By Irene Ebrahimi Darsinouei
It is difficult to stand out in today’s hypercompetitive marketplace. In the words of Mr. Wondayen Zerihon, of the Ethiopian spices company Abdulakim Export: “Other countries have the same product as us, so it is difficult to know how to approach our customer. What makes our product different from the Rwandan’s or the Kenyan’s product?”
Having a powerful brand is key – a visual identity, a story – in order to connect with your audience.
On June 23rd 2016, SITA organized a branding and sales workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Rwandan and Ethiopian spices and pulses companies. The participants delved into the world of branding, discussing their company identity, how to define their brand value proposition and how to present their company and products to potential buyers at trade fairs.
Mr. Wondayen Zerihon emphasized the importance of the training: “We need to be able to differentiate our product. Without branding, we will not be able to get a good or premium price for our spices,” he said.
The workshop was also a platform for knowledge exchange between the Ethiopian and Rwandan companies, on topics like setting up an association, production and outgrowing, export financing, and regional partnerships. Ethiopia and Rwanda have different planting and harvesting seasons, which creates opportunities to work together without competing, while supplying a buyer year-round.
“I’ve made a mistake,” said Noel Hirwa, of the Rwandan company Rexo Group. “I forgot to bring my company brochure to this workshop. There are opportunities here to partner with Ethiopian companies, and I see now that when I want to market, I have to have a business card, a well-designed website, and I am missing my brochure.” According to Noel, it pays to invest in marketing and branding, “After mastering this, I will not use as much money to market myself. If I brand myself in a good way, I don’t need to invest as much to be efficient.”
Mr. Siméon Ngendahayo, of West Hills Coffee in Rwanda, has mastered the art of coffee making. His company won the Rwandan Cup of Excellence twice, and he has sold his products to Slovakia, Sweden, France and the US. The company recently entered the spices business, in order to have an alternative crop during the off-season of coffee, securing an income for the growers. “It turns out that having a high quality product is not enough,” Siméon said. “We were confusing logos and products. We have a big gap – how to sell our final product? We have to improve our visibility – we have high-quality coffee, but if nobody knows, it is not enough.”
Prior to the training, companies were requested to share their marketing materials with SITA, in order to prepare personalized advice and suggestions for a new look. Mr. Getachew Mamo, of Nathi Coffee and Spices, Ethiopia, was among the companies who submitted their materials and received feedback. “The training showed me that less is more – the marketing materials I am using shouldn’t be overcrowded with text, and images.” A key learning, said Mr. Mamo, was quite simple: “When I meet with buyers, I used to tell them what my objective is. That may not be what they want to hear! What they want to hear is what I can offer them. This is a great learning for me, and I will change my approach to it.”
Mr. Endalkechew Abie, of Ethiopia’s Tsehay Farmers Cooperative Union, commented that a key learning was how important it is to conduct proper research, and to gather information about potential buyers before participating in trade fairs. “So many people visit our booth, so we have to be prepared. This learning will help us gain more from our trade fair participation in the future.”
If branding is done right, at some point, the company decides the price – the buyer doesn’t anymore. Exporting branded products rather than unbranded products is a compelling notion, and Ethiopian and Rwandan producers could benefit strongly from the higher margins. In the words of Mr. Wondayen Zerihon, of Abdulakim Export, Ethiopia: “All exporters need these kinds of lessons. If all Ethiopian exporters take this training, it will definitely change things. Not only for our company income, but also for the country’s income.”