Sports and corporate sponsorship in Rwanda

Music and sports are arguably Rwanda’s most popular social activities; this shouldn’t be surprising given the country’s demographic profile that shows over 60 percent of the country’s population in the 0 to 24 age-bracket while 32 percent are between 25 and 54 years of age.
Question is, what does this mean for commercial brands with goods and services to sell? On one hand, it means products and services have to resonate with the taste and style of young people today.
For instance, if it is a beer, what kind of bottle would a 24-year old consumer want to hold? Definitely not the giant-size Primus bottle. So Bralirwa was spot-on in introducing the mid-sized bottle that is street-nicknamed as Knowless.
For the financial services sector, the daily task is to keep finding the most accurate answer to the question of how young people would like to work with banks. It is a question of style and convenience which the Commercial Bank of Africa (CBA) tried to answer through MoKash.
MoKash starts from the point of realisation that most young people are already hooked to mobile money as a product. So the question there could have been how to invite them to the bank without subjecting them to the inconveniences of the traditional process-heavy requirements.
The idea that one can link their mobile money account to a bank account, save or borrow without the traditional processes of applying for a bank loan, is something that gets closer to keeping up with dynamic style and taste of how young people prefer to do business with banks.
Now nearly every major bank has a service smartphone application and they’re cutting back on opening new branches in favour of investing more resources in digital service channels to deliver the most fundamental of financial services, saving and borrowing.
But beyond designing youth friendly services and products, there is the aspect of continuous brand engagement; how to form an emotional attachment between a consumer and a brand is a question that integrated marketing communication specialists get paid monthly, to answer.
Music and sports have provided some of the most effective opportunities for commercial brands to engage with their predominantly young market segments.
Here, the likes of Primus Guma-Guma comes to mind as one of the country’s biggest and most successful brand engagement platforms where every year, Bralirwa gives Rwandans the opportunity to select and celebrate their favorite musicians.
But with Bralirwa’s Guma-Guma taking up most of the brand engagement space in music, market rival Skol has chosen to exploit opportunities in the sports sector especially soccer and athletics.
In December last year, Skol became Arsenal Football club’s official regional beer partner in Rwanda in addition to being a sponsor in the national football league.
The brewer is also among the sponsors of Tour du Rwanda.
Telecom and beverage firms have previously dominated brand engagement opportunities; for instance, MTN Rwanda has sponsored at least every major brand engagement activity over the past two decades and is currently the official sponsor of the annual Kigali Peace Marathon.
Of late, the financial sector actors have been increasing their expenditure in that direction; and Cogebank deserves recognition in this aspect. As the main sponsor of the Miss Rwanda pageant, Cogebank has helped enhance its brand visibility and connection among young people.
Bank of Kigali is perhaps Rwanda’s most successful indigenous brand whose over 50 years of market leadership in the financial sector has seen it give birth to new businesses including in insurance, technology and investment brokerage and advisory services.
Despite its success, Bank of Kigali has not enjoyed brand engagement platforms the size of Bralirwa’s Guma Guma, MTN’s Peace Marathon or Cogebank’s Miss Rwanda although that hasn’t stopped it from dominating the market share of the financial sector.
The bank’s success has for a long time mainly been driven by a solid corporate clientele and high net-worth mature adults but the lender acknowledges the importance of growing its personal banking business segment to drive new accounts and short-term deposits.
Personal banking business segment focuses on services available to individual clients. To succeed there, BK had to start by shading-off the old perception that it was a bank for corporate clients and the super-rich, and build a new perception (reality) of a brand that seeks to serve all including young people.
In communicating that message, the bank needed an effective brand engagement platform. In a bold move late last year, BK signed a Rwf300 million partnership with Rwanda Basketball Federation becoming the official sponsor of the national basketball league until 2021.
The deal was the first by a bank in Rwanda’s financial sector and might have left some of the lender’s old-generation shareholders a bit nervous.
But last week’s National Basketball Championship final Playoffs that saw the newly opened 10,000-seater Kigali Arena stretched to full capacity, must have helped vindicate the bank’s current management that they made the right investment in signing the sponsorship deal.
However, real return to investment for the lender will come if it succeeds in doing some real business with young people; this calls for a products and services that will resonate with them just the way basketball, does.

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