For many businesses, the absence of an immediate answer to “what next?” affected investment decisions, business continuity and customer relations. The COVID pandemic led to a shutdown of the global value chain and moved us into an era dominated by fear, uncertainty and contactless engagement.
But there were visible opportunities as the period also saw a growth in online retailing, remote workforce/work management tools, eat-out services and many others—a period of significant tech innovations and a surge in e-commerce transactions.
Across countries, the need for governments to intervene in the “business” of business was vital to keeping the engine of growth going. A role the private sector had driven for many years. It’s fair to say that the partnership between governments and the private sector keeps growing by the years. Hence, as was the case in many countries, the second stage of the COVID scare-curve saw an accelerated partnership with the private sector in many areas, including science, safety, and more. Where government’s direct interventions were needed, people got relief.
For what I describe as the third stage in the ‘scare-curve’, restrictions were being progressively relaxed, and some businesses took the lead in addressing pressing consumer needs. However, for brand managers, circumspection and tact were needed in communicating.
Whilst life was getting back to normalcy, the need for product and service delivery could not be done without understanding consumers’ emotions and the “let’s care for one another” mindset.
Wastefulness could no longer be tolerated. There seemed to have been a general lifestyle refresh to a point where we instinctively seem to be more concerned about the Basics of Maslow than any semblance of self-actualization or aggrandizement.
For premium and lifestyle brand managers, that presented an issue. For brands that penetrated through fun, humour, and a big bust/advertising budget, they had to rethink. “Be measured” was the brand call out. Empathetic communication had been the new normal in many marketing meetings I had participated in as a consultant. Forget the budget cuts; brands wanted to “care more.”
Product recall might have been a more effortless event for brands that had spent time building relevance and love. After all, brand love was not only triggered by experience or usage. Instead, it could be stimulated by what the brand does, stands for and the aspirations it creates in the minds of admirers and potential customers.
This reminds me of my days as Head of Customer Acquisition at Airtel Ghana. The research team led by Mr. Joseph Kuvor had embarked on a Bottom-of-the-Pyramid research to answer the question of “what is the sweet spot for pricing telecom product for communities that could not afford?” The study had taken us to some part of Jamestown, and we ended up in a community close to Wli Falls in the Volta Region.
Answers to two of the preset questions got my attention. 1. What network is available here, and 2. What network do you love? Ordinarily, you may love what you have if that is all you have and it works as advertised.
The well-represented sample was unanimous in answering the first question, “Vodafone was the only network available in the community” Then, the second question was asked. Which network do you love? Again, they were unanimous in their responses that the network they loved most was MTN. Yet, no one had an MTN chip or used MTN at the time of the interview.
Why do you love MTN? The researcher probed. Three reasons were given. MTN sponsors our festivals, and that brings the people together. Festivals are necessary. They are memorable periods in the lives of the people and the wider region. Secondly, they indicated that MTN ensures that they are entertained through its sponsorship of TV3’s Music Music. Thirdly, MTN was charitable and supported people in many communities with their CSR activities.
Whist the Vodafone brand was successful in satisfying their functional needs, MTN had captured their emotions and love. So, it is trite that brand love and empathy would always play a key role in helping to drive conversions for brands, and MTN is a classical beneficiary of empathetic communication or activation.
The role of empathetic communication and engagement became more pervasive during the covid period, with almost all brands dialling up their CSR activities, going beyond their targets to have generalist communications on help, giving more and loving more. Those who took lessons from the past are now more emotive in their approach to business. At the other side of the demand-creation curve is demand fulfilment.
So who were/are customers going to receive their products?
Technology-powered solutions backed by ever-improving precise location services eased up the process for product delivery. Coupled with a fast-paced e-cash ecosystem, customers could now receive almost everything at any time.
Today, the Global and Local Value Chains are up and running, but as captured in a piece by Ben Shepherd and published on the UNDP website, titled, ‘The Post COVID-19 Future for Global Value Chains’, 21st Century industrialized economies moved away from domestic supply chains toward global value chains (GVCs). However, internationalized production can have adverse effects on domestic economies and societies, exemplified when GVCs failed to rise to the unprecedented demands of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, GVCs must be better implemented in the future, especially within developing countries.
How will brands continue to be relevant and engage in the unlikely event of another break in the GVC triggered by unforeseen and unpredictable issues?
