Africa is a world-leading fintech market. Here’s how Mastercard built a fanbase across the continent

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Nairobi, Kenya—November 2019

For the last decade, Africa has been rapidly adopting digital finance—mobile payments, digital credit, cryptocurrency—faster than either the United States or European Union. Unencumbered by legacy finance infrastructure, the continent has leapfrogged physical banking and plastic cards. With just a few clicks, users can pay bills and each other through telecom carriers or an agent network, whether or not they have a bank account. In 2018, Sub-Saharan Africa was responsible for an astonishing 45.6% of mobile money activity in the world—or about $26.8 billion in transactions in December alone which is over $300 billion annually. That’s unbelievable.

With 57% of Africa’s adult population still underbanked, and many lacking access to credit, Mastercard is building digital products to help the market mature and be even more inclusive. That’s why we’ve set up an Innovation Lab here in Nairobi, where we’ve developed and deployed products like Mastercard Farmer’s Network and Jaza Duka for East Africa. Mastercard Farmer’s Network is a digital platform that enables small farmers to buy, sell, and receive payments for agricultural goods via their phones. Jaza Duka is a cashless microcredit platform that helps small entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

This has created an exciting challenge for Mastercard’s marketing efforts: How does a global company reach a new consumer base that hasn’t historically been part of a formal economy? The people who are most financially disadvantaged are often charged the worst fees and usually lack access to financial literacy. So how do we engage them and earn their trust? 

The answers aren’t just useful for Africa’s digital payment market, but a much-needed redesign of how we should run global branding campaigns at this existential juncture between Marketing 4.0, an era powered by mobility, connectivity, and social media, and Marketing 5.0, an era powered by AI, augmented reality, and 5G technology.

Here’s how three of Mastercard’s core marketing strategies are building a new fanbase in Africa:

1. Embrace multi-sensory branding in today’s multi-sensory world

The overwhelming flow of digital content makes it difficult not just for advertisers but for every content creator. There is constant competition for eyeballs. How do you differentiate yourself? 

Instead of competing in the same old spaces, like social media, billboards, TV, Mastercard’s branding has gone elsewhere. While important, an exclusively visual focus leaves a lot on the table. Audio, for example, has become a core place for consumer engagement—via podcasts, smart speakers, and AR. With voice shopping projected to hit $40 billion by 2022, we saw an opportunity to cut through the barrage of visuals and create Mastercard’s first “sonic brand” which debuted this past February. Sight and sound aren’t the only senses, so we also created Mastercard’s first brand flavors: passion and optimism-flavored macrons.

Of course, visually we still do plenty, including the recent evolution of Mastercard’s logo to become a symbol brand. Globally, over 84% of people recognized our logo without our name. So why do we need it? Now, when you go to check-out on your phone, our brand looks disproportionately bigger, catching your eye at the most critical point of your purchase decision.

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Build global resonance through local relevance

Finally, local adaptability is vital when thinking about global branding. The effort to create Mastercard’s sonic brand involved over a year of research and consultation with musicologists and award-winning artists. The musically-inclined among us won’t be surprised to learn we landed on a melody that uses the major pentatonic scale, which is the most universally-recognized scale and easily rearranged and adapted to different genres.

But when we first started working on Mastercard’s sonic brand, we wanted to know: Is there one single, universal melody with a single rendition that can appeal everywhere in the world. The answer is “No.” We found, for example, when people in Cape Town loved it, people in Cairo were indifferent to it and vice-versa. Tastes diverge across geographies. That’s why we came up with one underlying melody that we can rearrange and layer for different cultures, communities, and contexts. We have created more than 100 versions of the sonic logo already. There’s one for Dubai, one for Shanghai, another for Bogota. There’s a five-second version and an hour-long operatic version. There’s a different version for when you’re shopping at Tiffany’s or watching a UEFA Championship League game.

Here’s our sonic brand version for Cape Town:

3. Leverage local partners

To increase the reach of Jaza Duka, we brought on Unilever and Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) as partners. The three companies shared a set of principles about wanting to create a more inclusive world. That was the program’s genesis. Critically, Unilever and KCB have both rapport and a physical presence throughout Africa. Unilever have distributors and sales people. KCB is one of Kenya’s largest banks. You don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Likewise, leverage local qualitative researchers and agencies. Every marketer should be a student of culture. Personally, I love talking to film and TV producers. They aren’t just in touch with culture; they shape culture. 

Ultimately, a versatile brand allows you to embrace changes in the market—like the introduction of 5G and boom of fintech in Africa. This is where Mastercard’s brand is headed: into new countries, into new forms, into new senses. Consumers aren’t interested in the old, intrusive forms of marketing. That’s why ad blockers abound. We are finding users through subtler, locally-relevant experiences. That’s where the a-ha moment happens. 

Learn more

about how Mastercard is driving Africa’s fintech revolution.

This article was produced on behalf of Mastercard by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff. Sources are provided for informational and reference purposes only. They are not an endorsement of Mastercard or Mastercard’s products.