3 Sure Ways for African Brands to Accelerate Business Growth in 2021: Marketing & Communications Strategy Lessons from 2020 & Trends for 20201 Part I

  • by Nkemdilim Uwaje-Begho
  • Mar 31, 2021
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Last week Thursday, I had a great conversation with marketing and PR experts: Bella Ikeme and Ijeoma Balogun titled: Through The Line Africa — A Conversation with Digital, Marketing & PR Experts on — ‘Accelerating to Win In ‘The New Normal’: Marketing & Communications Strategy Lessons from 2020 & Trends to Adopt in 2021’.

Can I just say that we are absolutely thrilled by the responses of all our guests who attended and were super-engaged throughout the session


You can watch the replay hereor keep reading for a quick summary of what we talked about.

Who We Are

If you know who we are skip to the next section, if you don’t then this is for you — we are PR, digital & marketing experts with a vision to put African enterprises on the map and build sustainable brands that are the shining light of the continent:

Please meet….

Ijeoma Balogun, CEO of Redrick PR — a boutique PR consultancy agency specialising in designing strategic integrated campaigns and CSR strategies guided by market intelligence for scaling startups and enterprises businesses.

Nkemdilim Uwaje Begho, CEO of Futuresoft — a full service digital agency & Digital Transformation Strategy, Solutions and Executive Digital Training provider, offering a broad range of digital solutions for the scaling African enterprise.

Bella Ikeme, CEO of Caizen — a marketing agency focused on branding and marketing for professional services and other service businesses, delivered through business development, marketing strategy and campaigns, copywriting, content marketing, video marketing and training programs.

Some inside scoop — aka the back story on how we met and started working together

We met almost a decade ago when we were all introduced to work together by a client on a major pivot and brand relaunch. However inadvertently, with the success of that project as well as several others, the natural transformation of the relationship evolved into a business partnership and friendship — based on shared values and a yearning to be catalysts for the positive growth and expansion of scaling African enterprises — the bedrock upon which our continent will achieve sustainable economic prosperity.

So here is what we talked about….

…well at least part of it — look out for Part II for more.

2020 has truly been a whirlwind of events! Businesses and organisations struggled to adapt to the volatile and uncertain business climate. There were very few clear winners with most pivoting and repositioning to survive and stay afloat. Nothing remained as we knew it and all of a sudden, going ‘digital’ was no longer an option, but THE answer.

Agile brands that seamlessly combined online and offline marketing activities saw great results as most others stuttered and stumbled in an attempt to succeed despite the odds. There were predominantly 3 kinds of brands that we saw in 2020:

  • Those that used to heavily rely on direct interaction through in-person events and other ATL strategies, being forced to go digital.
  • Those that already had an online presence, but had no clear strategy and therefore saw little to no results.
  • The few that were exemplary visionaries, who saw what was happening and took immediate action — adopting an integrated marketing communications strategy that saw them making the best of the situation and positioning them to suffer almost no loss by the end of the lockdowns as they easily continued doing what they saw was working.

Sadly, there were more organisations in the former two categories than the latter.

Below are some strategy lessons from 2020 based on real case stories, which you need to consider as 2021 beckons….look out for Part 2 of this article to read about 2021 trends:

I. Strategy is KING

Businesses that had a clearly documented business strategy with clear marketing objectives to achieve the year’s goals, were able to move things around quickly and redirected almost 80% of their marketing and communications budget with tactics to digital.

Although the ‘herd mentality’ was in full swing and a lot of brands seemed to be doing the exact same thing! The authenticity and creativity shown by some as they deftly worked their target audience through a clear understanding of their pain points (powered by data), switched the customer journey from being more ‘sales focused’ to ‘retention focused’. They essentially upped the ante on the customer experience and the customers responded most favourably.

Important Lessons around strategy we learnt in 2020:

1. In the face of a global ‘identity economy’, position or reposition your brand identity to address this exhaustively.

A brand’s identity must re-enforce or establish the customer’s identity — psychographics of your target audience at every point must be established. It’s not a one-time thing, update it regularly! Customers and markets across every geographical location and segment are rapidly evolving and will continue to do so.

2. Take Charge! Build an identifiable Framework Around Your Offering(s) & Methods.

It doesn’t matter if you are handling marketing, messaging and communications inhouse, outsourcing or a blend. Take control of the situation! Own and manage your strategy, business intelligence and customer data.

3. Deliver value upfront and then take customers along the journey (focus on the best possible customer journey and the funnel will be taken care of).

The customer journey albeit rife with twists, turns and detours must include activities that establish trust and authority for your brand, show people that what you offer will change their situation for the better and overcome objections

II. Go Digital: Identify the Right Tactics, Tools and Methods

Go Digital was the catchphrase for 2020.

