Wherever you turn, the convergence of industries is redefining consumer patterns, social interactions and the heightened need for hyper-consumerism. Sectors such as telecommunications, finance, and technology are converging to form unique business models. This is forcing companies to restructure their offerings or reshape entire industry landscapes. The result is an environment where low/high tech, finance and culture are jostling to design innovative ways to reach new markets and service people in personalised ways.
In this piece, I will attempt to show two examples of what one can call pivotal shifts that are accelerating convergence across Africa and influencing innovation and brand ecosystems.
A panacea for Afrocentric glory
Afrobeats, (not to be confused with Afrobeat) is a modern-day umbrella term that describes West African pop music. This genre is charting a new path for African culture, brands, fans and has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon that is influencing global culture and trends. Two months ago, Billboard charts, in partnership with Afro Nation, launched the Afrobeats Songs chart. CKay’s Love Nwantiti, which Billboard called Africa’s first global hit exposed a global audience to this African sound. Wizkid’s Essence feat. Tems solidified this position. Burna Boy’s Grammy-award-winning Album, Twice as Tall, was the cherry on top. The convergence between African lifestyle, global trends, and business is a signal for foresighted leaders to sharpen their strategies and embrace two critical principles; culture trumps everything and that customer experience is transient by design and connected in unexpected places by choice. The business of Afrobeats has carved an enviable position as an investment with good returns for brands seeking proximity to culture. Similar to its American counterpart (hip hop), this genre represents bankable social influence.
Take Chipper Cash – A Nigerian mobile payment business that understands the power of the two principles I mentioned above. Chipper Cash enables free and instant peer-to-peer cross-border payments in Africa, Europe and USA. They partnered with Burna Boy and named him their brand ambassador, a masterstroke that has catapulted the brand into the public consciousness across three continents. Burna Boy is an influential global citizen and identifies with Chipper Cash’s converging business model that combines tech, business, entertainment, and finance in its value proposition. Chipper Cash understands that people follow brands that share their passions and beliefs. Afrobeats provides the ideal vehicle to tap into prevailing aspirations and passion points.
Afrobeats is a convergence point ripe for partnerships between culture and brands. Culture does not mean sweeping statements about vibrant Africans, street slang or idolatry. It is a deep and personal immersion into social narratives that drives social cohesion. It requires searching for a passion point to celebrate and co-exist without a parasitic mindset. Afrobeats is a lifestyle movement that is open and embraces brands to find a connection to an irreverent experience. Popular culture movements such as Amapiano in South Africa or Rumba in Congo are vehicles for partnerships that bring creativity to products and experiences, specifically for established brands that battle to remain relevant.
Afrobeats teaches us that on a continent with a majority of young people, building authenticity requires a deliberate embrace of lived experiences as a platform to build customer strategies.
The diaspora effect
Human migration has been a natural phenomenon since the times of Homo Sapiens. Today, people continue to move from one place to another in search of economic prosperity or social security. This migratory pattern birthed an economic and social system that brought financial services and technology together to create a new industry. From Western Union to modern-day players in Africa, remittances have been a convergence catalyst for people and businesses, redefining the concept of foreign investment in major African economies. In some African countries, remittance flows are becoming a direct contributor to GDP growth, outpacing FDIs and driving the macro and micro transformation of communities in diverse environments.
Africans themselves are at the converging point – a new frontier for industries that have quickly caught onto the idea of a borderless marketplace. We are witnessing a moment in history where our communities are becoming a mobile-driven society and a shift in users demanding immediacy and convenience when making their payments. It is this burgeoning emergence of cross border digital commerce that is poised to remodel the power remittance systems as tools for pervasive and localised fintech ecosystems. Remittance companies operating in Southern Africa have opened up avenues for accelerated innovation to occur. An example is the rise of cross-border grocery online platforms that service migrants in South Africa and their families in countries across Southern Africa.
Transient communities are a key ingredient in leading convergence. Their lifestyles are blended and require unique solutions to service their dual lives. What is exciting about this phenomenon is the impact it has on far-flung communities that have been on the margins of innovation. Today, smallholder farmers in places like Dagana, Senegal can raise yields with the intervention of agile fintech solutions. Migrant breadwinners South Africa can build and maintain their homes in remote villages across Malawi. Proof of this impact and the opportunities therein is a record number of African start-up fintechs that have raised funding to deploy their life-changing ideas and unique solutions to eliminate Africa’s developmental challenges.
African fintech companies are building their product ecosystems around this borderless marketplace and with time, they will bridge the financial divide for Africans in more tangible ways than traditional financial services companies. Their ability to place customers’ context and geographical locations at the heart of their operating models will allow them to innovate at the speed of life. The impact of this convergence is far-reaching. Women are being empowered as they are the central recipients and managers of remittances. Pervasive informality that exists in the formal remittance flows requires innovation as formal remittance providers have barriers that fuel the informal sector due to the cash problem and limited access to a pervasive cashing and cashing out footprint. Integration of informal remittance providers (ISPs) into the formal value chain is a strategic direction that can harmonise the sector. ISPs tend to have closer ties to communities of senders and receivers and are more familiar, accessible and trusted than formal providers.
I have outlined two examples that signal the power of convergence in creating a distributed network of organisations at the forefront of strengthening Africa’s economic story. It is incumbent on leading and emerging brands to craft future-proofed brand and experience strategies that allow them to exist not as purveyors of things but as enablers of human prosperity wherever they operate.