A common mistake (even amongst communications professionals) is the inability to tailor business strategies to the various markets. In Africa, there are over 50 countries with over 2000 languages being spoken – religious diversities excluded. Africa is one big mixing pot of ethnic and cultural varieties.
And like any big dysfunctional family, Africa is not joined by choice, but rather by geographical proximity (or in the case of family, blood).
As communication professionals, we continually stress the importance and need of getting to know your market before deciding to invest in, or grow your business ventures into Africa. It is imperative that each country in Africa be treated as such; a different country with different languages, cultures, and nuances. Establishing a company (or investing) in Botswana, to establishing a company in Morocco will be significantly different. From the basics as to how to greet someone, and even to learning a few key local phrases, will go a long way to helping you connect with your local counterparts.
Conversational starters are also of paramount importance when meeting with potential clients/business partners. For example, in Northern Africa where majority of the population is Muslim, it is considered incredibly rude to ask any personal questions relating to family i.e. how many children do you have? However family is still a top priority and asking about their general wellness is standard in a formal greeting.
In South Africa, people are generally quite conservative, and it is considered impolite to enter into a conversation relating to personal finances or the cost of a particular article (unless it has some direct relation to the ability to do business within the country). In order to enter into a market, and be able to relate to the general consumer, you need to have a thorough understanding of the cultural elements that come into play.
Once business has been established, the importance of tailoring communications around one’s brand or product to the local market is paramount; and aiming to understand the various nuances and respecting the cultures is vital to ensure a good foundation and future growth.
Each country has a driving force, whether it is a sport, religion or musical associations; the winning factor is to tap into that driving force and establish a point of connection between the consumer and product. Ultimately, it will be the ability to connect to the local market whilst still holding on to the value of your product/business venture that will cement your success.
That, and patience.
Written Sasha Franicevic