When Benz put his first motor car on the road in 1889, the public and media referred to it as a horseless carriage. Apart from human feet, every other method of road travel they had ever seen had horses attached to it. But this one didn’t.
When the radio receiver was first launched, it had no wires whereas the telephone established earlier did. So people referred to the magic box as the ‘wireless’ box.
However, within a few years, the market lost the need to refer to these innovations to familiar things. The radio and the car had become familiar; and had functional and emotional value in their own right.
As horses and wires were surpassed, they in turn were forgotten.
The lesson here is that over time, consumers stop valuing things they do not see daily. This is a lesson that many modern businesses need to understand.
If the market cannot see your product, they are less likely to find a place for it in their lives.
Mobile service network providers suffer visibility problems unless, like Namibia’s MTC, Nigeria’s Glo or Kenya’s Safaricom, they invest time and money in a relentless programme of visibility. If they don’t, the consumer only sees and values their handset, which makes the infrastructure that enables the handset irrelevant.
The introduction of ATMs and, lately, mobile money transfer mean that fewer people visit banks every year. So the age of marble counters and three dimensional signage and large banking halls is drawing rapidly to a close. Banks have to step up their game in Internet banking, and also find a way to make themselves visible on mobile.
Recently, I went to a presentation on mobile banking, where I saw a product that allows you to create a virtual bank account on your phone – linked to a real bank.
This good news for consumers, but how does the poor bank marketer ensure that his brand is chosen from the many on menu. First, he has to ensure he is on the menu.
And then he needs to make his brand equity powerful and relevant to his target audience so that they select his bank without any other supporting information, but just a logo and a click of the mouse.
In today’s digital world, one of the most visible manifestations of a bank is its credit or debit card. The little piece of plastic, that sits in the consumer’s wallet; and fits in his hand. But the logo that signals the acceptability of the card is not likely to be the bank’s logo. It is much more likely to be Visa – the most visible financial brand on the planet.
And now, as the digital space opens up, marketers are beginning to follow consumers there. Not the other way round, which is something of a first.
Even the most advanced marketers in Africa are still at the stage of building and administering websites that developers call, somewhat disdainfully, brochureware. That is to say, a website that could easily be printed out as a series of A4 paper pages without losing much of its functionality.
You will recognise a brochureware website by the fact that you, as the consumer, have to do all the work. You click on it and wade through a home page covered with worthy, but irrelevant information. Worthy because the site owner believes you should know about it, but not because you want to.
Then you have to navigate a series of click-on options in the hope that the logic of how you look for products and services is the same as that of the progammer.
Back to the point about visibility...The biggest failing in Africa’s digital space is that brands with online properties like websites are not making them visible enough.
There is very little display advertising online and huge availability. There are very few banner campaigns with focused messages, enticing surfers onto sites.
Remember, consumers place no value on brands they can’t see.
The writer is a marketing and advertising specialist based in