Positioning and Scaling Products in Africa


Global business leaders and investors have become ever increasing interested in the vast potential in Africa. With a growing population of more than an estimated 1.3 billion people as of October 2020, millions emerging from poverty and entering the middle class consumer market where spending is expected to hit $4 trillion by the year 2025, no wonder most global companies want a piece of the pie. As much as there are well known deterrents for positioning and scaling products in the African continent such as poor infrastructure and political instability, some brands such as IKEA, Apple, Google, and Mastercard have overcome these challenges and successfully entered the African market. With African consumers growing in numbers, as well as in buying power, this has to be the perfect time to scale into this market.

Rainbow Nations, Unique Markets

To start us off, to successfully position a brand in Africa, one needs to have a clear understanding that Africa is not one single market that needs one entry or positioning strategy. It’s a continent made up of 54 separate countries with different policies, consumers with different belief systems, cultures, and individuals with different purchasing habits. Opinions held about certain brand categories differ from region to region and how each market segment consumes media during their buying journey differs from persona to persona. Different markets have different needs. This means how you position a hair product in South Africa, will be totally different compared to how to position that same product in the Kenyan market. This is why it is critical to always bring in the PMM team right at the initial stages of the expansion plans including them in market research, market segmentation, UX research and the ideation stage of initiatives.

Each market has a distinct relationship with products. As you have your eyes set on different markets in Africa, you need to employ tailored positioning strategies for each market segment. Take Levi Strauss for example, a brand that epitomizes classic American style and effortless cool, the company had to evolve their product portfolio to accommodate markets such as South Africa and Kenya giving consumers in these regions a chance to express their personal styles as proud Africans.

Internationalization comes before Localization

Successful localization is preceded by thoughtful internationalization. To successfully position a product in any African market, one needs to start with an internal process called internationalization which is essentially the practice of designing services, products and other relevant internal operations that will lead to the successful facilitation of the company expanding into international markets. By taking this crucial first step, companies will be able to design products that satisfy the needs of users who come from different cultural backgrounds, speak different languages and those that come from different religious backgrounds. Let’s take McDonalds for example, with operations in more than 36,000 locations in 101 different countries and territories in the world, localizing menus has become a custom. The McDonalds South African menu proudly features some locally inspired flavors as a way of localizing the brand.

Localization is the process of creating a product that adds value to the lives of your target market from the detailed market research undertaken to understand the needs in all the different markets in Africa. During the internationalization process, the Product Marketing Management function in all scaling companies need to work very closely as they always should with the engineers department, product designers, data analysts, UX researchers, market researchers and Technical Program Managers (TPMs) to create solutions and messaging that resonates with a specific consumer culture making the product appear as though it was created by one of their own. This will ensure that each of your company’s target market adopts your products with ease which is also termed as localization. Ensuring your brand message resonates globally.

Nail your Pricing

How each market segment in Africa evaluates a product/service differs a lot by cultural values and societal trends. Price sensitive African consumers readily welcome products from companies with low priced products. This is the main reason why affordable products from China such as mobile devices, home appliances, clothes to mention but a few have become so popular in different African countries. Nailing your pricing will keep you ahead of the pack when you are positioning yourself in the different African markets. The key to this is understanding your target audience so well and employing the proper pricing model that will align the value they’ll be gaining from your product to the money they’ll have to part with. This could be pricing strategies such as the cost plus pricing, competitor based pricing, value based pricing or dynamic pricing all of which will be dependent on your product type, target market segment and your overall business goals. Carrying out price sensitivity surveys in all your markets segments in Africa will help you get your price right. The Van Westendorp’s price sensitivity survey has proven to be a favorite for Product Marketers helping you set reasonable price points for all your products and services.

Narrative Design, the Ultimate Game Changer

It goes without saying, most markets in Africa are flooded with products and brands that are barely surviving with a few industry leaders who hold huge market shares. Like how it is in life, to establish dominance, you need to set yourself apart. Here I don’t mean going for a subtle positioning strategy that will not do much to differentiate your company from the rest of the companies in the market. I mean setting up a game changing narrative that will disrupt the entire industry. That’s the only way you’ll be noticed in Africa. Take for example, a brand like Glossier which is a makeup brand based around celebrating people’s individuality and natural beauty deciding to enter different African markets, a solid narrative they could use would be ‘individualized beauty’. This would separate the brand from the rest of the brands in the beauty industry and create a new game in the beauty industry stemming from the need and behaviour change of consumers who want products that are more personalized. As the Narrative Design experts such as Brian Halligan, Marcus Andrew and Andy Raskin clearly put it, noticing this change in consumer behaviour is the starting point to setting up a great narrative.

