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The African SMEs story episode 2: Marketing as an essential tool for SMEs

The African SMEs Story aims to understand and proffer solutions for the challenges faced by African SMEs, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address the importance of marketing and how SMEs can better project their businesses despite their challenges, we spoke with Sayo Odunsi, founder and CEO of 360 Degrees, a marketing strategist and consultant with over 13 years’ experience in corporate and SME marketing, branding, sales and account management. 360 Degrees is a strategic marketing agency that empowers SMEs specifically to build sustainable and global brands.
Marketing is an investment for any business, but many seem to shy away from it because they unsure if it yields returns, or are confident that their business does not need it. Marketing has also mostly been misunderstood; marketing and sales are not equivalent, with the former being an entire process that encompasses the latter. In addition, publicity and advertising fall under just one element of marketing – promotion. Sayo explains that marketing has seven core elements, called “the seven P’s” that make a business’s overall value proposition and must be understood to successfully run a business. The first is the product, which must solve a real problem that customers have. The second, place, is about channels through which the customers accesses products/services. The COVID-19 pandemic has increasingly moved these channels to online platforms, and businesses must look for newer, more effective channels to partner with to find customers.
Process is another element that refers to the processes that get the business’s solution to the customer, from enquiry to order placement to delivery, and this process must be tightened so that value to the customer is not lost. Another element is people; all people involved in delivering a brand’s product/service from manufacturing to front-facing staff must be aligned with marketing objectives and brand values because these all contribute to the product experience and boosts customers’ trust in the business. SMEs can innovate within these elements to distinguish themselves from their competitors.
Sayo emphasizes that understanding the target audience is the most important thing for any SME as it allows them to make cost effective decisions when employing the seven P’s. The advantage of being an SME with a limited budget is the creativity to devise innovative ways to market their product. Marketing is essential to the SME, because at the heart of marketing is delivering value consistently and continuously to the client. It is not a one-time process because the customer and their needs are constantly evolving. Strategic employment of marketing principles ensure that businesses can be sustainable, and sustainability is especially important to SMEs.
Common SME marketing mistakes include not having a strategic plan which results in wasted resources, and not having a budget because it gives a realistic estimate of resources and provides analytical framework that allows businesses to have realistic profit estimations.
Sayo shares the three marketing platforms for every SME to consider: paid platforms such as advertising, owned platforms like websites and social media pages, and earned media which are platforms that are not paid for but arise due to the value a business has delivered. She advises SMEs to ensure that owned platforms have link generation strategies that drive traffic to them and have content to engage customers. Earned media comes only from delivering spectacular value to clients and has the potential to greatly help SMEs, but SMEs must be proactive by creating opportunities for referrals to create word of mouth exposure for them. Again, SMEs must use their target audience to choose the right combination of platforms to use.
Sayo acknowledges that many SMEs now are facing challenges brought on by the pandemic, among them clients’ decreased buying power that forces them to prioritise their spending, so that products/services that are not regarded as essential are being dispensed with, the difficulty in reaching new customers, the need to re-evaluate businesses that may have been rendered redundant by the restrictions in place, and cash flow. To survive this period, SMEs are advised to understand current customer needs and to identify gaps or explore new offerings that can be solved with resources they already have, and to be open to the need to go digital to adapt to their customers.
She ends by noting that SMEs cannot afford not to be global brans because customers have expanded choices and are viewing products and services from a global marketplace. Global elements for SMEs include designing their offerings to provide for needs that can be replicated in target audiences across geographical areas.
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