A stronger sense of customer-centricity will dominate the future. With brands, science and the general tech space having a point of convergence that allows for efficient predictability of consumer needs, its availability, threats of supply and mitigations
It is safe to hope that Africa would work closely to increase Intra-Africa trading from the current 15 percent. The impact of the suspension of activities within the GVC should concern African countries, investors and entrepreneurs. Africa needs to trade more amongst itself, hoping that any future risks and shutdowns of the GVC can be mitigated.
The role of governments as “enablers” should be reviewed going into the future, in my opinion. African countries must take a keen interest in research and development.
In a piece written by Wachira Kigotho titled ‘Countries spend less than 1percent of GDP on research, he captured that “No country in Africa is spending 1percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development” although, globally, spending on science and the number of scientists have been rising in the past five years, a trend that was pushed further by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UNESCO.
“Even then, on average, investment in research and development as a share of GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa rose from 0.49percent in 2014 to 0.51percent, an insignificant increase of 0.02 percentage points,” he added.
How can Africa innovate ahead of tomorrow when we continue to invest lesser in the resources needed to operationalize our quest for research and development?
In the future, African governments need to take an active interest (resource mobilization) in developing structures, systems, and processes that are right for addressing tomorrow’s challenges/needs.
If the people are identified as “consumers” instead of citizens, the mindset for addressing their ever-changing needs will reflect better—case in point, Africa’s position on the global roadmap for the Covid-19 vaccines. Governments have a lot to learn from the private sector regarding insight generation.
Another change required in the post covid future will be the need for countries like Ghana to aggressively tackle self-sufficiency in critical areas of consumer needs. Not only does that ensure much better sustenance of the economy, but it also helps bolster local industry much faster. Therefore, being deliberate, intentional and aggressive in domestic-led industrialization is necessary for our growth and sustenance.
As stated earlier, Ghana needs to take a leading role in deepening trading within Ecowas and the rest of Africa through the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The role of technology in global commerce cannot be overstated. Therefore, the Ghana Free Zones will continue to leverage technology to reach potential investors and improve its aftercare services.
The impact of Covid on B2B companies like the Ghana Free Zones was different. As an institution, the state mandates the Ghana Free Zones Authority to regulate activities within the Free Zones and more. Its mandate is to assess, review, and issue Licenses for businesses, focusing on value additions for export.
The average export value of all companies operating under the Free Zones regime over the past five years is approximately US$1.56billion per year.
Businesses operating with a free zones license are export-oriented, with more than 70percent of the companies working with a manufacturers license. These businesses take advantage of the Global distribution infrastructure, and the break of the value chain affected export demand, which affected the production cycles, loss of Jobs, locked-up capital, and impacted the economy’s downward spiral.
Some companies operating with a free zones license took advantage of the 30percent sales ceiling into the local market when restrictions were being eased up.
As the call for support to address the growing covid-scare, some free zones enterprises joined the government in its drive to get ahead of the issues. According to reports by the ghanatalksbusiness.com, as part of efforts to respond to the global shortage of PPEs and make them available to the front-line health workers, at all times, in Ghana, the government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, commissioned five local manufacturing companies to produce some of the PPEs in the country.
One of the five local companies selected and tasked to manufacture the PPEs was the Do The Right Thing (DTRT) Apparel, a Free Zones company. DTRT Apparel, the largest clothes manufacturer in West Africa, could produce 50,000 to half a million units a week.
This Free Zones company was one of the many that stepped up to help and, in doing so, kept business afloat by focusing on the production of Safety Products; they satisfied a growing emotional consumer need, earned the trust of many and by extension, the love of stakeholders.
The world is getting smarter by the day, and with the right combination of research and development, empathy, brand positioning and customer-centricity, countries like Ghana will be better prepared ahead of the curve.
>>>the writer is the Director of Corporate Affairs, PR and Business Development at the Ghana Free Zones Authority. With an MBA in Marketing from the University of Ghana Business School, Mr. Agyepong is known for leaving an indelible mark at every point in his 18-year working career.
During this period, he worked for some blue-chip companies like Airtel Ghana, Philips PTY West Africa, Vodafone Ghana and Tigo Ghana, where he exited as a Marketing Director. Currently, he chairs AFiBA consulting and doubles as a Lead Consultant for Otumfuo Osei Tutu IIs commemorative gold coin project.
Jesse is passionate about Ghana, Brand Building, Customer Development, and Investor Relations. He is a contemporary thinker with a flair for cultivating ideas and has a passion for social change and people development. He lives by Marcus Tullius Cicero’s quote ‘Dum Spiro Spero’ which translates, ‘While I breathe, I hope’.