How not to market Kigali’s luxury villas

The week started off on an ugly note with the killing of two Rwandans near the Burundian border and climaxed Friday on an uglier note with the Mafioso-style murder in Kampala of Uganda’s Police Spokesperson; may our governments prevail over this rising criminality.

With such lugubrious incidents dominating the press, one would hope for less depressing stuff on advertisement pages that are normally placed in juxtaposition with news stories.

But alas! It is woe onto us! The marketing press especially on real estate is still as depressing as ever especially to young workers actively prospecting to buy their first house.

Advertisement copy writers should aim at crafting messages that build self-belief in the target audience making them feel they could actually afford the product being marketed, and incite them into action to consume.

Instead, we have provocative adverts out there that make one exclaim ‘God of Abraham is everything truly expensive or it is just us that are poorly paid?’

This year’s Home and Property Expo closed yesterday after three days of exhibition featuring real estate salesmen, developers and financiers; all seeking the attention of Kigali’s property buyers.

One could easily note that the same old problem is still bedeviling our real estate players; miscommunication! Kigali’s real estate developers and salesmen by extension have ‘refused to learn how to speak the local language’ spoken by the mass market.

They are still speaking alien language and charging in alien currencies. But the alien market is circulated as many if not all already own multiple properties.

Yet our real estate developers are a stubborn lot! Instead of learning how to speak the mass language, they want the masses to learn alien language, buy at alien prices and pay in alien currencies.

So there is confusion in the market place; the word affordable housing, it appears, means something rather vulgar in alien language and not even language translators can help.

Marketing is not simply placing an advert in a magazine, TV or radio. It is about preparing an appropriate message for the right audience through the correct channel.

But as I was minding my employer’s business on Wednesday morning, a petite sales executive walked in with the latest copy of Property Magazine, a real estate focused monthly publication; the Magazine is free of charge.

It is a model many publishers are adopting as print media battles internet sponsored disruption. Most readers are online but some advertisers are still advertising traditionally, a good thing, to support the good old industry. Sadly, they are placing the right messages in the wrong channels.

Ultimate Developers Limited (UDL) the firm behind the magnificent Vision City Estate had four colour pages in the Property Magazine including an interview with CEO Liliane Mupende.

Page 18 and 19 particularly caught my attention. Right there, in colour, UDL was speaking alien language to a mass audience! On Page 19, UDL was telling Rwandans to rush to their bank accounts, withdraw US$560,000 and buy one of their five-bedroom luxury villas.

If that was too much, they had less expensive units ranging between US$179,000 for a two-bedroom unit to US$388,000 for a four bedroom unit. 

Marketing is interesting in a way that no matter how expensive something may appear, there is always someone who can easily afford it, and pay without a second thought; that is exactly what UDL set out to prove on page 18 of the Magazine; two buyer testimonies.

“I paid Rwf436 million for the house…the house is worth the price,” said Teame, an Eritrean national living in Rwanda.

His testimony was perhaps intended to inspire Rwandans to buy into the estate, but that could also be misread in Marie Antoinette’s voice asking us to buy cake if we couldn’t afford Chapatti.

But it is different for one Rwandan, Mr. Phocas Rutikanga who said he also acquired one of UDL’s five-bedroom luxury villas at Rwf436 million. The difference is he needed the support of a bank mortgage.

He contributed 30 percent (Rwf130million) and his bank paid the rest, repayable in five years. For the same luxury house, an Eritrean pays cash; a Rwandan seeks a loan.

In a market where majority of workers are struggling to avoid eviction or risking foreclosure, advertising luxury villas in a mass magazine is like speaking to locals in alien language; we are marketing Champagne to a guy who can only afford Primus.

There are not more than a hundred fellows in this town with half a million dollars to spend on a luxury pad and targeted marketing strategies would achieve more sales than mass advertising.

For instance, UDL could organize a high-end cocktail at Marriott or Radisson and invite all the city’s billionaires during which a presentation on the estate would be screened. The two rich guys that bought could then testify to their rich counterparts, who after all, have the money to spend, should they be inspired.

UDL could also cast its net beyond the borders to get more buyers such as the Eritrean gentleman considering that not many banks would be willing to finance Rwf450 million mortgages. Through targeted marketing, we would politely avoid offending majority of Rwandans who are scanning the press for houses worth Rwf25 milion.