For a while now, GOIL has pitched itself to Ghanaians as ‘our own’ [y3n ara y3 de3 mu]. Through its advertising, the company reminds us that it is local. It does this while also sharing details about its adherence to global standards of quality. Somewhere in the strategy behind this messaging, I imagine, is the insight that people want things belonging to them to succeed. Therefore, if they [people] are constantly reminded that by buying GOIL they will be promoting something they have a stake in, then perhaps they will be persuaded to buy. There is a lot of reason in this line of thinking; it explains why many people have become GOIL loyalists – myself unapologetically included.
For communication professionals working with indigenous [made in Ghana] brands, GOIL’s strategy has a lot to teach us in rather simple ways; emphasise your indigenous roots and use that to create perceptions of shared fortunes with Ghanaians. In other words, when promoting your indigenous brand, prompt consumers to the fact that you are Ghanaian and invite them to remember that choosing you actually means ensuring a better Ghana. After all, buying local creates employment and reduces the burden of the dollar on our economy, we are told [I am not an economist so let’s leave it here]. So if you reminded people that buying your indigenous brand is in their interest, you can’t go wrong.
However, this is a strategy that should not be taken lightly. Indeed, its use must be tempered with a deep understanding of what drives the buying behaviours of the targets of a given brand. The truth is that in Ghana, the perception war favours imported goods. Ghanaians have a very entrenched taste for foreign goods. Our shops and markets are flooded with imported goods, which for long [at least until China changed the equation] have enjoyed associations of quality and durability. These days, the Chinese imports have added another important positive perception – affordability. Thus, when people think imported goods, they may be thinking quality, durability and affordability. These are associations that historically have not accompanied locally made goods. These considerations must guide you in deciding whether to pitch your indigeneity credentials to consumers.
How then should/can indigenous brands take advantage of their shared roots with consumers when advertising? There is research evidence to show that the answer may lie with how much you know about your consumers and, importantly, how they self-define. So, perhaps, the question becomes: ‘Are you talking to consumers who are excited about the global or local stage that this world offers them?’ This is according to a 2021 research published by the Journal of Global Marketing. The paper is titled ‘Pathways to Global versus Local Brand Preferences: The Roles of Cultural Identity and Brand Perceptions in Emerging African Markets’ and explores how consumers respond to advertising strategies by local versus foreign brands. According to the research, consumers have cultural identities that can be local, global or both, which shape their consumption behaviours. Local identity consumers feel close to their local community and identify with local ways of life, while a global identity means consumers identify with a more global lifestyle. Through a survey of consumers in Ghana and South Africa, the study found that individuals who identify as local respond well to prompts about a brand’s localness. In other words, persons who have a local identity will notice message prompts in your adverts about your localness. The lesson? You must establish whether a sizeable chunk of tour targets have a local identity orientation before choosing the ‘we are indigenous and we share a common heritage and future with you’ pitch.
But so what if we know who will notice different positioning cues [local or global] in your advertising? As most marketing communicators know, the most important consideration in choosing strategy is its implications for the bottom line – sales and returns on investment (ROI). According to the research, consumers who self-define as local citizens also display a bigger preference for local brands. It found that in Ghana, local identity marginally influences preference for local brands. This means if you managed to pitch your ‘we are indigenous and we share a common heritage and future with you’ to persons who have a strong cultural affiliation, you may win their favour.
However, remember the power of influence is only marginal, meaning that other considerations may be at play. For instance, how well local brands generally fare in use by such consumers may determine their general preference for such brands. If I try a brand because I can identify with its shared heritage with me as a Ghanaian and it fails woefully, my preference levels will be revised, including toward other local brands. Indeed, as the research shows, when brands pitch a ‘we are indigenous and we share a common heritage and future with you’ story, the benefits can rub off other indigenous brands. If GOIL manages to win me over with this strategy, chances are that I become more ready to consider the value that other local brands present. But there is a caveat. The brand must function and deliver on its promise. No advertising is effective when brands do not deliver on their promise. This is the sacred rule of advertising in spite of what the advocates of short-cuts tell you.
Finally, a quick reminder that the localness connection is but one of many positioning strategies brand communication practitioners can use; so if your circumstances and knowledge of your consumers do not make it ideal, feel free to explore other options. Continue reading this column; you might get your solution soon!
The author is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ghana, Department of Communication Studies ([email protected])
PS: The full copy of the research explained in this article is accessible here and may be subject to subscription fees: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/08911762.2021.1886385