Author: Thys de Beer
Country: Liberia / Swaziland / Ethiopia
When Japanese brands like Toyota launched their vehicles in the South African market in the 1960s South Africans were skeptical about the new ‘Jap-Crap’ on the roads. But through a clever brand strategy Toyota ensured that, before long, the brand was associated with reliability. If you grew up in South Africa you would remember the ‘Everything keeps going right’ pay-off line ending off numerous television advertisements over the years. But, how did this happen? Toyota knew that it wanted to be the biggest automotive brand in the world, and like other Japanese brands applied kaizen, the principle of incremental improvement. (Every time a new product is developed, it must be at least an incremental improvement over the last version).They also realized that building a brand takes time and that perceptions might not change overnight and ensured that they delivered a consistent brand message (Toyota = Reliability) for over three decades. Even with all the recent recall woes, Toyota is still known and respected for its reliability.
South Korea is another example: fifteen years ago very few South Africans would be seen dead in a Hyundai or would want to associate with Korean brands, but look at the rapid success of Hyundai and other Korean brands. We are also seeing perceptions changing towards Chinese brands. For instance, Geely now owns Volvo. What a great opportunity to change perceptions about the Geely brand (and by default Chinese brands) over time! We are also seeing similar developments in BRIC countries and due to technology, better strategic thinking, design and collaboration, making paradigm shifts happen is a very real possibility for the African continent too. According to springwise brands like Oliberté, a Canadian shoe company, is taking a different approach by sourcing and setting up its manufacturing operations in Africa.
Oliberté makes and sells what it says is the first line of footwear to be made from natural rubber in Liberia. Oliberté ensures that farmers, factory workers and suppliers are all paid fairly and treated responsibly, and it supports local training and communities in every country it works in. It’s also working in partnership with factories to improve its environmental footprint, it says. Toward that end, Oliberté even promises to take its shoes back at the end of their useful life, with plans to recycle and make them new again. The company’s website explains: “Africa is more than just poverty and Oliberté is the start of a revolution that shows, through urban footwear, this is the real Africa! With every pair of Oliberté bought, we are making a powerful statement that Africa is proud, free and full of potential. You do this all while being a hero, because you are the reason men and women from Liberia to Swaziland to Ethiopia have a job, have food on the table and can send their children to school. Oliberté is not a charity—it is a company that believes you can change how the world views Africa and help build lives every time you buy a pair of Oliberté shoes.”
Over the past two centuries the ‘dark’ continent has been used (abused?) for her natural resources but little else. Although this view seems to be changing (albeit slowly), until perceptions around Brand Africa (unfortunately many people seem to think Africa is one country or all African countries are the same) changes, convincing the world that Africa should be viewed as anything but the poster child for poverty and charity will remain a challenge. That said, many claim that the continent is the next ‘unchartered business frontier’. The world is also started to realize that Africa is a proud continent with enormous creative potential. It is therefore encouraging to see brands assisting African entrepreneurs in setting up their own businesses.
The views expressed in this article are entirely the views of the author or authors and are not necessarily those of DWA or its associates.