Trends are powerful. They are just like sea waves. If you swim in the same direction as the waves, you will get ashore quickly and with minimal effort. If you swim against the waves…. well, I will leave that to your imagination.
Several years ago when the information age took off, those that saw the trends early and rode their businesses on the trends prospered a great deal and those businesses that sat down and said to themselves, we’ll change later….. well, most of them have either collapsed or become beggars. In today’s world business trends still abound; and the most successful organisations are those who are consciously open to continuous learning – learning what is new, learning what is driving the world economy and most important of all, learning how new business trends can be used to their local advantage.
The purpose of this article is to introduce the reader to some of the trends driving modern day business. I am obliged to add that businesses based in Africa who take the above learning approach to continuous learning have greater opportunities for success for two reasons – (1) the world economic attention is only now turning on Africa and very fast too. Investors are now beginning to look to Africa as an opportunity to boost their failing economies. Such investors over the years have shied away from investing in Africa because of the perceived notion “things don’t work in Africa as they do in the west”.
The truth however is not that things don’t work in Africa as they do in the west – it rather is because businesses in Africa have been a little slow in adopting new ways of doing business. In order words, international trends, (the consistent way of doing business in the world) takes time to catch up in Africa. As a result, investors have always struggled with having to adopt, learn and do business in Africa in a different way from the consistent way they know to do it throughout the rest of the world. Organisations in Africa, who are able to identify with world business trends and ride on them are thus in many ways presenting themselves to external investors and partners as dynamic businesses. Investors will begin to see these organisations as the few out of the lot who can provide them with a platform to do business in Africa in the same way business is known to be done everywhere else. (2) Secondly, and this is a forgone knowledge, that organisations who are able to ride on international trends early are able to reap the benefits brought about by those trends before they get crowded out.
The content of this article may not be applicable to every businesses but it is my belief that new ideas that have become strong business trends will be introduced to you and that you will now be in a position to investigate them further and begin to ask yourself and indeed your organisation, how it may help improve your business and add a few more zeros to your profit. Some of the trends are those you may already have heard but didn’t really understand, others may be new to you. This is NOT a detailed university lecture, it is simply an introduction to these business concepts.
30 or so years ago, businesses that succeeded were those that had secret information that nobody else had and also the resources to do something with such information. When the internet became a communication Revolution, one of the things it did was to make information readily available. Eventually, there was so much information available that it became very cheap and no more a competitive advantage to have just information. The next step was to do something with that information, which is when the so called Knowledge Economy came into being. Little by little organisations who were able to use such information to their advantage became more successful. This is how we moved from the information age, to the knowledge age. Then eventually the internet made knowledge readily available. In order words apart from making information available, it also made available how to use that information efficiently and profitably. As a result neither Information nor Knowledge was a competitive asset anymore. They both became very cheap.
The second business trend I want to bring to your attention is “Social Media”. And without doubt I am sure many readers will have immediately had their minds lit up with “Facebook!!” or “Twitter”. That’s good. With the rise of information, came about a problem. You see, before the information age, you needed people (human beings) to be in the picture for you to get access to information. And if you think about knowledge being the way in which information was used, you’ll realise also that in the past, every business needed real people to teach them how information could be used. In the past also, you needed a customer to be physically present in order to transact a business. With the information and knowledge age happening through the internet, business became more and more divorced from people. After so many years of the information age, the world has realized that human beings are indeed social animals and there was a need for the human reconnection… enters Mr Social media. The social media is simply an attempt to re-connect with people who were divorced during the information and knowledge booms….. it’s a way of adding back the “human factor” to the already booming information and knowledge age – Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook was one of the pioneers in adding a human and social dimension.
INTERACTIVE MARKETING & CROWDSOURCING
The whole idea about marketing is that it is meant to tell your customers what you have to offer, for how much, where, when and how. Currently, marketing in Africa broadly falls in two categories – you carry out a marketing analysis and then put out an advert hoping that it will entice customers to buy your products and services or you put out a promotion so that customers get something a little bit more than your product or service. Today, we can safely call them traditional methods of marketing. Two of the biggest shortfalls of this methods of marketing are that (1) It’s a one way road – you offer something to the customer and the customer either buys it or leaves it. There is no opportunity for the customer to offer you anything, even if it is for free (2) these traditional methods of marketing fail to recognize the fact that customers change all the time, their desires change, their tastes change, they are always changing but the question is, does your marketing change at the same pace as your customers.
STRATEGIC ALLIANCES / PARTNERSHIPS
Almost every business wants to grow. The shareholders, the directors, the employees all want the organisation to grow. They may all have different reasons for wanting such a growth but the bottom line is they all want the growth. Every business grows by either increasing its share in the existing market or finding its way into new markets. There are many ways of achieving any of these but traditionally, there are two ways. 1) by building the growth. This is the hard method where everybody in the company has to work very very hard to grow the company internally. No 2) is to buy the growth – through a merger or an acquisition. Even though Mergers and Acquisitions appear to be the easiest option – there is a hard truth, two hard truths in fact.
The remaining green environment of Africa and other developing countries is the salvation for the rest of the world. Why? Because scientists have now proven that the more green environments disappear, the more rising temperatures the world will have to endure, the more droughts and farming, the more tsunamis etc. if I haven’t yet painted the picture, then let me say it more clearly, that Africa is soon going to be under pressure to stay green. The whole idea about a green business is that businesses are required to actively ensure that their operational activities are either NOT harming the environment or are actively helping to keep the world’s green environment green. As a result, it is no more enough to just say “we care about the environment” – your business has to demonstrate it.
The core of this article is not to list out the many ways through which a company can demonstrate its greenness or its carbon footprint – that’s what Google is for. On the other hand however, what I would like to put across is this – many western businesses have become very conscious of their responsibility to keeping the environment green.
Charles Kofi Fekpe, Grant Fund Manager at Crown Agents UK