Can we build brands that scale?

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The Starbucks coffee shop

Kudzai M. Mubaiwa
I have always found it rather curious how global brands are widely celebrated when they come in to Zimbabwe, particularly so when they are for fast moving consumer goods.

Certainly I am happy when investment comes into the country, jobs are created and downstream effects felt, but I tend to wonder if the return on that investment is far more beneficial (even in the medium term) to the investor rather than the local market.

Fast food franchises are particularly popular, the recent coming in of Rocomamas, Pizza Hut, KFC, generated what was in my view inordinate excitement because it opened up yet another avenue for consumption, and would no doubt result in the owners getting a decent return on investment, whilst patrons gained a few more centimetres in the middle!

The measure of prosperity for Zimbabwe is, in my humble view, not in attracting big brands, but getting locals to create them and others to support them because they are of the right quality.

When I get the opportunity to travel overseas, I am one of those people who buy a Starbucks coffee or a MacDonald’s Big Mac and posts it on social media just to trigger reactions.

The responses of envy and affirmation are quite telling, we celebrate these brands because we have known them long before we tasted them, through television programmes, magazines and now the internet. They are not even African brands. A few years back I enjoyed coffee at the rooftop restaurant at Impact Hub Kigali, Rwanda. I was told that the outfit serving it, Café Neo, was a fast growing African coffee-house that was started by two Nigerian brothers. They source the coffee within Africa — from Rwanda.

The name of their company is inspired by a Tswana word meaning “gift”. Their model is fascinating; targeting what are called “repats” those Africans that have embraced the coffee café culture whilst living (or at the very least visiting) abroad as students or workers, are back home and want some coffee on the go to start their day or to sit in a so inclined meeting place.

They are actively working on value addition to one of the continent’s significant exports — coffee, and hoping to branch out the chain to each of Africa’s major cities. I hope they will add on coffees that are named for each country they originate from. They have gained so much traction that already they are being “hailed as Africa’s Starbucks”.

They are creating an indigenous brand rather than being dedicated consumers of international ones. Walking in the streets of Nairobi a few years back, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a Pizza Inn, branded exactly the way I saw it back home in Harare. It was a moment of pride and enthralment. I feel exactly the same way when I encounter the Liquid Telecom brand in other African countries. We must be intentional about building enterprises that scale on the domestic, regional and international front. The benefits are manifold.

Firstly, is the non-tangible but all important matter of national pride, for brands that are known across borders give every Zimbabwean a good feeling, a boost in esteem and a sense of worth! How much more for the producer? That we can be able to contribute at the world’s stage and compete is valuable and speaks to our abilities as a people.

Other benefits are that every product and service that we export we gain foreign currency.

Production will be at the core of our economic recovery, hence the need for creation over consumption. Those who make things are masters of their own destiny, jobs will be created when entrepreneurs and innovators do their part and those who are better at providing support do so as their workers.

There are a few things to consider as one actively seeks to build a business brand that will scale.

Put in the work, do the necessary groundwork that enables you to understand the market. Find the gaps and unmet needs and rise to the occasion. Identify your unique selling point — that one big idea — that distinguishes you from the rest and run with it unashamedly. Go and design a powerful identity, this speaks to the actual branding; invest in professional work that will make you memorable to the market you have segmented through the right colours and images.

Be aware that traction is gained by aligning stakeholders and ensuring buy in that starts within the company itself, then domestic customers and ultimately regional and international ones.

Markets are overcrowded for everything; therefore you will have to be inventive.

Brands that prosper must think differently on every score — pricing models, marketing channels, packaging and promotion. You will have to engage your customer’s emotions and meet their expectations consistently.

Communicate your growing brand the way you would like it to be seen. This means not scrimping on the budget. World class entities enjoy a high level of awareness, think Coca-Cola; because they deliberately put their product at the forefront of people’s minds. It will take putting in the resources and a generous budget.

After all has been said and done, you would need to be deliberate about measuring your performance through key performance indicators.

Work hard to achieve the right positioning in the market such that your target is aware of you and ensure you consistently deliver.

There is nothing offered by global brands that local business owners cannot match and surpass, if anything they should have the advantages of being on home ground, acquainted with local tastes and preferences, then seek to share the same experience they offer on the domestic front in the global arena.

Arts and cultural sector has done a fairly good job through musicians that have put Zimbabwe on the map, we must ride on that goodwill and build quality Zimbabwean brands, products and services that are loved and celebrated home and away.

Take time to reflect on everything you consume, and you will see the immense potential if some of us would create it locally — online content, food and drink, clothing, hair products, fuel, books, music, technology gadgets — the list is endless!

This is a good year to start working on scaling your small business so that we consume more of our own creations and keep resources within our communities and local circles. Production, creation and making must become the buzzwords towards local economic development, for the solutions we need are already in the inside of us and among us.

The world waits for the manifestation of creations by the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe!

 Feedback: Twitter @kumub, Email kudzi@investorsaint.co.zw

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