- Nigeria has undergone over 160 business enabling reforms, improving the business climate and making it easier for companies to operate in the country.
- Foreign organizations interested in entering the Nigerian market need to understand the local context, including socio-cultural peculiarities, to develop effective communication strategies and achieve success.
- Stakeholder communication in Nigeria requires a personal touch, formal courtesy, and a positive tone of voice. Stakeholders are interested in sustainability and positive social impact.
The statement above is not merely an inspirational quote, but a reality for organisations whose boards have made an informed decision to expand to Nigeria. Many times, foreign boardrooms and executives are apprehensive of their organisations including Nigeria in the expansion plan due to the strong yet uninformed negative bias about the developing economy and exaggerated insecure environment.
These forebodings are primarily informed by foreign embassies adding Nigeria to their red travel lists and foreign media outlets excessively covering the developmental challenges of the country such as the poverty rate, crimes committed by Nigerian nationals and certain deficiencies of the public governance system. Those who, however, choose to venture into the country, will benefit from learning about the business environment from foreign nationals already active in Nigeria.
What is the business context?
The overwhelmingly negative news coverage does not mirror the actual reality of positive expert prognosis and visionary initiatives adopted by the country’s leaders to ease doing business. Within seven years after the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council was established, Nigeria has undergone over 160 business enabling reforms which contributed to the country moving up to 15 positions in one year in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index. It happened right before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021 and the Ukraine crisis in 2022.
It is therefore understandable that Nigeria, as well as the entire world, has been dealing with pushback since then. Yet, even amidst these global crises, the country has been diligently working on new business-friendly initiatives. In 2022, the Nigeria Startup Act was adopted. The law creates a fertile ground for joint innovative companies of Nigerian nationals and foreigners, and the removal of excessive bureaucratic barriers. Further adoption of the Business Facilitation Act in February 2023 simplified the registration of a company via automation and allowed for the creation of a single tech window to submit importation and exportation documents.
Similar new initiatives infuse a justified hope that the Nigerian business environment will bounce as the nation prepares for a change in democratic leadership in May. For foreign organisations that see exciting opportunities beyond risks on the surface, a well-designed operations plan and a positive business climate are half of the deal. To win in the Nigerian market, a profound underground work to understand the local context must come first. Without it, the most well-thought expansion plan will fall flat because a rough communications strategy will mar projected business outcomes. People can forgive the occasional cluelessness by already established organisations with proven reputations, but for new entrants, every misstep may lead to an irreversible fall.
Socio-cultural Peculiarities for brands to know ahead
Nigeria is a multicultural and multireligious society, and a one-size-fits-all approach will certainly lead to failure. It is important to have a basic understanding of the target audience and population distribution upon market entrance. There are thirty-six states plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and six geopolitical zones. This is important to know if your organisation is going to have a national outreach (e.g. a broadband service provider) or work within a narrow audience segment (e.g. a fund for northern Muslim female founders). This understanding will ensure you do not overspend resources on communications.
Regardless of the ethnic group, the society is highly religious with religion embedded in the very lifestyle. Christian and Muslim holidays are celebrated at the national level, and official business activity pauses on such days. Foreign brands, especially from countries where religion plays a less pivotal role, should keep it in mind while designing brand creatives and public messages. Companies should respect the religious views of the population and ensure that disrespect to any religion is expunged from corporate materials.
Beyond observing religious holidays, the people are also sensitive to significant political events, such as regional or national elections, as you would notice that business visibility and sometimes activity are put on hold during these periods. Many organisations temporarily stop social media activities as a matter of corporate ethics during an election season until people feel less agitated. Nationwide protests and social disruptions, such as #EndSARS in 2020, are another serious reason to halt public business activities until public peace is restored.
Stakeholder communication principles
Formal courtesy matters a lot, especially during the stage of introduction and negotiations. It is completely in place to ask how your partner/vendor is doing and express hope that they are fine in official email correspondence. This personal touch creates more trust and poses you as a business person who cares about people, not only profit. Greetings and empathy first, business second!
