by Kemi Tijani
For humans, it is intrinsic to seek affirmation by sharing our passion and achievements with the world. However, for businesses, reaching a wider customer base goes beyond just validating ideas. Entering a new market is often the key to unlocking additional revenue streams, developing ideas for new products, and getting valuable feedback on how to improve current offerings.
In most African countries, many consumer and business categories are still dominated by Asian, European and American brands, while local brands with competitive or superior products struggle to maintain relevance, not to talk of creating or meeting global demand for their products. But in January 2017, Wow braids and Beauty, a for-profit social enterprise that creates globally competitive consumer products from local inputs, set out to take its line of handmade braided wigs from remote cities in Nigeria, where they are fabricated, to consumers around the world. Drawing from our experience, the guide below outlines five steps we have successfully implemented and how African brands can adopt these to take their business global.
Define your brand and create an online identity
The first step to building your brand is to clearly define what it stands for and what you hope to achieve. From day one, our objective at Wow Braids was to be a brand that empowers women in Africa to produce quality braided wigs and hair extensions, for women and girls around the world. Having this goal in mind guided our approach to all aspects of the business from sourcing and supply chain to distribution channels, marketing, and our global growth strategy.
Once you’re clear on what your brand stands for, the next step is to create your digital identity. For Wow Braids, that meant investing in a website and social media pages that supported our vision to be an African brand that serves the global consumer. To achieve this, we continuously create and source content that expresses our brand identity and resonates with all segments of our audience on all platforms.
Research your market
At this stage, Google became our favourite page as we researched distribution channels, existing alternatives to our product, competitive brands and their pricing, and practically everything about the market for braided wigs around the world. Armed with this information, we clearly articulated reasons why stores should stock our brand, and also created a list of target stores, and developed a plan for distribution.
Prepare a pitch
This is a part of the process that is often overlooked. But is extremely important as it makes you walk in your customer’s shoes and think through all the things that will affect their decision to choose your brand. For our pitch, we created a deck with a few slides that introduces Wow Braids, our mission and vision, products, unique selling points, pricing and margin structure, payment terms and our support with marketing and promotions. Having a pitch helped create a professional brand image and made it easy for us to start conversations with retailers in our target locations.
As a small business, competing against established brands requires that you optimize your operations to serve your target market. Put simply, the key to selling globally lies in your responsiveness and logistics. At Wow Braids we use several technology platforms in every aspect of the business to drive efficiency and increase our responsiveness. These include;
- Shopify for our online store and multi-channel store management.
- Mail Chimp for email and social media marketing automation
- Shopify apps for inventory management, affiliate marketing, multi-channel management, rewards, ratings etc.
- QuickBooks online for accounting – this is synced with our Shopify store to post transactions automatically
- WhatsApp for customer service, supplier communication and internal communication
- Instagram for awareness and customer engagement. Etc.
- To manage our logistics, we partner with DHL for our local and international fulfilment to provide a reliable and trackable delivery service to our customers.
Network! Network!! Network!!!
If you want to reach customers overseas, networking is a low cost way to drive awareness and start conversations with people that can help grow your brand in your target locations. At Wow Braids, we try out every creative approach we can think of to increase awareness of our brand. Below are some of the approaches to networking that we’ve used;
- Joining relevant Facebook groups
- Creating mailing list from contact form
- Talked to friends and acquaintances in the entrepreneurship and beauty industries in our target locations
- Cold calling stores
- The travelling salesman approach, i.e. carrying samples to stores
- Connecting with other brand owners
- Requesting introductions and sending unsolicited LinkedIn InMail to people that work in our target stores
- Sending DM’s and tagging target stores on our Instagram posts
- Signing up for programs that could help drive awareness such as Amazon Launch Pad, Trade shows, etc.
While this article only covers strategies that have been tried and tested at Wow Braids, I am aware that there could be other approaches to taking your brand global.
Since we started the drive to take Wow Braids global, we have fulfilled orders to customers in over 16 countries and grown from having a single online store to having our products available in over 25 physical and online stores including the largest retailer in the world, Amazon (Yes, you can buy our products on Amazon). But we are cognizant of the fact that a brand cannot be built in a day. However, if your goal is to take your brand global, then the seven tips above would get you started on that journey.
Kemi Tijani is the MD of Wow Braids and Beauty, a company that locally manufactures braided wigs. If you’d like to discuss any aspects of this article, engage her on twitter @iamkemitijani