Is the motor trade waking up to consumers?

Last week, we talked about the gap between Telco brands and consumers in Africa. It’s a gap that, in many countries, is usually filled with active and innovative marketing. But less so on this Continent.
Chris Harrison
Chris Harrison

Last week, we talked about the gap between Telco brands and consumers in Africa. It’s a gap that, in many countries, is usually filled with active and innovative marketing. But less so on this Continent.

Today, let’s consider another segment that has to make the transition between command and free market economies in Africa. The kings of the road: the motor trade.

Africa’s come a long way since the dominant motor brands were Peugeot ,Mercedes and Land Rover. In most countries you can buy new vehicles from at least fifty brands (if you include trucks and buses).

And even in markets with barely serviceable roads we find low slung exotica like Jaguar and Porsche sports cars. And BMW’s with tyres so wafer thin you just know they will collapse in their first encounter with a pothole.

Africa has been the proving ground of the Japanese car .Toyota and Nissan have proved themselves reliable on the lumpy commute, on long safaris, and in extremis with the aid community. The huge second hand motor trade in Japanese cars is one of Africa’s biggest earning informal sectors.

So, how has motor marketing matured in Africa? I think a generous assessment would be ‘slowly.’  You see, for decades the motor trade didn’t need to try very hard. So dealers and distributors were engage to sell. The more successful of them did so by paying most attention to Generals, Permanent Secretaries and Ministers – and thus securing Government contracts. The truck dealers did deals with transporters – often exactly the same Generals, Permanent Secretaries etc. It was a personal sales environment, and we can only wonder at how deals were concluded. Then came the aid community, not known for personal self-restraint when procurement opportunities are on the table. This added huge scale to the productivity of direct sales. That’s evident to anyone who has ever seen the UN logistics park at Uganda’s old Entebbe airport.

As recently as in the last 10 years, motor dealers in Africa were still making 30% on the metal. Elsewhere in the world dealers often take a hit on the metal to win the aftersales revenue.

So in this environment, individual vehicle customers are … a bit of a nuisance. Which is why service centres and other vestiges of customer care have taken so long to develop.

We are now beginning to see signs of change. The standard press ad for motor cars, leading you to a large showroom where you can be comprehensively ignored, is beginning to be replaced. I don’t think we are anywhere near Customer Relationship Management yet, but motor marketers are getting better at going out into the field to meet the customer.

And the motor brands themselves – the central marketing teams for brands such as Toyota and Land Rover, are beginning to have an impact. They realize the value of brand equity, and they need to find a way to deliver it across Africa.

Let me end with a lovely piece of communication. Produced not in Africa, but in Dubai by Land Rover and their global Ad Agency. They have created a survival guide for customers who use their Land Rover to get lost in the Arabian Desert. The best part of the guide is that it is edible. If you need to, you can you can survive off the edible paper and ink of the guide. The cover is a reflective silver, so it can be used to signal for help.And if you have any food, the binding can be used as skewers to cook it.

The book was made to promote the adventurous spirit that inspires Land Rover owners. Only 5,000 were to be made, but customers love it so much that there are an additional 7,000 going out soon. Food for thought, motor marketers.

Chris Harrison is the Chairman of Young & Rubicam Group Africa

To comment on this article, visit www.chrisharrison.biz

Copyright Christopher James Harrison. PO Box 41036, Nairobi, 00100 Kenya

 

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