It’s 8am on a Monday morning in Kampala, Uganda. You are peacefully reading tweets from your company’s twitter handle when you discover that a significant number of ferocious complainers have taken it upon themselves to boycott your brand after several years of patronage. The situation is puzzling because your company follows all the rules of branding and consumer engagement. The company you represent actively conducts customer surveys, focus group discussions and interviews at different stages. How could the company have missed the warning signals? This incident is not an isolated one. African businesses helplessly battle brand haters every day.
Brand hate is the purposeful and deliberate intention to discredit, reject, or avoid a brand. African brand haters demonstrate their distaste for brands through private and public complaints, product defamation, boycotts, demonstrations, retaliations, and brand switching. Studies on the most hated global brands in Africa in 2021 reveal that KFC is the most hated global food brand in four African countries, while Paypal is the most hated global brand in Kenya. Microsoft, Google and Facebook respectively are the most hated global tech brands in four African countries, including Nigeria. These puzzling findings reveal three key insights. First, brand hate in Africa is multi-dimensional. Customers can switch between hating and loving the same brand at different times depending on occasions, emotional states and buying power. Second, global as well as local brands are not exempt from brand hate. Every African customer is in a love-hate relationship with brands they consume although one aspect of the relationship may be more dominant than the other. Third, what a customer chooses not to say about your brand is as important as what the customer says in private or public.
Businesses on the continent often fall into the trap of brand haters because they pay too much attention to external branding of products and services while neglecting the customer’s brand experience at the purchase touchpoints. Insights from my twelve years of research show that the place of purchase affects the customer’s perception of brand value. For instance, unstructured markets are the most patronized purchase channels in Africa. These markets are the purchase hub for African customers and the distribution backbone for most products and services on the continent, yet local and multinational businesses pay little strategic importance to this purchase channel. Understanding what customers love about purchasing brands in unstructured markets may provide some insights about what they hate about brands sold online or through modern trade channels. Are you concerned about how to identify and manage brand haters in Africa? Here are some things African consumers hate about brands sold in structured markets.
Brands don’t offer bargain satisfaction: Shopper bargaining is more popular than football in Africa. Yet, most online and modern trade outlets on the continent do not offer shoppers the opportunity to bargain prices, quantities, terms and conditions. This neglect triggers brand hate because it denies customers the opportunity to enjoy the fun of getting a good bargain or controlling the pricing process. Customers express their hatred by switching to other brands or reducing their purchase frequency. Bargain satisfaction is a significant value driver for purchasers in Africa, which businesses sadly ignore.
Brands pretend to be sustainable: Consumers hate brands that preach sustainability and ethics but fail to deliver on their brand promise at the purchase touch points. Customers rebel because they feel betrayed, misunderstood, and even underestimated. Service failures at purchase touch points are the common sources of brand hatred in Africa. Customers in Africa avoid brands that do more talking than demonstrating ethical competence through service delivery.
Brands ignore anonymous costumers: Several brands in Africa celebrate customers they can see while ignoring those who choose to conceal their identities. This one-sided approach irks anonymous customers who are fast rising on the continent and have a large concentration in unstructured markets. Failure to design brand messages that tap into the purchase journeys and emotional triggers of anonymous buyers can create brand hatred. Anonymous customers are a force to reckon with in Africa and brands who neglect them will suffer alienation.
Brands don’t make new products accessible: Customers in unstructured markets are usually the first to test and buy new and unknown brands. This is the situation in a place like Computer Village of Lagos, whose customers are the first to find and purchase the latest phones even before they are released in modern phone shops. Customers in many modern purchase outlets become frustrated when brands they wish to buy are not visible or available. They turn to unstructured markets and try new or unknown brands. Brand switching is sometimes an expression of brand hatred emerging from poor brand visibility.
Brands neglect the sharing consumer: Africa has a largely ignored sharing economy. People share almost everything, including food, perfumes, financial services and airtime. One of the most common forms of sharing is financial pooling by unbanked customers in Africa. Studies estimate that 70% of customers in Sub-Saharan Africa participate in financial pooling. Virtually every African country has a name for this practice such as Esusu in Nigeria, Ayuto in Somalia and Chama in Kenya. Yet, brand campaigns focus on individual consumption. The overall goal is often to increase the consumption per head for every brand. This strategy angers the continent’s sharing consumers who prefer to share brands for cultural and not just financial reasons.
So, how can you proactively identify and effectively engage brand haters before they ruin your business? Four strategies can help you.
- Revise Your Pricing Strategy: It is time for brands and their owners to revise their pricing strategies to accommodate bargaining opportunities. Price ranges will work better than price points for several products and services. Price ranges and bundled offerings will offer customers the opportunity to derive satisfaction from bargaining. Moving in this direction will imply creating new price structures that can accommodate price scenarios rather than fixed prices. Flexible pricing strategies communicate empathy and could avert brand hatred.
- Take Ethics Seriously: It’s not enough for brands to have and share ethical codes of conduct. Brands and their owners must ensure that resellers, distributors, agents and retailers understand and comply with codes of conduct. All too often, brands do not pay sufficient attention to the ethical lives of organizations that form part of their route to market. The result is that salespeople, retailers and resellers transfer the aggression they suffer from working in organizations that promote unethical practices such as bribery, harassment and work-life imbalance. Customers are usually at the receiving end and they retaliate by boycotting brands and outlets with poor service delivery. This is wake-up call for organizations to take ethics seriously.
- Look out for what the customer does not say: pay more attention to what the customers don’t say about your brands. Observe your customers, follow their conversations online, track their research habits and try to understand what they hate about your brand. This approach requires revamping your market research methods to ensure that you are collecting the right data from the right people. Studying why customers hate competitor’s brands may also provide some insights on why customers may end up hating your brands. Don’t let your business be misled by high customer satisfaction ratings. Customers don’t easily share what they detest about your brands and it’s up to you to build the ambience that will prepare them to provide more information.
- Promote transparency and inclusiveness: Transparent and inclusive brands are more likely to assuage angry customers. Anonymous, creative and sharing customers are examples of customer groups in Africa that brands need to serve better. Designing products and services for these groups involves rethinking business models and revenue streams. Tough questions about segmenting and targeting will emerge from the process. Brands must also communicate clearly what they stand for and why they may choose to serve some customer groups and not others. Customers are less likely to hate brands that are open and transparent about their goals and priorities.
Brand hatred in Africa is real. Businesses on the continent must adopt a more proactive approach to manage brand haters who may be a hidden source of innovation.