What’s happening in Zim advert industry?

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Four years is a relatively short time. Yet it’s a lifetime. That’s how long it has been since I was in Zimbabwe.
How can the advertising landscape change so much? I have cut out the adverts for the mobile phone companies in particular, and spread them out on the table to review with a graphic designer. Maybe it’s me? The advertisement doesn’t befit the mobile companies nor the intelligence of the customer.
Maybe I am out of touch with the Zimbabwean consumer. Having been in Zambia for five years now I would lament in the early days that there was far more creativity amongst designers in Zimbabwe. I would play the, “if only and when we,” game. Now I have been stopped dead in my tracks after scanning the Sunday papers for the past month, since I discovered their availability here in Lusaka.
Surely not all this red and blue mix, is that the only ink available, the font is cartoon-like, the design is not aspirational, the message is a statement. No! No! This cannot be the advertisements for the leading mobile companies.
Sanity prevailed when I saw the advert from last week, about the millionth customer of one of the mobile phone operators that made sense and looked good.
Branding and customer perception are intertwined.
The question has to be constantly asked in advertising: What message is being projected and what can the customer do with this information?
The consumer has a choice and is in touch with the products more than even those that are selling them. The mobile phone industry talks about network and coverage but that doesn’t help when the customer cannot make a simple call.
There is emotional attachment to a brand and advertisements. Billboards and media are powerful tools. I remember when these mobile companies were launched and I still have high expectations.
Advertising is all about creating an emotional reaction and a call to buy. In my opinion e-newsletters and direct mail should be used to communicate with customers. Print advertising should be a call to action and a method to increase sales.
The one trick of the trade I learnt a long time ago was to test the market with new advertisements and campaigns before launching. Semantics, interpretation and competitor comparisons are judged better by outsiders.
The consumer today is so well informed and they very often know more about your company and products than front-line staff do. There is always such a last-minute rush to get a campaign launched that the internal staff are not correctly briefed and often know about it from the press or customers calling in.
Simple check lists to ensure that everyone is in the picture and knows how to respond to the customer is important. So are role plays on the anticipated frequently-asked questions.
Integration of the advertisements, media and communications strategy with internal and external customers will really ensure a return on investment.
Marketing budgets were the first to get chopped with the global economic crisis and there is still caution prevailing.
Now that Zimbabwe is dollar-based there should be a competitive environment and marketing and public relations become strategic tools.
From a Zambian perspective there is so little marketing thrust and even the big brands in retail expect word of mouth advertising to work and customers to just arrive! The interesting thing is that the buying behaviour in Zambia is totally different to Zimbabwe. Companies expect that volumes will be there based on the size of the population and do not take into account that formal employment is narrow and so is disposable income.
Zimbabweans who have come into Zambia to “cut and paste” concepts and business models have had serious learning curves. There is nothing common about the way business is conducted despite sharing the same border.
There are so many opportunities; hard work and having the right solution certainly will work. Just know that it’s not a walk in the park. The cost of doing business is high.
Labour and accommodation is more than 30% higher than Zimbabwe and about 45% higher than RSA. The economies of scale are not always there either. So Zambia has become a net importer instead of broadening the manufacturing base.
What is needed is more local manufacturers. The construction and building industry as well as agriculture are industries that can be tapped.
Harare is brimming over with coffee shops and restaurants and out of Lusaka it’s hard to find either of these. They would certainly be welcomed.
Zambians have style and taste. They are always disappointed that there is a lack of quality, variety and fair pricing in Zambia.
Setting up business in Zambia is not complicated and the delightful thing is that Zambians love newcomers!
Zambia has been kind to me. Come and visit and see for yourself!

l Carol White is a media consultant. She is based in Zambia and writes in her personal capacity
ideas@carolwhiteconsultancy

l Carol White is a media consultant writing in her own capacity
ideas@carolwhiteconsultancy