If we imagine the average American we can roughly paint a picture of someone who is English, enjoys a good barbeque, is patriotic about their country and supports their troops. If we now shift our focus on an African person, we envision someone walking barefoot in the scorching savannas, carrying water long distances on their heads, talking in a language involving more clicks than Morse code and have very little use for an ipad.
Why is it that our views are so distorted and we make preemptive judgments about people and cultures we barely know? This inaccuracy of our stereotyping can be harmful, not only by offending the vegan in America or the businessmen in Kenya, but to business as well. A well known water drilling company set its sights on creating innovative ways for people to draw water from a well. One major innovation they had was to place a bicycle at the drawing point which was mechanized to draw out water as you peddle, this seems like the perfect way to get fit and obtain clear water doesn’t it? Unfortunately African women (who have been put on water drawing duty) do not have any desire to train for the tour de france and riding a bicycle is not considered fashionable, therefore creating more of a problem than a solution.
A Lamborghini doesn’t drive well on gravel roads and a bear trap has no use in Manhattan. You won’t find a pub in Mecca or an x box in an Amish village. the iphone has captured the world phone market however in some African countries the network capabilites make this smart phone as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane. Researching the country you are planning to diversify your company into and gaining as much insight into the way people live and think is essential in order to place the correct products in the correct place, if the desire for your product exists at all.
Consumer education is on the rise in Africa and the diversification of products is becoming less cumbersome for organisations as the consumer is being exposed to “western products” more frequently through television and internet access. Africa is the new growth path and even in times of global economic downturn, Africa has been developing and growing. Essential trading partners such as china, USA and Japan are enhancing the growth as the cyclical effect of investment leading to more disposable income leading to more spending, leading to more disposable income leading to… the continent is on a stable bubble at the moment and is not set to burst in the near future.
In closing remember this story; in 1918 Max Planck won the Nobel Prize. After the award he traveled across Germany giving speeches on his Quantum science theories in which his accolade was granted. Throughout his travels across Germany his chauffeur would sit at the back of the venue and listen to his speech, eventually coming to remember the entire speech line for line. When the two arrived in Munich the chauffeur suggested that he himself do the entire presentation and that Planck sit with the chauffeur hat on and listen from the front row. Planck agreed as he was tired of delivering the same speech. The chauffeur performed the entire presentation as if he were Planck and never missed a line, the crowd was perplexed by the speech given and praised the speaker in his knowledge. At the end of the speech a scientist in the audience asked the speaker a question, of which he obviously knew nothing about. To save face he said “how is it that a scientist of your calibre, in a city renowned for intelligence, ask me such a simple question? To illustrate the simplicity of your question I will get my chauffeur to answer.”
Always have an answer, even if its not based on the question asked.