Marketing is a crucial part of a startup’s growth, but for every company the process is different. How do tech companies and startups approach marketing, especially in an economic downturn?

Growth and marketing have had a significant impact on the startup boom in Africa. While there are critical keys to a startup’s success like access to funding and product-market fit, marketing is also a strong area and can be seen in the way that startups and companies across the continent heavily invest in marketing and advertising. We’ve seen startups launch campaigns with celebrities and sponsor major reality shows like Big Brother in a bid to reach a wider audience. In 2021, startups like Kuda spent over $1 million on marketing efforts to deepen their market penetration. 

Opeyemi Odusola led marketing in Nigeria for accessories company, Oraimo. One of the things he enjoyed the most about marketing with Oraimo was the fact that he wasn’t constrained by budgets. At Oraimo, he had the liberty to experiment with various ideas and collaborations, with his favourite being the campaign they created for the Freepods 3. It involved collaborating with Grammy-award-winning producer Telz and other major artistes.

“We wanted an ad that showed our users that we listened to them and we understood them. Being an artiste myself, I also wanted something that resonated with music-loving users and we felt like bringing a couple of artistes together to talk about their relationship with music would be great,” he shared.

For Ebuka who works in marketing for Piggyvest, an interesting metric that he uses to judge the success of ad campaigns is how well he is able to do with a small budget. Although the team at Piggyvest has a larger budget to execute with— unlike his previous workplace —, he shares that paying attention to budgets is a critical part of a campaign’s success.

“When I find myself going above the budget, it means that I have to go and tweak something. Either your content is not good enough, your creative direction is not the right one or your landing page experience is incomplete. There has to be a reason why your ad is not getting the desired results and it’s up to you to fix it,” Ebuka stated.

Ads are beyond money to Ebuka, who believes that while bigger budgets can help you execute bigger ideas, they don’t always translate to better results. “It’s not just about having money, it’s very difficult to get people’s attention online these days and your ads have to resonate with your audience to work,” he shared.

Navigating marketing in a downturn

A source who is a Marketing Specialist shares the same sentiments with Ebuka on marketing going beyond money. The source who works at Quidax— a startup that has had to lay off 20% of its workforce due to the downturn—, shares that there are a lot of ways to be creative when you don’t have access to a large budget. 2023 has seen a decline in startup funding across the continent, and a byproduct of this is that startups are being more prudent with resources which extend to marketing budgets.

“Companies are utilising more creative, cost-effective ways to reach potential users and drive growth. Unlike previous years when we could easily sponsor big events and sign celebrities as ambassadors; we now try to explore other options like using your employees as ambassadors and tasking them to help promote the company. We also do a whole lot more digital and content marketing now, as these are cheaper alternatives.”

For fintechs, the source believes that marketing is a lot more complex due to the trust factor. “You need to build trust and credibility if you’re asking people to trust you with their money. In Nigeria today, before somebody can part with as little as ₦5,000, they have to trust you, and so you need to pay extra attention to the kind of ads you are putting out and what your reputation is,” she noted.

Despite not having a large budget, the Quidax team is using their social media to tell stories and one of their favourite ad campaigns was one for International Women’s Day titled “How Qbabes are saving smarter.” For that campaign, they made a compilation of stories from women on how they were making smarter financial decisions. However, she wished they had a bigger budget for the campaign to do better than it did.

Nigeria’s tech ecosystem has witnessed rapid growth over the years and marketing has been a fundamental part of it. A huge part of marketing, however, is budgets and although bigger budgets are not always markers of success for campaigns, companies with bigger budgets typically have more reach as we’ve seen in the case of companies like OPay and Kuda, among others. As funding for the Nigerian tech ecosystem falls — and consequently the marketing budgets, will the growth in the coming years be slower, or will smaller companies find a way to make up for smaller budgets?

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