Cape Town South Africa

Defining your Product Narrative for Products in Frontier & Emerging Markets in Africa

Why your Storyline Matters to Customers

Positioning your product in the hands of those customers who need it the most is no easy task. So many factors come into play from the moment you notice the gap in the market to your launch date. For you to nail this, the one thing you need to do is define your product narrative. Building a strong narrative that resonates with your target customers, means anchoring your messages on the outcomes your products deliver to your specific personas and the main differentiators that make your product uniquely suited to deliver the outcome you are promising your customers.

In this piece, I’ll be shedding some light on how creating a product narrative for products in frontier and emerging markets in Africa works. To achieve this, I’ll be using Donald Miller’s framework called the ‘SB7 Framework’ and contextualize it to the frontier and emerging markets in Africa. This is because I truly believe that we as Africans have a set of unique needs and challenges that warrant a new approach to product narrative.

The mistake most global fortune 500 companies expanding their operations in Africa make is they use the same product narrative used in developed markets when positioning their products in frontier and emerging markets in Africa. The companies hope users in these markets that are still growing economically will perceive the product the same way as their users in developed markets. Wrong. To give you an example, the way a small business owner in South Africa will view a payment processing platform is totally different compared to how a small business owner in Berlin will. These two business owners who might be at the same business development stage experience a set of challenges, fears and frustrations not to mention the vast difference in the business policies regulating their every move which affects how they perceive and use a product. By understanding what these needs and pain points are, you will be able to craft a compelling product narrative that will help you position your product in the hands of those who really need it.

First things first, what is a product narrative?

A product narrative is the product storyline used to help you correctly position your product in the hands of users who NEED it.

How do you build one?

Below I have highlighted a five step process to follow:

Step 1: Know your Customers

Clearly defining who your product is for will set you apart from the pack. I don’t mean just knowing them by the market category they fall under in your target market, but understanding their fears, goals, psychographic details, their driving force in life. These are the attributes that will help you and your product team have customer empathy. The goal of your narrative is to make your customer become the hero and you can only do this by truly knowing them on a deeper level. Through this process of knowing your customer you get to identify what they really want relative to what your product/service offers. After knowing what they want, it’ll make it easier for you to invite them into your product story. Take PUMA for example, they’ve managed to build a reputation in Ghana, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt and Cote d’ Ivoire of creating kits and product storylines that truly feed into the culture of each African nation they represent. Visa has also managed to tap into the Ethiopian startup scene by leveraging the entrepreneurial spirit, culture and stories from this vibrant nation.

Step 2: Clearly Articulate what their Pain Points are

‘Only build products that solve real problems in society’ is a familiar statement we’ve all heard before. Most companies do try to follow this. The issue comes in when a company doesn’t take time to actually understand the challenges their products are solving for their customer and infuse this in the product’s narrative. The question every product team needs to be asking themselves is ; what issues are our customers hiring our products to do ? and how do we infuse this in our storytelling? For a company like Paystack that would be — enabling a customer to seamlessly make online and offline payments across Africa, for Leaf Global Fintech that would be enabling cross border traders and refugees to have the ability to send/receive money across the border, for Sendy that would be helping businesses deliver their products to their customers without any hassles.

“Identifying our customers’ problems deepens their interest in the story we are telling”

Donald Miller calls the customer problem the ‘hook’ that will make your company story more appealing to your target customers.

Step 3. Your Company is the Guide

You are not the hero in your brand story. Your customers are. Customers in frontier and emerging markets in Africa have a set of challenges and needs. With the average income in Africa reducing due to the Covid 19 pandemic, when a person decides to spend their hard earned money buying your product, it better be worth it. How do we make this happen? By ensuring your product delivers on its promises and helps the customer win at the end. That helps your customers resolve their issues. You attain this by being the guide for your customers by demonstrating authority and showing empathy. Customers only buy from brands they trust and respect will lead them to solve their problems making them the heroes at the end. It’s important to know what your customers in the emerging and frontier markets in Africa want. Different cultures, tribes and communities in different countries in Africa value different things. Explore what those are.

Good stories humanize your brand, providing context and meaning for your product — Hubspot

Step 4: Give Customers a Plan

Confused buyers will never buy from you. This is why it is important to give your target customers a clear plan on how they need to engage with your company to resolve their problems and become heroes. This plan can be the three steps they need to follow to get your services, or a two step plan to make them then get your product demo or book the first meeting. Make them simple since customers will automatically lose interest when they notice too much effort is required from them.

Step 5: Calling Customers to take Action

To inspire any change in your customer, you need to call them to take action. This is the action they need to take to lead them to success and make them avoid failure. A good example would be a business located along Durban and Johannesburg road, signing up for Google maps and giving their customers a two step plan to follow to enjoy their drive through offers in their campaigns or website copy. This means their business ranking will rise increasing their conversion rates compared to other businesses nearby. Great competitive advantage.

Differentiation

The above steps will only work, when your product narrative is different. Your narrative needs to be meaningful, contextual and be different from your competitors. This is the only way customers will pay attention to your business. I am currently working on a project for a company based in Rwanda and when I was interacting with the customers at the initial phases of understanding the customers/markets the company serves, most of the customers wanted to know how different we were from the other businesses offering the same service. We then decided to use a positioning strategy that’s a bit different from our competitors. Our differentiated approach was and is that we are targeting cross border traders and refugees. So our narrative had to be aligned with these customers. Connecting the needs of these customers to our product offerings in our product narrative has helped us offer them immense value. This narrative tells the refugees and cross border traders that someone cares enough to build a platform just for them. These are two of the most overlooked customer segments in Africa with most financial service providers stating that they aren’t a great economic investment. This distinction has helped us increase our conversion rate and enabled cross border traders to grow their businesses and refugees to support their friends and family.

Conclusion

The African population is ever increasing, people’s preferences are shifting as more and more people are starting to embrace their true African heritage. These changes in people and business owners warrants brands to shift how they communicate to their customers in frontier and emerging markets. Don’t be left behind.

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Snr. Product Marketing Manager | B2B SaaS | My real passion is introducing and scaling new products and technologies into nascent markets in Africa