No company likes consumers to mess around with their products and services, especially after the hard work of creating the offerings. Sales, Marketing, and business development executives in Africa expect to have traditional consumers who simply use and consume products and services as directed by the companies they represent. However, the reality in the world of African consumers is quite different.
Consider the case of Mubarak who is the head of marketing in a vinegar manufacturing company in Egypt. The company traditionally sells its products to restaurants and hotels who use them in preparing food. Mubarak discovered from one of the company’s distributors that farmers in particular regions of the country use the company’s product as a weed killer. They mix the product with liquid soap and some salt before spraying it on weeds. The results are positive, and farmers see this as a cheaper option.
The Egyptian farmers are creative consumers. These are consumers who use products or services in ways that are not intended by the producers. Creative consumers on the continent take several shapes and colors. Frugal creatives in Malawi use car alternators to generate electricity for their homes. Some Illicit creatives in Nigeria use cough syrups with codeine and other mixtures to get high. Ecological creatives in South Africa repurpose waste and old products into objects with new uses. Strategic creatives across the continent use existing products in alternative ways that create value for them such as do-it-yourself customers and value-added resellers. Africa is a hub for creative consumers and is arguably the continent with the highest number and greatest variety of creative consumers in the world.
Paradoxically, companies and their executives get upset when they discover creative consumers for their brands. They respond through resistance, litigation and avoidance. While this approach may be adequate for illicit creatives, it may not be adequate for engaging the other creative consumers on the continent. The big question is why should companies and the marketers who represent them pay a closer attention to African creative consumers? Creative consumers are an important source of product and service innovation. These consumers offer a viable and perhaps cheaper alternative to formal research and development programmes. New usage and purchase needs emerge from interacting with creative consumers. Actively engaging creative consumers unravels opportunities for rethinking routes to market, brand promotions, market segmentation, and product positioning. Whether organizations like it, creative consumers have the potential to disrupt purchase and usage behavior on the continent. How can companies and marketers strategically engage creative consumers? Three things matter to facilitate engagement: focus, socialization and agility.
Focus on Value-Adding Creatives: Not all creative consumers are useful to a company. It is the marketer’s responsibility to focus efforts on consumers whose innovations add greater value to the business. Consumers who use products in ways that challenge conventional thinking and improve value creation should receive greater attention. An interesting example is the case of consumers of Indomie Noodles in Northern Nigeria. Dufill Nigeria Plc, a subsidiary of Tolaram Group, conducted research to understand eating habits for noodles in that region of the country. They found that Northern consumers ate Indomie in radically different ways from those in the south. While some Northern consumers ate raw noodles, others dipped the product in milk before consuming it. The unexpected way of consuming this brand opened up new opportunities for the company to create new flavors and varieties for the Northern market. A couple of questions to guide marketers in this strategic decision are: (1) Is the innovative way of using the product or service aligned with the company’s vision, mission and values?, (2) How does endorsing this new usage behavior affect the internal culture and brand reputation of the organization? (3) What skills and capabilities of marketing staff need to engage these consumers? Focusing on value-adding creatives also implies fixing specific targets and measures of engagement.
Build meaningful social contacts: Marketers cannot discover creative consumers without getting out on the street to meet new contacts. Most insights on creative consumers emerge from outside the organization in unexpected ways. Marketers need to stay connected not only with their primary customers but also secondary customers who may use their products to create new ones. Good examples include value-added resellers such as wedding planners offering multiple packages through one platform, local delivery companies offering pickup services for unexpected products, ecommerce platforms that are a marketplace for bundles of products and services. Meaningful connections with creative consumers can be a wonderful opportunity to discover new usage habits. Not all creative consumers openly share information on new usage habits. Marketers can elicit useful information from creative consumers through focus groups, visits, ethnography and idea contests.
Show a Willingness to Adapt: Creative consumers are more willing to help marketers achieve their strategic goals when they observe a willingness to adjust and adapt to new usage behaviors. Not all consumer behaviors are licit and ethical. It is the marketer’s responsibility to develop an ethical mindset that will distinguish unethical consumer behaviors from ethically licit novelties. Marketers can also challenge illicit creative consumers to reframe their usage behaviors for the common good. Engaging creative consumers is about fostering agility. Marketers need to be sure that the time horizon is adequate and that the risk levels are acceptable before deciding to endorse a new consumer behaviour. Exciting opportunities await marketers who strategically engage creative consumers.
3. Uchenna Uzo and Louis Nzegwu (2018). Indomie Noodles in Africa: Lessons on Digital and
Cultural Branding, https://www.emerald.com/insight/con…