I started a thought leadership interview series to find out how African countries can mitigate the projected job loss this year, and how entrepreneurs can reinvent their business models to capture market value.

In the first installment, I had a chat with Michael Zormelo, a Ghanaian serial entrepreneur and founder of the OMNI Group of Companies, on how to unlock Africa’s agricultural value chains. This second series features the Brand Warrior and “Queen of Africa,” Fatima Alimohamed, and we are exploring best practices for building brands that nourish the world.

Fatima Alimohamed is one of Africa's foremost brand experts

Fatima Alimohamed, the CEO of African Brand Warrior, is an African and Kenyan. She is an advocate for Africa and African brands with a solid track record across African markets that lead her to change from boots to heels where needed. Fatima is a thought leader in Strategy, Brand Development, Consumer Relationships, NPD, Marketing and Communication. She believes that every contact she makes through her various African markets visit must educate, inspire, and help transform the lives of people. She believes that lifting the people through brands is the one way to grow both people and businesses.

Fatima was honored with the TOP 50 CMO’s Global award in Singapore and the TOP 100 Most Talented Marketers Global Award in India. She was handed a Citation for Leadership Excellence by the African Women Leaders CMO Asia in Mauritius. She was Stooled as a Queen Mother (Nkosohemaa) in Memia, Western Ghana, for her role in social development in the area of women and children. This has earned her the title of a Queen Mother and a Local name “Nana Nyanzu.”

In April 2019, the Women Economic Forum awarded Fatima with the prize of “Iconic Woman Building a better World” in Delhi, and again was awarded in Egypt in February 2020. Fatima is the regional director for Africa for “Nations of Women” and is the President of Women Indian Chamber Ghana.

Let’s start with the fundamental question. What exactly is branding, and how important is it?

I see that you are all about telling African innovation stories and helping rising professionals to be successful. How about if I answered this question by saying that branding and creating an identity started during the enslavement trade period before it moved to animals and then commodities?

They marked our brothers and sisters who they enslaved with a hot rod depicting a symbol of who they belonged to, their origin, and who owned them. It became a mark of identity or as we say ‘making your mark’ and continued to evolve into the industrial revolution to cover a country, product, service, or personal identity.

Branding is now at the heart of everything to stand out positively, be it from one’s image, what one consumes to the country you intend to visit. Branding has more power than ever. Look at how brands are now standing up in support of movements like Black Lives Matter, be it Nike, Starbucks on Ben & Jerry’s. They are using their power to advocate an impactful change, not for profit, but elevating humans.

Selling Africa with a Smile

Many entrepreneurs often see branding as an afterthought they can tack to the end of a venture, a final shot at securing a sale. Talk about how founders and brand managers can develop brand stories that express their vision and ambition.

Sadly this is true, and I see it more happening with those in startups and upcoming entrepreneurs. But to also be fair with the new entrants, I have seen this with large organizations where there is an assumption that branding is all about just having a name, a logo, perhaps a label and you are good to go. Most times, in the absence of a brand strategy, entrepreneurs change their decisions and shift goals posts rather than change the path.

A brand strategy will define what your brand’s purpose is and what it stands for. What are the brand values, brand mission, and brand vision? A brand story is like your thumbprint, unique to each. The brand stories should not be about the pursuit of success but the search for significance.

Developing a high level of coherence and quality in person and through one’s platform is immeasurably beneficial in attracting people who are also looking to do something at a certain level. But that’s often easier said than done. In your opinion, how can entrepreneurs, mainly startup founders, consistently deliver on their paper promise?

I always say a strategy is a strategy only when it meets the competition. Until then, it is just a plan. It is crucial to put thoughts and plans into a paper. The challenge is in the execution, and this is where most fail. Everyone can have an idea, but who will ultimately execute the plan?

Startups have an advantage over larger established organizations because the founder also happens to be the designer, the approver, the salesperson, the marketer, and the one running around. The promise is alive and consistent, as the struggle to succeed is real.

A brand promise is as sacred as the scriptures. The brand is committing to do as it says. In established organizations, bureaucracy and a long chain of positions get involved that pull the life out of the bigger picture. Synergy along all platforms is fundamental.

As an African brand warrior, what metrics are essential to you, and what is your ideal go-to-market strategy?

Traditionally the metrics would be measuring retention, sales, and revenue, but I have a different approach before we get to that. With the clients I work with, I first observe if the founder’s vision and ethos are imbibed in the brand vision.

What is the brand positioning, and will the brand change behaviors positively, or will it uplift people? Is the brand performance in line with the architecture?

I like to put a value at “opportunity lost” which is the income that would have been generated for gaining customer value. That is a psychological approach as it gets one to feel the urgency for what would have been and triggers the team to recoup and move. One must know the territory they intend to play in and what is happening in the market and what gap will you come and fill. What solution are you offering?

What advice will you give an African diaspora looking to invest on the Continent, and what industries would you say are showing the most promise right now?

There is so much opportunity in Africa. It’s a continent where the sky has no limit, and there is no ceiling to growth for an individual in terms of business opportunities. It’s a continent blessed with an abundance of great people, land, sea, and sun—the perfect ingredients to start anything. Our soil is fertile and has so much wealth to gift.

Agriculture leading to agribusiness is what we refer to as the hotbed. Investing in this area, especially in the value chain, adds technology and AI with so much potential.

Another area of opportunity is angel investing in existing startups in Africa by the African diaspora to take them to the next level of scaleup. Finance has been and continues to be the challenge in Africa, and the interest rates are a deterrent.

Talk about the importance of value-added services as a tool for boosting the economies of African countries.

Value addition is the answer to all our problems in Africa. We are giving away our resources and raw materials to be converted elsewhere and brought back to us. I always say that when we send out a dollar to import something, that dollar never comes back. When we spend a Shilling or Cedis within our Nations, it rotates a minimum of 7 to 8 times exchanging hands in different ways within the economy.

When we buy and sell an imported soap, shirt, car, the money goes out and keeps/creates jobs for others outside our shore, while our people walk the dusty road looking for their bread and butter. We need to add value to our raw materials and resources locally and consume them, and then export the surplus. Collaboration between different players and stakeholders in the various stages of the value chain is crucial to harness synergies.

What are your views on how to unlock the dividends of the continental free trade agreement for Africans?

Sadly, due to the Pandemic, the delay of the AfCFTA has happened. I look forward to the start of this agreement where goods and people can move freely within the continent. No one ever said we could never trade with each other, so what has been stopping us? I see the opportunities for leveraging each other’s strengths. If one country is good and producing coffee and weak in infrastructure to process, then this can be done in another country within the continent.

If one country has leather but doesn’t have sufficient tanning centers and conversion to shoes or bags, this can be sent elsewhere within the continent to have it done. We already have regional bloc trade agreements in place; we now need to move on a continental front.

Outsiders see the potential hence the reason for many investments pouring into Africa. While they see potential, they also have a “fear” that together as a continent, we can be more powerful and soon feed our own and end up selling finished products that will affect their production facilities. A perfect example is the Silk Road, and the dangling carrot African Governments are being given as loans to build entry and exit points into African countries to take resources and bring back finished goods produced at a much cheaper cost.

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