Five Keys to Breaking Into African Markets
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Five Keys to Breaking Into African Markets

‘Going global’ used to mean setting your sights on major world markets. But now that mindset limits your potential growth significantly. Today’s ambitious brands are going a step further by focusing their energy on breaking into the next big revenue drivers: emerging markets.

And Africa has several that have a lot of promise.

The continent is worth trillions of dollars right now, and six of the world’s top ten fastest-growing economies are African. Major players like Microsoft and Coca-Cola have entered markets there successfully in the last few years, and they’re making big wins. It’s now on the rest of the world to catch up.

But breaking into an emerging market isn’t easy. And Africa isn’t like other emerging markets. The continent is made up of 54 countries with over 2,000 languages (but only 12 of them are ‘official’) and has a population approaching two billion. To break into the continent successfully, you’re going to need a smart strategy.

Here are five key considerations you need to address when planning your African market expansion.

1. Language selection

Localizing into all 2,000-plus languages is clearly not an option. You need to create a language shortlist based on continent-wide demographics and your own customer data.

Start by identifying the African languages with the greatest numbers of speakers in the regions you are targeting. You’ll also want to do some snooping—find out which languages your competitors have localized into and why. You’ll then want to study your website analytics to determine which regions are sending you the most traffic. A fourth useful strategy is to use social media to monitor where your international customers are, and what they’re demanding. For example, do your customers ask lots of support-related questions? If so, maybe they’re having trouble finding the content they need in their native languages.

And lastly, research economic growth in your target markets—an expected boom in one region could significantly sway your decision making.

2. Customer trends and preferences

The way your target markets consume information is critical. Data will significantly impact things like which content you choose to localize, your web and multimedia designs, UX optimization, and keyword prioritization (i.e., to cater to voice search over typing).

First, understand how your consumers are accessing the internet: mobile is king in Africa. You might want to develop a new mobile app—or, if you already have one, focus more on its usability. You’ll also want to make sure your website is optimized for mobile viewing, and as responsive and quick-to-load as possible.

Then there’s social media. Facebook is now used by more than 80.7% of internet users across the continent, and Twitter isn’t far behind, with 1.1 million registered users in South Africa alone. LinkedIn is also popular across the continent, as are Yookos, Afroterminal and Africanzone. Your global marketing team will want to create accounts and publish content on as many of those channels as possible—after you research the social media preferences within your regions so you’re selecting the right channels for each market.

You’ll also want to think about localizing your video content, since video is highly consumed on mobile devices.

If feasible, consider voice-interface optimization for your mobile-first African users. Start by developing voice-search phrases for each market. These are usually conversational, longer-tail keywords. You’ll then want to seed your on-page content with the longer queries, and tag and title webpages using your new phrases. Next—because voice searches tend to be about finding things or places nearby—use local references and locations like ‘near Accra’ or ‘in Abuja’.

3. Resourcing

Finding the right translators is always crucial, but it’s more than a little bit challenging in Africa. First, African-language translators don’t tend to have college or university qualifications in linguistics or related fields—those resources are few and far between.

Instead, most translators have built their reputations through hands-on experience. Some are members of groups like Watchtower, who translate religious texts for audiences across Africa, and extend their capabilities as professional translators as a side gig. You’ll also find that, at least until the next generation produces linguists with formal language degrees, most African translators work on a part-time basis. This makes it very difficult to scale.

Set your expectations accordingly. You can avoid some of these risks by working directly with a trusted translation agency that can manage resourcing for you.

4. Training, tools and technology

African translators tend to have less experience with localization tools and processes than those in other countries. That means you’ll need to provide training on your translation processes and workflows, industry-standard tools, and quality management concepts. Client- and product-specific trainings are also important. This all requires investment, but it’ll bear fruit: every bit of knowledge you can pass on will help increase translation efficiency and quality.

It’s also true that translators in Africa don’t always have access to translation tools—licenses can be expensive. If it’s critical that they use them, you may have to buy the licenses.

Also, remember that internet connectivity can be challenging in some places, so using online tools can be problematic.

5. Quality management

Overall quality is influenced by factors like the quality of the source content, the experience and expertise of the translators, and the use of assets like translation memories (TMs), style guides, and glossaries. The availability of these resources varies widely for African languages, but it’s worth trying to gather everything you can, create glossaries and align past translations to create TMs. If you have a source-language style guide, be sure to recreate it for each local market.

Check that your translation provider always has a second set of eyes doing the edits or proofreading. Also make sure that all your in-country stakeholders are engaged to review content—especially highly visible, highly branded pieces. Finally, it’s worth investigating whether there are any quality-automation tools available for your target languages.


Africa is exploding onto the global scene in both population and economics, and its potential is huge. Powerful international brands have already embraced the continent with customized products and services and localized materials—and are seeing great returns.  Now that you’ve grasped the basics on localizing for the region, it’s time for you to join them.