as businesses prepare for the annual Rwanda International Trade Fair (RITF) slated for later this month, analysts say there is still a lot local producers should do to attract buyers.
Experts and Private Sector Federation (PSF) say market penetration by local firms continue to be hampered by poor or lack of proper branding and marketing, among other factors. This is despite efforts to increase consumption of locally-produced goods under the Made-in-Rwanda initiative, which also seeks to help boost production and quality, enabling local companies to enter new regional and other markets.
Analysts say local brands are still fighting for space in local supermarket and stores and are hardly found on shelves in regional markets due to the fact that few Rwandan firms appreciate the importance of branding and marketing as a business growth strategy.
They say marketing plays a big role in creating brand awareness that influences buying patterns and relationship of any customer, according to Edmond Tumwine, the head of Institutional Relations and Public Private Dialogue at PSF.
“No matter the size of a business, every enterprise must have marketing and branding strategies to succeed in the cutthroat business environment,” he says.
Valentine Nashipae, the chief executive officer Cube Communications Rwanda, adds that branding and marketing are “a means to an end” for any businesses.
She says for any product to be embraced, its brand must be visible and recognised by customers. This is the reason why local firms must invest in marketing and branding to create awareness and brand recognition on the market, she adds.
Reluctance to market products explained
Tumwine says that many local firms particularly small-and-middle enterprises (SMEs) are reluctant to invest in marketing and brand awareness drives because they believe in a traditional way of doing business.
“Businesses do not take branding and marketing as a necessity and many still believe they can survive on walk-in clients.
“They do not think about bringing new clients on board or targeting other markets because with branding and marketing, one is looking at a wider market,” explains Tumwine.
Cecil Fiona Umulisa, the proprietor of Imena Creative, a branding and marketing firm in Kigali, says the lack marketing and branding professionals compounds the situation, adding that businesses do not get expert advice to help them understand the huge role these elements play in enterprise growth and sustainability.
Nashipae, also the founder of Cube Communications, says some of the companies that have embraced the marketing and branding ideals do not often identify and understand their target markets, leading to campaign failure.
“It is important for businesses to recruit the right people for the job and do research before launching sales and marketing activities,” she advises.
Producers need to understand that such investment is necessary to ensure profits in the future, she adds.
PSF’s Tumwine says although branding and marketing come with a cost, they are instrumental in creating brand awareness that will translate into business growth and profits.
The PSF official says the federation always sensitises business operators to embrace branding and marketing to ensure sustainability.
“After realising that most people perceive local products as inferior compared to the imported ones, PSF has continued to encourage producers to market their products to help change this negative perception among the public,” he says.
PSF is also working on increasing productivity of some local products by putting business operators in different clusters where they pool resources and boost their financial capacity and hence be able to increase production.
Imena Creative’s Umulisa says despite the need to market and create brand awareness, business owners should also ensure quality and quantity to satisfy customer needs.
Nashipae advises local firms to embrace research to ensure their products meet market needs.
“Market acceptance is easy to realise through marketing activities that help to create product awareness and recognition, as well as position the brand among the target market,” she adds.
She also adds that lack of brand awareness has relegated some of local products to the background even when they are of quality.
This is one of the key challenges that the Made-in-Rwanda drive needs to address for the initiative to bear “the right fruits” in the short to long-term, according to the experts.