Why are Kenyan Consumers Unwilling to Switch?

Last week one of my colleagues commented on the published “Africa’s Top 250 Companies, African Business Annual Ranking” and the performance of Kenyan companies within it.  She highlighted that the introduction to the article stated that there are

“some interesting trends with the growth of companies mirroring the general pattern of the continental growth.  The dominance of mining companies, for example, is diminishing in favour of more consumer-oriented ones”

But when an analysis of the companies in Kenya was done it showed that there has been no change in the make up of the consumer-based companies with the same 2 (EABL & BAT) appearing as in 2009.

This got me thinking about why this is the case and it further reinforced to me something I have been conscious of for a while: how difficult it is to successfully launch a new consumer brand in to the Kenyan market. Just ask yourselves what was the last consumer goods brand (excluding electronics) that was launched in to the market and took strong share gains from more established competition. I think you will be hard pressed to come up with many.

So why is this? Why are Kenyan consumers so unwilling to switch to new brands and products?

For me it boils down to a few key factors, firstly the key driver of brand loyalty for the Kenyan consumer is trust. Time in the market place delivering consistently on consumer needs it appears is more critical to a brands success in Kenya than in other markets. Consumers appear to value trust even more than their African neighbours. The further down the pyramid we go and the greater the loyalty is, as unsurprisingly people are unwilling to ‘gamble’ what little disposable income they have on a new brand that is not yet fully proven

The second component, which is linked to the first in many cases, particularly with the 2 Kenyan companies on the Top 250 list is National Pride. A brand that has managed to work its way in to the Kenyan psyche and evokes feelings of national pride as do Tusker & Sportsman generate even greater consumer loyalty.

The third component comes down to barriers to entry created through control of the distribution chain. This is common across all markets and is due to the established brands having highly effective route to market models, which have enormous scale and support of the trade. Breaking through those barriers is not easy.

So bearing in mind these points if a company (particularly a new entrant) is going to launch a brand in Kenya it must be doubly sure that it has a real unique selling proposition, that doesn’t exist yet within the portfolios of the established brands, because if not I really fear for their chances of success.

With that in mind I wish Pepsi Cola and SAB Miller the best of luck in their attack on the established players in the Kenyan market but I hope they have deep pockets and patience because I feel they will need them.

John Dowd – Director 2020 Marketing

Brand loyalty copy