Ideas & Debate

A soul-searching journey for the Africa superbrands

shreya karia


  • Most African consumers now believe it is important to buy products from companies that champion causes they care about.
  • We have all read the data that shows just how the pandemic has shifted consumer priorities towards companies with strong values.

For all the crisis planning companies may have battle-tested, not many would have preempted the world of 2020/2021 that we now find ourselves trying to rebuild from. Covid-19 has irrevocably transformed the way brands deliver their business.

More substantially though, consumer perception of trust has significantly changed. Cynicism is at an all-time high and the average customer has little faith.

Most African consumers now believe it is important to buy products from companies that champion causes they care about.

Fifty percent of Kenyan, South African and Nigerian consumers are willing to invest their time and money supporting brands that try to foster the greater good, according to the Covid19 Barometer 2020 conducted by Kantar.

We have all read the data that shows just how the pandemic has shifted consumer priorities towards companies with strong values. The emphasis on ‘brand with purpose’ has taken centre stage.

It is the ‘why we exist and who we are built to serve regardless of what we sell’ that is being consistently asked of every leader. In part, because people see businesses as the most competent group to solve global issues compared to governments. When executed masterfully, it has catapulted some brands to ‘iconic’ status.

In truth, many brands have jumped onto purpose as a ‘quick-fix’ marketing campaign to drive sales. Purpose washing has often been overused and even abused to leverage benefits. But purpose has no value - financial or otherwise when it is disingenuous. Consumers see right through it and do opt to redirect spending elsewhere.

It is easy to think of purpose as something philosophical and idealistic; typically left to the marketing department. The purpose is about driving positive change in our companies, communities, and societies.

Speaking truth to the challenges people face; be it sustainability, equality, diversity, or freedom. It goes beyond token gestures to consistently preaching by example.

The true challenge lies in identifying where a company’s soul lies and what genuine difference they can make. This is particularly relevant, if not essential for brands on the continent, where values and social policies profoundly impact consumers’ daily lives.

Those that can make the link between activating their purpose and driving a lasting movement will become the true iconic brand of the post-pandemic era.

In Africa, there exists a real opportunity to facilitate change with sustainable solutions to better meet consumer needs across every sector.

For example, Kantar’s 2020 Global Monitor survey found that 88 percent of African consumers believe companies must implement programmes to improve the environment. Not surprising considering the number of people directly dependent on the land for their livelihood.

African brands must find their own distinct way of identifying with their consumer’s challenges and relating in a tangible, genuine way.

How does a company take the ideology of purpose and turn it into a tool to grow market share?

Building from the core: Companies that identify a meaningful purpose that fits their category and product are more than likely to integrate policy seamlessly and consistently at every operational level be it through customer service, product, or communication.

Think about a bank empowering customers with the ability to harness their own financial freedom. Or a personal care brand challenging the narrative of beauty. Female brand Always actively focuses on speaking truth to the double standard ‘girls can achieve anything’ vs the unspoken limitations still so prevalent in many societies.

A purpose that is not aligned will simply go unnoticed or even mocked. Purpose is a movement not a mandate. People have values and beliefs. And as with any transformation the key to success lies in how vested employees become so that they can live it in their everyday work.

Successful companies activate their purpose from the inside-out starting right at the top at every layer and in every corner.

The concept becomes authentic when it is relatable and personal instead of being an abstract paragraph mounted on a wall. Author Scott Goodson encourages business leaders to consider themselves as galvanisers: Why run a business when you can lead a movement’.

Execute through action and experience: Much focus is paid to delivering consistency across every link of the business cycle. Equally, impact policies must also be executed across every touchpoint of the brand journey. The right purpose can positively influence the value chain through procurement, retail experience the digital eco-system and beyond.

A coherent approach results in value addition: More than 60 percent of CEOs interviewed in 2021 affirmed the need to evolve their core strategy and revisit their long-term strategic priorities.

Astute business leaders know that the road map to long-term success must involve motivating employees and getting stakeholders genuinely interested in what the company does — precisely what a successful brand purpose can achieve.

Yet realistically for every advocate of brand purpose there will always be a naysayer arguing that it cannot quantifiably lead to sales.

And yes, there is no direct correlation and no purpose can replace a solid business model. But it is not designed to. It is intended to supplement and enhance the big corporates of today’s world so that when competitors come to take their market share tomorrow, they remain solid.

Let us ask ourselves what profound socio-economic impact our homegrown companies could nurture if they delved into a brand strategy driven by purpose. A sustainable solution to Africa’s challenges.