Stories Make Us

From the green hills of the Eastern Cape home to the Xhosa community in South Africa to the bustling city of Nairobi in Kenya, we live and breathe stories that capture our everyday moments. Infusing your brand personality to the African story is how you successfully position a product in the African market. One key thing here is you have to be authentic. We smell fakeness from miles away. A billboard in Zimbabwe, Ghana or Rwanda cannot spot models from South Africa since this brand will be viewed as a failure by the company to represent their people. Something most consumers take really personally. What this means is that all marketing campaigns have to be tailored for each market segment. From the ad copy, promotional visuals to music and symbolism employed, everything needs to align with each target market in Africa.

Proper translation in your messaging is very key. This refers to the conversion of the standard written texts of the brand and product into the local languages used by Africans in different regions. To nail your translation, it is important for the company to consider multiple cultural factors that transcend the terms and words a brand uses to explain their product to a certain market segment with the solid understanding that 72.4% of the African consumers says they are more likely to buy a product if the information is in their own language.

Ingenious Competitive Intel

Entering some markets in Africa will require you to outsmart those who already hold the market. Is it possible? Yes. Easy?, not so much. With some brands having strong competitive advantage because of government policies that favor them, others well established exclusive sourcing partnership deals that enable them to set competitive prices to some which are held as national pride by their citizens you need to up your competitive intelligence game to enter and concur some markets.

By Africa for Africa

It’s a growing phenomenon, we as Africans are slowly embracing the concept of buying locally made products. We’ve seen how it helps boost our individual national economies, create employment for the youths and elevate our global standing. Startups building products for the African market need to embrace this wave of market awareness and position their brands as Africa built. No one better understands Africa than Africans. Am I right or am I right? This positioning approach means you need to engage with industry thought leaders when building products for your target markets in Africa. Let them introduce you to the talent in your market category and make a conscious effort to include them in the process of creating solutions for their people. The likes of Facebooks, Microsoft and Mastercard have done this so well by expanding their offices to new regions in African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya. They’ve hired local engineers, product designers, market researchers and project coordinators who help the companies build products that appeal to the local consumers.

Sweep us off our feet ; Stellar Customer Experience Sets you Apart

For established brands looking to extend their reach, it is important to note that from the start of the customer onboarding process, it’s advisable to take note of things such as:

  • Naming conventions — some consumers from different cultures in Africa have multiple last names
  • Format of telephone numbers
  • Currency
  • Time and date formats
  • Use of icons, symbols and pictograms mean different things for different cultures

An example of a product that has been successfully localized in the African market is Apple’s Siri virtual assistant. When a user asks Siri for directions or weather report, Siri provides answers based on the users location, language preference and can even use native South African accents. It is the level of customer experience that will make consumers in different African markets stick to your brand. With consumers having so many options to select from, offering a mediocre experience means losing consumers to your competitors.

Market Segmentation

One of the challenges global brands face when positioning their products in foreign markets has for the longest time been the temptation to use a standardized marketing mix with one marketing strategy in all locations or tailor their marketing strategies to fit the unique markets they enter. Those who follow the later end up winning at the end. As global interconnectivity is a boon for the world economy, increasing the world’s GDP, cultural neutrality is still a thing in the distant future. What this means is each market segment needs to be treated independently when positioning and scaling a product. All PMMs working in global companies expanding to new markets in Africa, need to acquaint themselves with Africa. What’s the history of the market segment you’ve targeting, why do they value the things they do and perceive certain things a certain way? Why do they make some purchase decisions communally? Make sure to capture all these data sets when creating your personas because it will help you create a winning positioning strategy.


After exploring the above, successfully positioning a product seems like a daunting task right? Well not really, with proper internationalization strategies and localization tactics in place, you will be able to meet the needs of eager and growing markets. Nearly two thirds of the estimated 305 million households in Africa will have discretionary income to spend on your products/services by the year 2025. Urbanization and the rise of mobile communication in Africa are the two trends that are driving growth greatly impacting the consumer market. With the levels of consumption in most African cities rivaling major cities such as China, India and Russia, positioning your product in this burgeoning market will yield high returns. Any companies seeking a foothold in Africa must ensure that they put the needs of the people ahead and invest for the long haul. As challenging and frustrating as it appears, the rewards for companies that will do excellent positioning, messaging and storytelling backed by the right go to market strategies will win. Once you earn the trust of the African consumers, you’re set to thrive decades to come.

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