One of the first things that you’re taught in “marketing school” is the STP model (segmentation, targeting and positioning). It’s all pervasive in marketing briefs, you write whole 5000 word papers on how to apply its (sometimes abstract) principles to a fictional product. It is something I therefore expected to see put into practice in whichever consumer market that I’d find myself in. But, I find myself puzzled by the lack of clear segmentation in the Malawian market.
At this point I should mention that you can segment on several levels – by type of product, industry etc. I think though that every other segmentation level stems from how we choose to divide society on economic lines. A lot can be written on economic classism in society but it is a fact that people at differing income levels not only spend differently but also save differently and value products in different ways.
Malawi is a poor country. Choose any index you want to use to evaluate poverty within the country and Malawi will be the poorest country in the world or within the bottom ten. Either way, it seems bleak. And the consensus amongst marketers in the country seems to be that there is a bunch of poor people, and then the rich – those who buy our products. And that’s it. There is a lot of nuance that is lost when you delineate the market in such broad strokes.
For example, the demand for a particular retail store may be wholly aspirational. Said store may be positioned in such a way that it directly targets high income consumers and everybody else then feels left out of experiencing the brand because it is “above them”. Anecdotally, this is a perception that was built around Woolworths SA for a lot of consumers. A change in consumer marketing; understanding of the different groups of consumers who do and who would like to frequent their stores; the introduction of bulk selling of some items etc has altered perceptions of the store which is one of the reasons Woolworths SA is growing within South Africa.
It is this sort of nuance that I see lacking in the Malawian market. Marketers print generic brochures, have the same type of tv campaigns across different brands and simply homogenize the market.
My (very limited and mostly observational) research seems to indicate that the few companies that do take segmentation into consideration are those in the telecommunications sector. Maybe this is because it’s easier for big business to apply marketing concepts and tools to their product inventories and innovate to suit each market. Or maybe it’s just the nature of the telecommunications industry. There has always been a need to reach more consumers, create greater cellphone and internet access and so the marketing of their products is more responsive to consumer needs.
Basically what i’m getting at is that we need something of what the Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing is doing for South African marketing. Malawian marketers (and economists, politicians, financiers, social entrepreneurs) need to understand peoples’ motivations as consumers. Greater depth is needed to figure out where consumers obtain their money (how much of their income is from unreported/underreported sources); who controls household income and how this affects consumer spending; what products and services are prioritized at different income levels and other general consumer habits in Malawi. Maybe then Malawi would be able to apply the STP model more vigorously thereby increasing consumer spending at all income levels and hopefully driving growth.