Disrupting the Future of Marketing in Africa

Tech is keeping marketing professionals all over the world on their toes and Africa is not left out. Startups are springing up everywhere on the continent with Nigeria having a record number of 3,300 startups followed by South Africa (660) and Kenya (600).  Tech-enabled products and services are launched or introduced into Africa at an astonishing pace with funding for tech startups topping the chart and growing six times faster than the global average.  Yet, insights from the teaching and consulting experience of the authors suggest that marketing professionals and the tech experts they serve appear to be working independently without harnessing the potential power of a symbiotic relationship.

Consider the case of Tony, a tech startup co-founder in Lagos. He was an engineer, data scientist and programmer with an idea for a new application to aid retail distribution. Tony had no sales or marketing background and did not bother doing market research prior to developing his app. Upon completion, he hired a marketing executive who had previously worked in the fast-moving consumer goods industry to handle the function.  The marketing executive’s performance turned out to be dismal. Tony hired and fired three marketing executives in 18 months because none was able to grow the customer base, and all had a poor understanding of the intricacies of technology. This situation is common in various parts of the continent and potentially erodes the marketing profession.

It is time for marketing professionals in Africa to realise how technology is transforming the marketing process in ways that challenge the future of the marketing profession. Insights from our research highlight three ways technology affect marketing practices in Africa.

First, technology transforms consumer behaviour and alters purchase journeys unexpectedly within Africa. For example, mobile marketing has grown exponentially, and consumers continue to adopt the technology increasingly. In 2019, the 5G era of hyper connection came to being. It is characterised as being between 20 – 200 times faster than 4G and, most importantly, can support many more technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), driving intelligent technologies. It is also advancing Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies which are already serving as revolutionary platforms upon which the future of marketing rests.

These trends have triggered three reactions from African customers. Buyers are choosing to stay anonymous, craving more personalised offerings and demanding more creative experiences. Technology is making it easier for African buyers to increasingly choose to withhold personal information or conceal their identities without detection. The growing thirst for personalised and customised offerings is another trend emerging from greater access to tech-enabled products and services. A previous article published in Afritail reported that 50% of respondents would be happier to engage with marketers and brands that personalised products and services. Consumers increasingly want marketers to treat them as unique individuals – they appreciate it when marketers recognise and prove that they know them.

Technology also facilitates creative consumption among African customers as they increasingly use products and services differently from those envisaged by brand owners and marketers who serve them. Customers are creating novel user and purchase experiences that marketers often fail to detect. These transformative patterns alter purchase journeys that question current marketing practices’ viability.

Second, tech is enhancing rather than eliminating traditional routes to market models in Africa. Over ninety per cent of Africa’s retail transactions occur within informal markets.  At the same time, Africa is a mobile-first consumer market where mobile technology remains the single most relevant touchpoint for reaching its customers. In South Africa, mobile accounted for 45 per cent of the total digital advertising spending in 2020 and was projected to cross the 50 per cent threshold in 2023. In Nigeria, this threshold was already crossed in 2021, and by 2023, the share of mobile is expected to increase to 54 per cent. Technology has made this paradox possible by supplying platforms and channels such as Whatsapp, Instagram, POS terminals and mobile money payments that support traditional distribution practices in open-air markets, food stalls and street vending. This situation suggests greater flexibility in thinking about marketing to customers who simultaneously patronise modern and traditional retail outlets.

Third, tech is democratising the marketing profession in Africa. Tech is providing customer-to-customer business platforms that make it possible to bypass marketers in the buying process. Customers are leading peer-to-peer product promotion without the support of African marketing and advertising agencies. For example, Binance P2P, and Airbnb. Essentially, technology is increasing the bargaining power of African customers by making it easier for them to negotiate and secure better deals.  As customers in Africa get better at playing the role of marketing professionals, marketers who do not rethink their input and stake in the marketing process will become extinct.

Technology is not always practical. Technological adoption across Africa’s subregions is not uniform due to cultural, economic and political variations. Technology use can erode a business’s future when the wrong investments are made.  Thus, tech-savviness does not guarantee future readiness for marketing professionals. Marketing professionals who strategically use technology to manage customer experiences will be better prepared for the future. Here are four steps marketing professionals in Africa can take to prepare for a tech-driven future.

Build Coalitions to Manage Customer Demands: Africa’s marketing professionals must move away from housing all marketing activities within one function. Marketing professionals can no longer do everything alone. These professionals must strategically partner with technology vendors, programmers, product engineers and user experience managers to perform their functions. However, marketers must delegate without abdicating functions to technology partners. Marketing is increasingly becoming an ecosystem of diverse functions. The future marketing professional will play the role of an orchestra director rather than single-handedly playing all musical instruments.

Foster tech-based learning experiences: Marketing professionals must participate in technology companies’ internship programmes. These immersive experiences will make it easier to understand product concepts and contribute to product design. Reverse mentorship opportunities should be part of the internship where tech experts and marketing professionals can mentor each other on areas of need. Business schools and professional associations must also revise their marketing curricula to make professionals future-ready.

Build New Capabilities to Manage Technologies:  Preparing for the future is not just about attending training activities. Marketing professionals must invest in new systems, processes, tools and techniques to strategically manage technology. Marketers require the infrastructure to make it easier to scale personalised offerings, manage hyper experiences and coach increasingly sophisticated buyers. For instance, the software will be an integral part of the future of African marketing. Customer interactions will be software enabled, making it possible to track and attribute customer data with greater precision. This transition will require some financial investment, and spending wisely is essential.

Manage Customer Privacy:  Data privacy management is becoming a big deal, and marketing professionals in Africa must not overlook the risks of violating customer privacy. The implication is that marketing professionals must know data protection regulations and have auditing compliance systems. A good understanding of ethical issues in marketing will also be an essential competency for future marketing professionals in Africa.

The future of Africa’s marketing professionals is uncertain. Still, those who strategically develop the competencies to manage technology in ways that delight the customer have a more substantial chance of success.



Osazee Oghide, Senior Assistant to the MD/CEO, Terragon Group

Uchenna Uzo, Faculty and Academic Director, Africa Retail Academy, Lagos Business School

Elo Umeh, MD/CEO, Terragon Group

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Osazee Oghide, Uchenna Uzo and Elo Umeh

Osazee Oghide, Uchenna Uzo and Elo Umeh

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Get To Know Uchenna Uzo

Uchenna Uzo

Dr Uchenna Uzo joined LBS in February 2002. He received his B.Sc and M.Sc in Sociology from the University of Lagos, and his Masters of Research in Management as well as Ph.D. in Management from the IESE Business School, Barcelona.

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