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In an exclusive interview Edidiong Ekong recently had with Tech Cabal, the senior marketing executive who has worked with African startups in different sectors including Boomplay, Klasha and Alerzo helping them to grow at scale and expand internationally explained his job in tech to an imaginary five year old kid. 

In Ekong’s interview, he shared his predictions about how African brands would utilize AI and machine learning technology to compete globally. 

Here’s how the conversation went:

(Can you) Explain your job to a five-year-old?

I’ll ask the child to imagine that his birthday is approaching and that he wants to throw a big party and invite all his friends to come and have a good time. As the head of marketing, it’s my job to make sure everyone knows about his party and how much fun they’ll have there, so they want to come to the party, that way he will have a lot of happy guests and a fantastic birthday celebration! To do this, I may send out invitations to everyone he wants to come, and I may even speak with his classmates and friends to tell them how great the party will be, so they want to attend the party.

Was marketing a career you decided to go into, or did you stumble into it?

My introduction to marketing began in 2012 during my undergraduate studies in Mathematics. I could have learnt computer programming like many of my friends, but I developed a deep interest in consumer behaviour, design, digital media and data analytics. I was curious about why customers interacted with brands online. During this time, I also enrolled on the Google Ad Academy programme where I built digital skills and got certified in Analytics, Search Advertising, Display Advertising, Shopping and Mobile advertising.

Afterwards, while still at university, I joined a cloud computing start-up, ShareQube, as a digital marketing intern. Since then, I haven’t looked back. Over the years, I have built my expertise and honed my skills, and I am grateful for the opportunities to work with tech companies of different sizes till today.

As the head of marketing, what’s one misconception people have about your job?

One common misconception that many have about my job is that about marketing is that it is just about creating ads, cute commercials and promotions or that marketing is all about sales. While advertising or sales is a part of marketing, there is much more to it. Marketing is about understanding the target audience, developing content and messaging that will resonate with them, and creating a strategy to reach and engage them effectively. It involves conducting market research, understanding consumer behaviour, product development, branding, data analysis, and continuous testing and refinement; these are just a few of the other areas we cover to achieve business objectives.

Can you describe the difference between marketing, sales, and growth in your own words?

Marketing is about understanding the target audience and creating a strategy to promote a product or service, thereby creating awareness and interest in it. Sales, on the other hand, is about converting that interest into actual purchases, closing the deal and selling the product or service to customers. Growth is about expanding a company’s reach and increasing its market share and revenue over time; marketing and sales play a role in that. 

Marketing helps to attract new customers, and sales is essential to close deals with those customers. All three areas are interconnected and critical to a company’s success but have distinct roles and objectives. 

You have experience working with tech startups in Africa. Can you tell us about your experience and learnings from that?

Generally, startups in Africa are fast-paced and demanding. Still, working with tech startups in Africa has been incredibly rewarding, each providing a valuable experience. Over the years, I have worked with startups in different sectors including Boomplay, Klasha and Alerzo, helping them to grow at scale and expand internationally. Also, there’s a growing tech-savvy population and a lot of potential for innovation, but there are also barriers to growth, such as limited infrastructure and funds. I have had to wear multiple hats and manage available resources, prioritising initiatives and exploring different innovative ways to maximise the marketing budget to impact the company’s success. 

Many startups/companies only bring on a marketing head when they’re desperately in need of growth, so there’s this huge expectation for you to start making an impact immediately.

It gets tougher dealing with CEOs who sometimes have common misconceptions about marketing, especially regarding short-term gain (quick wins) vs long-term equity. It can be a struggle to get budget approvals, especially with startups who have never tried large-scale marketing initiatives than sales. In the first few months, I make it a point to have in-depth conversations with the CEO and key management to understand their goals and set clear expectations and milestones. Honestly, this requires patience, but in the long run, they know this is not a day’s job. Marketing is an investment and will take time; it requires a deep understanding of the customer, the market, and the competitive landscape and a passion for creativity and innovation in developing marketing solutions that will set us apart and help us succeed. 

Also, the biggest mistake startups make when trying to grow is failing to pursue traction in parallel with product development. Many CEOs think that building killer products mean customers will beat a path to their doors. This is wrong. I have learnt that pursuing both traction and product in parallel will increase the company’s chances of success.

To sum up, my experience working with tech startups in Africa has given me a deeper appreciation for the importance of adaptation in marketing to local market conditions or unique product segments. The role of marketing nowadays is fluid and unique based on each company’s needs depending upon its role within the corporation as a growth champion, communication champion, sales instigator or something in between.

Black Sheriff Boomplay Golden Club Plaque

What (singular) achievement working with startups are you most proud of?

This is a tough question because, over the years, I have hit great milestones in my career. A singular achievement would be helping Boomplay grow from 8 million to over 47 million users in Nigeria. It was also great working on some of the biggest and culture-defining entertainment events and music projects, including Felabration, Tiwa 499 Concert, and Burna Boy African Giant Lagos activation, to mention but a few.

In your experience, which marketing hacks work and which are pure scams?

This is another tricky question because what works for one company might not work for another; there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. The best marketing strategies focus on the customer, provide real value, allow for co-creation and allow customers to define their brand experience. One hack that has worked for me is using the Bullseye methodology for marketing. This helps me zoom in on the best ideas quickly and cheaply through successive rounds of quick parallel tests. It’s simple, and it works.

What’s something you wish you knew earlier in your career/life?

One thing I wish I had known earlier in my career is the importance of developing one of what I refer to as better products: people. By people, I mean building and maintaining relationships with colleagues, partners, and clients—or networking. A solid professional network is beneficial for growth and advancement; it opens many doors and opportunities and makes it easier to get advice and mentorship. People are willing to take a chance on you based on what a network of people says about you.

What advice do you have for those looking to transition into marketing in tech?

The first is to build a strong foundation. I recommend developing a deep understanding of marketing fundamentals, including consumer behaviour, marketing research, brand management, and digital marketing. Reading books, attending events and workshops, and pursuing relevant certifications can help with this (Hubspot has some free courses that are solid to get them started). Networking – building solid relationships with other marketing professionals is essential. I recommend joining professional organisations and engaging with others to build a strong network. Next, they should take on side projects or internships in the tech industry to gain practical experience and develop their portfolio. This will allow them to put their skills and see what it’s like to work in the field.

Technology has clearly driven a lot of change in the marketing field. We talked about social media and its emergence. In the tech industry, it’s essential to have a strong understanding of technology and digital marketing tools. I also advise that newbies familiarise themselves with data analysis, automation, and other marketing technology to stay ahead of the curve. Also, because the tech industry is constantly evolving, they must remain current on the latest trends, tools, and best practices by following industry thought leaders on social media, subscribing to relevant newsletters and podcasts and participating in online forums & communities. By following these steps, anyone can successfully transition into a career in marketing in the tech industry.

What are the new trends in marketing that will drive growth for brands in 2023?

In 2023, brands will be able to drive growth and success by staying ahead of these trends and adapting to new technologies. So the new norm will be the use of AI and machine learning, interactive and immersive content, personalisation, and influencer marketing.

By Elijah Christopher

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