Criteria for tracking Africa-wide brands with 20/20 vision
by Peter Searll & Justin Schwellnus. Numerous companies have run into difficulties venturing into African markets over recent years, largely due to insufficient understanding as they step into new territory. It is critical to understand how your brand is perceived, and where the sweet spots are, before moving into a new market — otherwise you are asking for trouble.
The three Ps
Over the course of a decade in the industry, we’ve acquired a number of key insights into what is required in order to track brands effectively across African markets, beginning with three critical competitive areas where a brand needs to perform to be successful — the three Ps: presence, perception and propensity.
Presence is the starting point
Although it isn’t often the main driver of brand choice, presence is a critical foundation for building a brand. Do you have sufficient presence in the market? Are you visible — through advertising, on the shelf, or on social media? Are you noticed? Because, if you’re not known or visible, you can’t even be considered.
Perception is the reality check
Perception refers to the way that the brand is perceived in the hearts and minds of both consumers and potential consumers. This is usually made up of a combination of softer imagery and harder functional attributes.
Perceptions are influenced not only by sponsored communication and advertising messages but also by usage, word of mouth and, increasingly, social media. A product or service needs to deliver what the brand promises, because what is a brand, really? It’s a promise — of an experience, of quality, of a benefit, of a feeling. Once you’ve experienced a product, this influences your perception. If it is good, and you’re influenced positively, then you’re more likely to advocate the brand. If it’s negative, you won’t buy it again, and you’ll discourage others from buying it.
Different product and service categories have different drivers. For example, high-visibility products have more-social orientation; they fulfil different needs to, say, toothpaste, which sits in the bathroom cupboard where nobody sees it. Perception drivers may also vary widely between countries within the same product category: some markets are more price-sensitive and value is more important while others are more functional.
Not understanding what the drivers are in each market is one of the key reasons for the brand failures that we’ve seen in Africa recently. Brands can’t simply copy-and-paste the strategy they use in one market into another African market without understanding the local strengths and weaknesses of their offer and how they map against the relevant category drivers.
Correctly positioning your brand or portfolio requires insight into these distinctions.
Propensity is where the future lies
Propensity is a measure of the consumer’s tendency to use the brand in future. It takes into account the extent to which they are already using it, how loyal they are and how motivated they are to use it more.
Having strong presence and positive perceptions will help to drive propensity — but knowing which attributes to refine and adjust is the key to supporting brands that will grow. What is boosting your brand and what is holding it back? Focus on the key drivers of propensity in order to ensure healthy brands and business performance.
A simple and effective approach to brand tracking
These three Ps — presence, perception and propensity — are the basis with which to evaluate and track the health of a brand. There are several further points to be considered in tracking brands, especially across borders:
Social media can’t tell you WHY
The arrival of big data and social media has certainly helped to provide insight into the perceptions of a brand, and what is being said in the marketplace. However, despite the vast amount of transactional data around what people are doing and what they are saying on social media, neither of those actually helps you to understand why people are doing something. You may only really understand their motivations by asking this on a survey.
One of the key challenges is to balance a global brand understanding with local flexibility. You can’t have a coherent brand with 10 entirely different compositions in 10 markets. If you’ve got one brand, you want a consistent measure, a consistent message and a consistent branding strategy, obviously with relevant local tweaks.
Moreover, it’s important to develop a common language for all the brand teams within a business, enabling them to understand the metrics, dynamics and drivers of the brand, even if they move from one country to another. In other words, there must be a common language that is spoken in all the marketing departments across the group or the agencies. That’s important, because when there are many different approaches to brand tracking, there is no centralised or common theme; no way to look at the brand in a standardised fashion. How then do you compare markets?
How often should you track your brand?
The frequency with which you should track your market depends on what kind of product or service you’re selling, and the environment. If there are many new entrants, a wide variety of offers or changing category circumstances, it’s a good idea to track more frequently. If it’s a slower market, then once or twice a year is sufficient.
Plan or fail
When it comes to expanding a brand into new markets, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. It’s crucial to begin by understanding the new market and how your brand fits into it. An effective model of brand health and approach to brand tracking is key to doing just that.
The next step is using brand-tracking results to model and predict future outcomes, ie by simulating “what if” scenarios. This may be set up in such a way as to feed back actual market performance and so become more accurate over time. This will ultimately reduce marketing-spend risk, and enable marketers to get the most bang for their bucks!
Peter Searll and Justin Schwellnus are managing partners of Dashboard Marketing Intelligence, a full-service market research and strategy business that offers customised research and analysis services.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup.