Without even knowing it, Ghana tapped into something that few paid much attention. It was the African American and Afro-Caribbean Heritage traveller and visitor.
In 2019 Ghana earned nearly $2 billions USD in one year on its
nacental Year of Return activities. It was the first of its kind, spearheaded by brilliant minds from Africa and its TransAtlantic cousins. It was estimated it would have earned far more in 2020 were it not for the sudden appearance of the mysterious and ever varying Covid pandemic. Its success defied conventional wisdom which argued that the average
Africa tourist was middle-aged Western European looking for a Safari adventure and cheap sex
tourism. The Year of Return was different in that it called upon the best that an African nation had to
offer rather than the worst–or its resources or its most stereotypical. Instead, for the first time, Ghana represented an African nation creating a narrative for itself and for its future.
Ghana is a great example of the power of interconnectedness between similar communities and what
can be achieved when they work together to create their own dynamics. Not only did that Year of
Return bring hundreds of African Americans, but also other non-African Foreigners. Ghana created an
entire industry for itself from a population that most big brand advertising and marketing firms had abandoned. Ghana’s early success in this new genre of travel is a lesson to others–not just African nations, but everyone seeking to find or even create a market that fits their products or services. The
lesson is that it can be done–and you can do it.
The lesson is also to find people who actually believe in what you are doing. It’s probably the most important lesson. Branding, marketing and advertising is all about consumer buy-in. Buy-in, social proof and other sociological mechanisms are necessary in finding the kind of partners and ad professionals you need to succeed. Nollywood has already taught us that perfection is not necessary to be profitable. Annually, this industry earns $590 million to $1 billion USD. Once confined to dvds, local television and thumb drives–Nollywood movies can now be streamed online at popular online streaming sites and cable television.
Netflix itself earns about $7.483 billion dollars each year–and
most think of it as a marvel. However, few people remember the Nigerian “IrokuTV” which started streaming Nollywood movies at its inception in 2011–imagine if it had stayed tge course with passionate and sympathetic branding professionals behind it that believed in its mission. IrokuTV was also a streaming more capably before Netflix who had only just started streaming movies four years earlier in 2007 deviating from its original model of sending dvds via post mail. The lessons of IrokuTV teaches us to be resilient in business and connect with professionals who are passionate and hungry–not just those connected to big name advertising agencies that are divorced from local realities. Had IrokuTV stayed the course, it might have been as big as Netflix across the continent of Africa–acquiring digital rights to stream movies from Nigeria to Angola and South Africa to Chad.
Quite often, developing economies, SMEs and undrepresented entreprenuers believe they must go with established companies; many of which do not truly see the value or the selling point in their products
and services. Can you imagine Ghana approaching a large advertising agency in New York, spending
millions to draw the interest of Africans of the TransAtlantic slave trade in the US, Canada and Caribbean? You can already imagine the Ad Rep’s dry response, “African Americans don’t travel. That will never work!” And even if s/he accepted the assignment, how invested would they actually be in the idea? The campaign would likely end up in the hands of a junior partners or an intern left to scrap.
Often, smaller more socially and culturally connected marketing
and branding professionals will work for far less and provide better quality and greater nuanced work
that big box ad agencies wont–or can’t. The magic of real creativity and innovation comes from professionals who are passionate and truly excited about your growth.
Recently Liberia hired a former CNN analyst to promote the nation to the U.S. Media and to African-Americans hoping to “traveling to the Motherland” because of its unique colonial history and connection to the United States chattel slavery institution. However, the analyst was an attorney and a politician–not marketing, communications, PR or journalism; demonstrating that many SMEs, developing economies and other nontraditional organizations are naive about what will push their national narratives forward.
The trouble is that slick big industry advertisers and people in the know–well, they know that most SMEs, developing economies and others
don’t always know how the game is played. They offer overpriced services that aren’t exactly what will
work or bring positive attention. This is where finding talent is so key. You need advertising, marketing and branding professionals who believe in the mission. Do your representative believe in your brand? Do you? Are you investing in influencers who are becoming engines of growth? A passionate marketing or branding professional is going to include influencers in their toolkit!
Imagine creating an industry around what you do best, your culture or resources and the artifacts you already have? Ghana’s revenues can only climb as long as it keeps encouraging growth in its new heritage industry and limiting barriers to entry and accessibility.
The mainstream often overlooks or undervalues those outside of it–but that doesnt preclude those from brilliance or the ability to find lucrative new markets and avenues for growth. Percy Robert Miller, better known as Master P, negotiated one of the highest recording deals in the industry at his time because he was willing to go it alone with the public and lean, hungry professionals and partners like himself. FUBU was able to sell $400,000 in clothing it hadn’t yet manufactured because it dared to forge its own success models and Nollywood and many underserved independent film makers created value that translated into some of the largest mega deals in history because they took their ideas to the market and not the critics. They were successfull in their endeavors because they believed in them. They negotiated them. They worked along side people who believed in their potential.
Ghana had no idea, just 20 years ago that their old slave dungeons and
painful history could be the source of unimaginable revenue, friendship and growth. Whether you are a
startup, SME, or developing economy do not give up. What do you have that you can turn into profit?
Work with a professional or even an agency–but not just any–one that believes in you and the
possiblity you have to offer for populations, audiences and consumers that the mainstream may have overlooked.