This town is always full of life. One day, enjoy to-and-fro city movements while you sip coffee from a local coffee place balcony, wondering how in good heavens these people have an amazing way of living. You sense life. Next day, observe subtle conversations between the monolingual locals, going about their day with a smile. You get awed. “Get a life. These are little things that have no impact,” some might say. But not you – not any business person. You know this enclosed and comfortable (almost universal) way of living should have an impact. You care.
One of the primary challenges of launching Biz Ops Rwanda has been building brand awareness. A surprising reality I came to find in this country is that it is not a simple task to get a word out there and make a company’s brand known. Coming from America, where it’s equally as challenging, but for different reasons, I had no idea where or how my target audience learned about new opportunities. Was it TV, radio, social media…?
I quickly realized that except for government and mega corporations, there are very few companies marketing at all. In fact, most Rwandan businesses are microbusinesses that have no brand, no target market, and no business or growth strategy at all. So, no matter how observant I tried to be while running errands, shopping and interacting with locals, there was nothing to learn from – no strategic marketing, mediums or techniques I could adapt to. But there had to be something in between small shops with no branding and mega corps whose brands were everywhere, even in the small shops.
“Without proper observation, you are just another person with eyes,” so goes the saying. In my eagerness to learn I came across a deep understanding of local people’s behaviors. I went through a checklist of things I came to understand about Rwanda’s business environment and culture. Here’s what I knew…
- Social expression: Rwandans love to socialize for business and pleasure. Also, appearance is everything to many of them and looking part is highly regarded. So, mind your looks!
- Technology: People love their phones, talking, texting, socializing, taking photos, and watching videos from local YouTube channels to keep up with current events and for entertainment. Also, Rwandans love social media and messaging tools like WhatsApp, despite the still-developing digitization.
- Getting trusted: Rwandans trust people who are trusted by trusted people. Here a person is often found trustworthy or capable by association to someone else is trustworthy or capable.
- Business drive: Rwandese desire to thrive and provide for their family independently. It is common to find a business person often working in his own shops, bars and restaurants partly because he do not trust others with his hard-earned money and investments.
- Service vs product: Entrepreneurs and small business owners will likely have a cultivator’s mindset. That is, they’ll focus on and value the products produced and not necessarily the service required to deliver it.
- Affiliation: Rwandese are very engaged with politics and takes keeping up with national policy and Presidential sentiment very seriously. Business owners follow government Twitter channels to stay in the loop about what’s happening in their country.
The utmost goal of observing market situation was to find a way I could position BizOps as the solution to getting what people wanted. So, then the question became, how could I use what I knew to reach my target audience?
- Talk about ROI. Since many entrepreneurs are concerned with the value of the product provided, my message to them had to reflect on increased monetary value after our partnerships.
- Create opportunities to engage socially. This proved effective considering that a relatable approach for people to gain interest in a brand is usually through engagement and social interaction.
- Invest in media marketing in the places where my target audience consumes news and entertainment.
- Master led generation through socialization, word of mouth, and partnerships with trusted brands and engage the audience with email, SMS, and local televised programs.
A Rewarding Market: Benefits of Marketing in Rwanda
- Unsaturated advertising and marketing mediums: Rwanda have a newer unsaturated media channels such influencer and social media marketing, all adding to the factor that traditional advertising such as TV, radio, and printed media are still the king mediums and accessible.
- Grassroots marketing can go a long way: Due to people’s tendency to develop relatable to brands through socialization, focusing on building relationships with your customers can go a long way. Building relationships on a deeper level through in-person events not only increase brand awareness, but also acts as a strategy to leverage existing networks and spread word about your product or service in across communities.
- Word of mouth advantages: There are two important aspects of word-of-mouth marketing- interaction, and trust. By providing exception customer experience associated with high quality products, this strategy can create trust in customers who are always proud to share with others. As said above, trust through prospects is everything here. People are likely to trust you if they hear good ratings about you from their trusted friends or professionals.
- Low cost – high value PR and advertisement opportunities: you get a word across easily through partnered advertisement opportunities. These can include opportunities such as hosting local events, participating in partnered promotions, guest-speaking, and other high-value low-cost opportunities that increase your exposure to the relevant audience.
While digital and social media can be a powerful tool for marketing, there’s still something to be said for the value of in-person interaction and building genuine connections with people in Rwanda. Here, a good old mingle can go a long way. Just make sure you carefully observe, or else you will spend all that money on the wrong thing.