Marketing after a genocide

March 25, 2008 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I had a fascinating conversation with Richard, the program manager for the Business Council for Peace in Rwanda. Bpeace, an organization headquartered in New York, provides mentorship and support to women entreprenuers in Rwanda and Afghanistan. They support 20 businesses in Rwanda, from specialized hair braiding and landscaping, to a hotel and amusement park, linking each up with experienced mentors in the US.

I was so interested to hear about how marketing works in a culture where literacy is not widespread. One of the major challenges Richard comes up against is that people have no concept of having a target audience. Businesses make the classic mistake of advertising to everyone and getting no one. So a lot of his work is helping businesses develop marketing plans, logos, branding, and segmenting their audiences.

After a few days of watching Rwandan TV, I realized something was missing — commercials! He says that airtime is so expensive, that no one buys them. The one commercial that is running  is for a bank advertising mortgages. I was really happy to hear they have home mortgages in Rwanda (14% rate but it could be way worse), this is a major step to economic growth. By advertising on TV, the bank is reaching its audience: the middle and upper-class who can afford to buy houses. But this is almost the only commercial on TV.

Even though TV and print media are out, word of mouth marketing is huge. Recently Richard has been focusing on training his business partners in customer service. While word of mouth can be a major strength, it can also be very damaging. If you have bad customer service watch out, word can get around Kigali is just a few hours! He urges businesses to do more outreach, like making follow-up calls to hear about customer satisfaction, wish clients happy birthday, or announce a new service.

The culture here is close knit.   For every person you meet, you say hello, shake hands and ask how they are doing. As a foreigner, I am constantly being told, “feel at home,” and they mean it, they really want me to be comfortable and relaxed. But it has taken years for this culture of openness to return after the genocide period, and it is still not fully back. From 1995-2005, people closed off from each other, and it was a very hard environment for marketing.

But Richard thinks Rwanda is honing its competitive advantages. For the past few years, President Kagame has positioned the country as the IT capital of Africa — and at least in Kigali wireless internet is everywhere. But this is not the only communication advantage of Rwanda. Besides Kinyarwandan, Rwandans are strongly encouraged to know French and English. This gives the country the ability to do business with Francophone West Africa, as well as join the fast-growing markets of the East Africa in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The goal is to have top-notch translation and conference services so that Rwanda is an international business center.

I have had my eye out for research and examples of marketing in developing countries for some time, and they are not easy to find. Richard is learning as he goes, and I don’t think it’ll be long before he has the definitive body of expertise on how its done.


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