operators in Africa have led the effort to connect communities that continue to operate without running water. In Rwanda, MTN partnered with microfinance institutions to bring mobile services to remote villages using a service called Village Phone. Now, with the use of a booster antenna or a car battery charger, people can establish a mobile network even in places that do not have electricity. Meanwhile, the MTN Mobile Money service allows 13 million subscribers in 14 African countries to wire cash from phone to phone, harnessing growing opportunities in mobile financial transactions on the continent.
LOCAL AT EVERY LEVEL
MTN only started working in Nigeria in 2001, but it is already the biggest operator in Africa’s largest economy, with more than 45 million subscribers. It succeeds in multiple markets by employing innovative distribution and promotional practices and adapting its approach based on the living standards of its consumers, thereby cornering one of Africa’s most crucial market entry points. MTN has successfully employed a “glocal” approach that tempers global expansion with local cultural and socioeconomic sensitivities. As a research paper by Emmanuel Chukw Duru of the University of Calabar in Nigeria concluded, the negative influences of globalization afford “new opportunities for Africa to assert local autonomy and control its socio-political and economic destiny.” In short, it pays for homegrown brands to continue growing.