The propensity for dissolving straightforward business communication with personal elements is reflected in another communication aspect — many stakeholders prefer physical or virtual meetings over emails. Even if you are just getting acquainted with a potential service provider, you will likely be invited to the office or a virtual venue already after the first point of contact. Long-written conversations are less preferred. For the same reason, a semi-official courtesy visit is sometimes more welcomed than a formal presentation of a proposal.
Communication messages, whether it is a social media post or an email, are better perceived when they are life-affirming. Tired of negative media narratives, people eagerly heed cheerful and celebratory tone of voice. It is also the reason any form of unconventional humour (e.g. sarcasm, dark humour) should be excluded from the messages.
Practically, every stakeholder segment has one remarkable thing in common — an interest in sustainability and positive social impact. People are getting more keen on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards to bring to business activities. They tend to assess organisations before granting their loyalty to the brand: “How are you going to improve my life and the life of my community?” The image of a community is a powerful narrative for Nigerians. People will be more likely to become committed to a brand if it proffers value to their communities, villages, and loved ones. Nigeria is a collectivist society, and people enjoy seeing that brands understand it, too.
The decision-making process is generally long and can take up to several months before a potential partner gives you the verdict. Stakeholders tend to carefully review the organisation and calculate whether its investment will be worth the value. It is a normal occurrence in an economy where the level of fraudulent schemes is quite high and the dispute resolution process is prolonged. Organisations should be moderate in following up. There is no need to remind you about the potential deal frequently — your stakeholders remember, they are only taking time. Give it to them.
Effective communication channels
In Nigeria, emails are not a panacea, especially for the first touch. Many times, a response through a direct line, for example, a phone number or a messenger, will follow much faster. One of the reasons is that mobile devices are more common than laptops/desktops for daily use, and direct lines are more convenient. It works well for potential business partners, vendors, and event organisers.
It is a different story with stakeholders such as regulators and banks. The speed of registration and issue resolution affects business operations and communication must be prompt and efficient. Although they have online forms, it is better to physically visit a nearby office after submission.
To get exposure to potential business partners, there are closed communities in the form of WhatsApp and LinkedIn groups where professionals from the same industry/area gather. Generally for business-to-business communication, there are LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram as the most demanded platforms so far. For example, Facebook is not on the list as it is largely perceived as a personal social media platform, and TikTok is mostly used for business-to-customer entertaining and educational content. On LinkedIn and WhatsApp, executives represent their companies through personal brands and expand their network.
Media & content consumption
The media landscape in Nigeria is specific. There are the same outlets for both socio-political news and business updates, yet some media platforms are more business-inclined, such as Nairametrics. For tech updates, there is a separate bunch of pan-African outlets.
To get media coverage pro bono, the content can not be branded and promotional unless the update is life-changing for the entire industry. There is a huge demand for experts, or in other words thought leadership, content produced by decision makers of a company.
Some of the most demanded types of content are thought leadership and celebrations of corporate/executive achievements, so the business expansion itself, the appointment of your management or signing a memorandum of understanding would be a newsworthy cause. As an organisation progresses in the market, another demanded form of content would be infographics as they show impact expressed in numbers. If you have remarkable results in other regions, communicate them in an impact report to a Nigerian audience with your development plans for the country — your stakeholders’ trust will increase.
An alternative to media coverage is a corporate/executive LinkedIn profile — LinkedIn is the place where Nigeria’s business community congregates; Twitter is a close second favourite platform. The creation of a localised corporate profile and optimisation of executives` profiles will go a long way in your communication efforts.
The Nigerian market is challenging for brands that enter it before planning a communications strategy. Preliminary learning of the socio-cultural and social media & media landscapes, as well as content consumption habits, will help a foreign brand get accepted by the citizens.
About the author
Varvara Astapova is a Senior Communications Associate at Mosron Communications, a public relations consultancy that provides services to business-to-business and social impact organisations operating in or looking to enter the sub-Saharan Africa market. Varvara has been working in the sub-Saharan African market for 3+ years and has vast experience partnering with leading Nigerian organisations and executives as part of Mosron`s international team.
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