/ / The Forest

Marketing works

By Chris Harrison

It’s always nice to highlight an East African success story. One that proves that marketing works. Perhaps more importantly, one that proves that marketing is a universal discipline that doesn’t require you to work in the US to be a competent practitioner.

Last week I met with a group of investors who have created a successful new brand in eleven months. The reason for the meeting was to plan a session with new investors who were interested in taking the brand to the next level. Note I used the word brand, because it was brand rather than company that attracted their interest. Brands do that.

The initial group of investors came together to create a profitable social enterprise with a clear business purpose ‘to utilise local forestry resources to raise a rural community out of poverty, whilst educating the urban middle class on the importance of conserving the Environment.’

They very carefully and explicitly defined their primary target audience – the urban dweller whose eyes needed to be opened to Nature. They called him (or her) Kim. They pictured Kim as about 37 years old, married with two Kids. Currently a Sales Manager at an international tyre distribution company but has had several jobs, i.e. Bank Teller, Pharma Sales Rep. Kim’s week is all work and work-related socialising. At weekends, he/she prefers to share time with spouse and kids – but is often too tired to do much more than visit malls or chill at home with a movie. As a family they dabble in internal tourism, but few safari and lodges breaks offer activities for the whole family that are worth leaving the couch for.

The investors then created a product that would deliver shared excitement for Kim’s whole family. An outdoor adventure experience in a beautiful forested environment offering zip lining, mountain biking, fly fishing, camping, archery, paintballing and horse riding. With plans and space for an increasing range of activities, and increasing educational opportunities.

They shaped a clear brand promise and personality, from which they were able to brief and select an absolutely appropriate name – The Forest. Followed swiftly by an impactful brand logo and a website URL and design . As a result, they found that they needed to invest surprisingly little money to promote their brand – social media recommendations and (free) broadcast media features drove enquiries.

On the brand delivery side, they harnessed youthful enthusiasm and a fair chunk of investment from the rural community surrounding their site. 84% of the workforce come from villages in the immediate vicinity and have been trained in a range of hospitality, catering, activity management and ancillary skills. 800 members of that same community have invested an amazing total of US$200,000 cash in the venture, and are actively represented at Board level.

Little surprise then, that their clearly defined performance targets have been smashed. Aiming for 40,000 visitors in 24 months, they have achieved 34,000 in 11 months and numbers continue to climb. Family visits at weekend have been bolstered by corporate business looking for space and facilities to conduct effective teambuilding.

And no surprise then, that the second wave of investors, backing the building of an eco-lodge on the site, have willingly joined the team. And as I write, potential Rwandese investors are asking for a replica site outside Kigali.

Perhaps the only irony of the story is not one member of the initial team would profess to be a marketer. So, the great thing about good marketing is this: you don’t have to hold a certificate to do it!

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.