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How To Drive Market Leadership In Africa.

Most brands grapple with expanding products and services. This is a blueprint for how to do it.



  • Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mauritius, Kenya, Senegal, Angola, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are diverse, complex markets. Each has different per capita income levels, uses various national currencies and is home to people who speak disparate languages and have multiple cultures. Yet these were markets the multinational company I worked with wanted to scale into.


The questions that needed answering at that time were: How could we grow the new categories we wanted to introduce in these different countries? And, importantly, how could we achieve leadership status across all these markets?

This was a formidable challenge that I took on and delivered successfully, working with a great team I put together. Here are some insights I’d like to share that aspiring businesses can learn from:


Think Big


Convinced of the demand for our product in Africa, the desire to achieve category leadership was borne by an executive that envisioned a new way to grow revenue by developing new product categories.



This belief led me to develop my own understanding of the vision, which I took on, internalised and became a major evangelist for inside the company. Then I championed this vision with our business partners.


What was clear from the start was that we needed to create ambitious goals for ourselves and get bullish on what we needed to achieve. Working on a timeline of ten years, we set high targets for ourselves, like being number one in some categories. This became our North Star.


Prioritise to avoid doing too many things


We realised that several product categories had potential in the total industry. But we narrowed down our focus by doing a thorough assessment. We chose only three products, which we determined would be our low-hanging fruit.


For a new category entrant in Africa, it is important to focus on those you can bring to the market most efficiently. Our choice was to lean into options that would not require heavy capital investments to introduce.


This allowed us to get into the market quicker, learn, improve and build belief among our stakeholders for incremental investments.


“What we considered our key core strengths, in fact, turned out to be the source of some of our weaknesses.”


We had high hopes for one of the products we introduced and invested significant amounts in marketing to prompt this. We were convinced that since there were similar competing products, we could out-market, out-distribute and capture market leadership within a short period.


However, the reality was different. Within a couple of weeks of launch, our distributors could not move the products as projected. This was due to a peculiar consumer behaviour we identified only once we entered the market.


Fortunately, we always thought and planned for failure scenarios in our planning and strategy sessions. We quickly took on learnings and evolved our execution process yielding better results.


Early recognition of missteps enabled us to iterate our execution processes, as well as make early decisions to cut our losses and move on to other, more promising products.


Think Local and Act Local


We learnt that it is important to listen to the local vibes, pick up the nuances that inform the consumption culture and adapt product propositions or go-to-market strategies accordingly.


In addition to doing formal research, some aspects can only be picked up through experience and studying behaviour. Investment in this process is critical to succeeding in penetrating local markets in Africa.


When we were rolling out the product that initially failed, we invested heavily in marketing and distribution. We thought that this was what would work to drive success, as it had worked for other brands.


But what we considered our key core strengths, in fact, turned out to be the source of some of our weaknesses.


The reality is that a grand rollout doesn’t always work for new categories. In fact, it is advisable to start small with the consumer bases that are most receptive and learn from their feedback and behaviour.


Once you have these insights and have learnt from the market, you can more easily adapt the product and/or go-to-market strategies. This gives you a working market you can learn from and iterate with, and use to expand to a broader market base.


Lionel Marumahoko has over 25 years of executive experience in the FMCG sector. At the Coca-Cola Company, he navigated multiple roles in general management while working and living in five countries on the continent. Today he counsels CEOs on effective leadership, problem-solving dexterity and entrepreneurism.


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