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The tricks used to lure customers

By | March 15th 2012

By Anthony Ngatia

In end times, the holy book says, seven women will be seeking one man as their husband. This could be because there will be fewer men around as scientists predict that by that time, the number of women will be seven times higher than that of men.

And while we might not be in the last days in the local business arena, what is happening bears striking parallels to what was foretold by the old prophet, Isaiah.

Kenyan businesses everywhere are claiming linkage with foreign firms that are usually the big players in their industry. Some local businesses have gone to the extent of printing glossy brochures in order to remove any doubts in the mind of prospective customers about the quality of the business they are dealing with. The most notorious businesses are private colleges, universities, and consultancies.

A chat with any marketing manager or a director of most Kenyan firms today will usually feature a testimony of how their clients come from as far as "Europe, the US, South Africa and the wider Eastern Africa." From their talk, you could assume that the association with foreign customers and businesses is a fashion statement that every business craves for.

This could not be truer for the myriad of precariously placed sign boards along the streets of downtown Nairobi shouting the name of a college, university or a business that purport to be ‘affiliated to company X of America, Britain or South Africa’.

It appears that for Kenyan businesses, another war front has clearly been opened in the brand names where the greatest and most competitive company is that seen to have direct linkage with the famous global brands.

So what is in a name? According to Absalom Imbaya, a marketing manager with a Nairobi-based multinational, the Kenyan businesses know that big foreign brands have a reputation for producing products that are superior to those produced by local and upcoming brands — which are associated with fakeness or sloppy quality.

"A brand name means a lot in business as customers develop loyalty to it over time and it becomes difficult to transfer once its cemented. And since Kenyan businesses are aware of the difficulty of positioning themselves within the market fast, they seek to invoke connections with known and established brands which are from foreign firms," he says.

While some firms choose the right path to the affiliation, some will do it illegally. The worst offender so far has been some tertiary colleges that allege affiliations with the local renowned universities only for the latter to come out and denounce any affiliations. These firms will often take out full-page adverts denying any linkage to the local colleges.

Typically, the local firms claiming affiliations with other established brands will even use their logos in their marketing brochures and correspondence documents.

Francis Mulwa who has his own training company says that affiliating a business with a foreign firm has an impact on their business.

"If you claim you are affiliated with a renowned foreign brand, you get many customers who seem to have more confidence in you," he says.

Branding tricks

He swears that since he realised this branding trick, he reprinted all his organisation’s documents and correspondence papers to show that his firm is actually a local branch of a reputable global brand. So far, the trick has worked miracles.

"We receive many clients who believe we have linkage with the renowned global brand in training," he says. This is despite the fact that the only connection his firm has with the famous company is that they bought some training manuals and programmes from them through an agent.

Annette Mwaura, a proprietor of a Nairobi-based computer firm says that she has no regrets whatsoever for ‘cheating’ customers that hers is an affiliate of a certain well known brand in computing world since "it is only in that way that customers trust her business" and believe that she is selling original products.

"It’s just in response to the market demands," she says. "Our customers seem to have a jaundiced view of local brands and feel comfortable dealing with a firm that has linkages with a foreign one."

This claim, although false, also enables her to charge higher prices for her products in the pretext that the goods are original from the dealer or subsidiary, she says.

She however says that she understands the reason why customers behave like that.

"If you buy products from a business that is foreign, you are perceived to belong to a certain class."

That is the reason behind our obsession with Italian suits, Turkish rugs and carpets, and such like. No one will care for products from a company known as "Tetu Witu’ or ‘Mogotio Enterprises’, since such brand names are seen as too local, or jua kali and mediocre in their offerings.

But a company with a posh sounding English name and claiming linkage with a foreign big company will tend to have a beeline of customers regardless of how lousy its offerings are.

So, what is your take? Should Kenyan companies continue with this awfully unpatriotic fraud or stop?

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