Africa has not produced many known brands in the class of Chinua Achebe whose 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart is still selling millions of copies worldwide, or the class of Strive Masiyiwa and or Econet Global represented across the globe. Are our stories not good enough or they are simply not being effectively told? What role does story telling play in branding?

By Chad Mhako

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of sitting down with Simba Nyamadzawo, after he had just received a call to speak at a high profile event across the borders. “Mukoma (brother), I am travelling to Zambia and I will be speaking to young people there, what should I speak on?” He asked. “Share your story,” I said. “If there is one thing that has universal acceptance, it is your own story. It is like your own finger print that no one can duplicate,” I added.

A brand is much more than a logo or a name it is a story, a feeling, a promise that the product or service will perform what the consumer thinks it should; now all of these can be achieved in part through storytelling. Storytelling provides your brand with a personality, it gives a ‘human’ face to your brand, one that consumers can attach emotions to. Emotions create sentimental attachment, they help establish a bond between brand and consumers.

Telling your own unique story helps you to create a personal relationship with the consumer that even a similar product from a competitor can not duplicate. To create a compelling brand, a good product or service is still key, however it is very important to ensure that your audience/market/consumer relates to your story and that they buy into it, this is true for both personal and corporate branding.

Below are some examples of brands whose unique stories the world could not resist. Some told stories, others created stories that could be told.

Tofo Tofo

Tofo Tofo is a South African dance group made up of three Mozambiquans. The dance group shot to global fame in 2011 when they appeared in Beyonce’s award winning video ‘Run the World’. After watching the Tofo Tofo video online Beyonce was so impressed that it took her team four months to find the dancers and fly them to Los Angeles to feature their dances in the video for Run the World. When they landed in LA, they did not lose their identity nor did they forget to tell their story. Their unique ‘pansula foot’ movement stole the show and they ended up influencing much of the choreography of the video. The video became a global hit, winning awards including Best Choreographed Video at the MTV VMAs.


The Late Oliver Mtukudzi is one of Zimbabwe’s most successful musical exports having toured literally every continent. His power to tell stories in songs and the uniqueness of his voice and music rocketed him to global fame. In 1993 he composed the song ‘Neria’, for a Zimbabwean Movie under the same title. This song found its way to global market (including a rendition by Jeremy Oliver on the Voice) and despite the lyrics being composed in the native Shona venercular, the song found global appeal.


One of the ways that Steve Jobs used to build the Apple brand, besides his creative genius was that whenever he was given a platform to speak, he would capture his audience with the stories he told. Steve Jobs, was so connected to the Apple story that even his personal brand became synonymous with Apple. This made him popular and Apple even more popular. Apple as a brand has become much more valuable than the product line; it’s the attachment that consumers have to the brand which currently makes it one of the most sought after brands in the world.

Air Jordan

In 1984, the Air Jordan sports shoe was released by Nike as part of an endorsement deal for then little known and less influential Michael Jordan. The success of the Air Jordan was not necessarily to do with the product, but with the story they created around the sports shoe. The design was outlawed by NBA because the shoe was predominantly red and black to match the colours of the Chicago Bulls, a team that Jordan played for. The NBA would slap Michael Jordan with a US$5000-00 fine after every match for wearing shoes that had little white dominance on them as was customary during that time. In 1984 the Air Jordan was not released to the public, Nike was too busy creating a story, which the media could not resist telling, thereby creating massive publicity. After successfully creating a story for this brand, in 1985, Nike eventually released the Jordans to the public.  

‘The Marketing Mentor’ recently carried a series of tweets that caught my attention and I hope they will ignite something in you as well:

  1. The best brands show their human side, they tell their story. That story is authentic and real
  2. Focus on people’s hearts rather than their wallets, because brands are built on feelings
  3. Do not chase the competition, focus on the dream (uniqueness)
  4. Be authentic, no one can duplicate that

Have you ever asked yourself why Paris gets more visitors than Victoria Falls? My take is after all is said and done, we have not yet harnessed the power of storytelling. Our branding and public relations efforts are often far detached to the things we relate to. The success of the ‘Sho’t Left’ campaing in South Africa is in my view, a product of how well they have been able to tell the South African story through their constomers.

Africans are natural storytellers, yet most African brands (authors, musicians, products, software etc) fail to break into the global market either for failing to tell their stories well or for telling stories that a misaligned to their own realities.

Successful brands are original. It is easier to sell a product or service that you understand and relate to, one that solves a challenge that is closer to home.  It is difficult to convince a customer to pay for a product or service that we as the owners are not convinced about. The most convincing script is one that is related to market for which it is written. Mark Zukerbug started Facebook because he personally wanted to connect with fellow university students online.

The missing ingredient in most African businesses is a pinch of originality.

What is your story?

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