Maximizing the Value of Africa’s Anonymous Customers

Nobody enjoys selling to faceless customers. Consider the story of a micro-finance bank in Tanzania. Eighty percent of the bank’s web visitors remain anonymous even after surfing the bank’s website without leaving personal information. The case is similar for a retail store in Morocco whose customers purchase, use, or visit without registering in the company’s database. Insurance companies in Nigeria also suffer when they lose track of paying customers who drop off after years of zero patronage. It is really challenging to serve customers who chose not to identify themselves. Yet, anonymous African customers are a hidden opportunity that businesses cannot ignore.

Anonymous customers are rising all over Africa and three trends explain the growth. First, crypto trading is growing in leaps and bounds within Africa among faceless buyers and sellers. The continent leads the world in transactions through peer-to-peer (P2P) payment platforms and crypto transactions have grown by $105.6 billion in the last year. Second, the increased social distancing emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic has increased remote buying and private media consumption lifestyles on the continent. For example, Diageo capitalized on this trend to sponsor a reality TV show with heavy digital media component that secured one billion impressions, and 300,000 brand mentions in 10 weeks. Third, rising insecurity and privacy concerns on the continent are increasing the incentive to stay away from public consumption and buying. Finally, Africa’s unstructured markets have the largest concentration of anonymous customers because several businesses in the sector do not keep customer databases. Although anonymous customers are rising, few businesses in Africa have developed strategies to harness them.

How can businesses effectively engage anonymous customers in Africa? Here are five strategies to consider.

Understand the Type of Anonymous Customer: Not all anonymous customers are the same. Some customers chose to conceal their identities, while others unintentionally do so. A celebrity that sends her housekeeper to purchase groceries that she privately consumes to avoid notice differs from someone who purchases the same items but leaves in a hurry without providing personal information. Anonymous buyers may not be anonymous consumers and vice versa. The choice to stay anonymous is also situational. Social events, emotional states and cultural contexts may predispose customers to switch between anonymity and identification. A recent study of one of the authors (Uchenna Uzo) found that 70% of anonymous customers conceal their identities for religious and socio-cultural reasons. This category of customers stays anonymous to avoid being stigmatized by group affiliates. Another 22% of customers remain anonymous for security reasons or for fear of buying overpriced items. In a continent where shared consumption is prevalent, anonymous consumption is nuanced. Tapping into the lives of anonymous customers implies understanding the entire purchase journey and identifying triggers that make the customers stay anonymous. Analyzing purchase journeys makes it possible to segment anonymous customers into categories.

Use Distribution Channel Members Effectively:  Apart from building internal data collection capabilities, businesses can use distributors who manage a company’s route to market to collect data on anonymous customers. Channel members interact more closely with customers and should have data gathering capabilities. Sharing information across channels of distribution can be a significant advantage. However, the place of purchase must be adequate for customers to feel comfortable enough to share their identities. Another result of our study showed that the purchase ambience affects the choice to purchase and consume anonymously. This is a wake-up call for businesses to rethink the roles of routes to market for effective management of anonymous customers.

Communicate to empathize: Businesses underestimate the power of communication in building trustful relationships. Communication is not just about sharing relevant information on products and services, but also about demonstrating empathy and transparency. Businesses that want customers to reveal personal information must be ready to disclose company information that is relatable and credible. Insights from our study suggest that organizations can encourage anonymous customers to reveal personal information by changing their communication strategies. Twenty five percent of respondents stated that they would happily disclose their identities if businesses clearly communicated and demonstrated the security of personal information. Businesses must walk the talk when communicating to anonymous customers.

Repackage your brand: Organizations hardly evaluate how brand colors and packaging affect the customer’s perception of safety and security. Products and services that communicate flamboyance may inadvertently deter customers from revealing their identities. The insecurity of lives and property that plagues the continent predisposes some customers to be reluctant about displaying flamboyance. Findings from our study showed that 12.5% would be willing to reveal their identities if the products were less flamboyant in their look and messaging. Looking sober may make some categories of anonymous customers willing to share personal information.

Equip your sales team: Salespeople have a critical role to play in engaging anonymous customers. Insights from our study revealed that 50% of respondents would be more willing to reveal personal information when salespeople personalized their offerings and demonstrated empathy. Businesses have the responsibility of training salespeople to become more active listeners and objection handlers.

Understanding and engaging the world of anonymous customers is a journey, not a destination. There is still a lot to unravel about this curious group of customers on the continent. Businesses that plan the future with anonymous customers in mind may end up staying ahead of the rest.

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Uchenna Uzo and Baker Magunda

Uchenna Uzo and Baker Magunda

Uchenna Uzo, Faculty Director, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Retail Expert, Lagos Business School. Baker Magunda, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Guinness Nigeria Plc (A Diageo Company)

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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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