Some people plunged into Digital without a strategy and without Digital assets that were ready or properly optimized. A key lesson here is that activity does not always mean progress and clicks without conversion are meaningless. The only way to cut through the noise was by adopting the right mix of tactics and tools, with a keen focus on what would deliver the best results for the customers by choosing you over the competition or substitutes.

Some tactics and tools that delivered a decent ROI in 2020 were:

  • Strategic email marketing → harnessing the power of a segmented database.
  • Social Commerce & Selling via Instant messaging
  • Visualizing Digital Marketing Data using Dashboards.
  • Content Marketing in all shapes and colours: Multimedia content, written content, gated content, knowledge products etc. A quick fun fact for the sceptics is that content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing and generates 3x as many leads.

Important Lessons around Digital we learnt in 2020:

1. Digital is an investment, it is not free nor is it cheap when done properly.

Budgets are growing and brands are converting 80% of Marketing and Communications Budgets to Digital (Paid, Earned and Owned Channels). Budget Planning was strategically modified in 2020 by cutting ineffective costs, protecting essential costs and increasing costs with greater efficiency such as return on investment (ROI), Reduced customer acquisition costs (CAC) and customer lifetime value (CLTV).

2. Going Digital without a strategy doesn’t pay off

A key lesson here is that activity does not always mean progress and clicks without conversion are meaningless.

3. Find your preferred content marketing channel(s) and stick with it/them.

Identify key channels and learn how to repurpose content over time. It is key to properly repurpose content and distribute content in different formats e.g LIVE, video, audio, written / transcribed.

4. Video is an essential tool for success. Video content emerged as KING of content:

  • 70% of consumers say that they have shared a brand’s video
  • 72% of businesses say that video has improved their conversion rate
  • 52% of consumers say that watching product videos makes them more confident in online purchase decisions
  • 65% of executives visit the marketer’s website and 39% call a vendor after viewing a video

5. Data & Analytics.

Ask yourself — What did we do right, what did we do wrong and what could we have done better?

III. Messaging is key

You may sound different to appeal to your target audience, but remain authentic. Brands are under a massive microscope as people are observing and commenting on how they act and communicate. What decisions are being made? Who are the leaders behind these decisions and what are they saying? Consumers want to see that brands actually care, and are not simply throwing money at issues. COVID-19 has been a true test for brand purpose, putting commitments to the test when society needs them the most. We are faced with more social and environmentally conscious consumers — who want to know how you are impacting your community.

It’s all about humanity and becoming more personable. From CEOs addressing customers frequently, mega brand Coca Cola standing with its customers promoting Social Distancing by separating the individual lettering of its Logo at the height of the pandemic to brands choosing not to advertise their products and services on social media and even cancelling planned events during the peaceful EndSARS protests in Nigeria as a sign of solidarity — to enable the protests receive the priority attention that they deserved.

Brands need to align with their audience’ values in ways that are authentic and sustainable. It goes beyond year 2020 — COVID, BLM, EndSARS, this is the new normal.

Important Lessons around Messaging we learnt in 2020:

1. Use CSR to drive brand affinity, build brand equity and customer loyalty.

Think of CSR as another component of your strategic communication and messaging management. “CSR can be both a risk mitigation strategy and an opportunity-seeking strategy, and leaders should look for the ‘sweet spot’ within their organizations — that is, the intersection between business and social/environmental returns”. A CSR strategy must be authentic to your brand, it must ring true to your brand. In selecting what causes to support, it should be in alignment with brand values, fit your company and its products or services. Focus on the areas your company has developed strengths, research, and knowledge and support.

2. The power of storytelling as stories come on the rise across all social platforms.

Every interaction consumers have with your brand is an opportunity for storytelling, share your brand values, What is your WHY? Do not wait for a big marketing and PR campaign — tell stories every day utilizing your owned and paid mediums as customers will be won and lost through smaller, everyday interactions.

3. Be Authentic & Lead with Empathy.

Executive Profiling is becoming more and more important. It is becoming increasingly unacceptable for business and organisation leaders to be distant from customers, or silent in the face of matters that concern the larger community.

What to expect in 2021

2021 will be a significant year for brands to regain momentum lost during the tumultuous 2020. At the same time, they will be challenged to meet fast-changing consumer behaviors and evolving market trends. With so much on the line and so many changes to the status quo, it’s more important than ever to be armed with accurate, meaningful insights such as the above to guide your strategy and create winning programs.

Like I mention above look out for Part II of this article to read all about trends and predictions for marketing in 2021.

If you’ve loved what you’ve read and weren’t able to join our conversation, it’s not too late. Catch up by watching the recording here, and start reflecting on your 2020 lessons to ensure you make the right moves to win in 2021!

As always we are rooting for you!


Nkemdilim Uwaje-Begho

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