A recent incident at Cocobean, a popular nightspot in Kigali highlights how Rwandans need to wake up to this new digital age. First of all, Cocobean should not exist, it is a death-trap in violation of almost every safety code in the books, a tinderbox waiting to blow and kill people one day. The fact that a rich nightclub owner can open a nightclub in his own house in a residential area is a sign of corruption in CoK. Then add to the fact that it is so small, barely 10mx20m but accommodates hundreds of people is a accident waiting to happen, you never get served, it is crammed full of pickpockets and phone-thieves. An Albino lady was denied entry due to her skin colour, she was manhandled and assaulted when she complained. The club then went on the offensive, accused her of being a drunken nuisance, said they were in their rights to deny and assault her. Then the minister of justice was informed and promised to look in to it, Cocobean stuck to its guns and still went on the attack. At no point did it occur to them to apologize or at least say “We are sorry you feel you were discriminated against, it will never happen again.” Or even better, offer her free entry and a drink next time, end of story, we all go home happy. The problem in Rwanda is Brands are eponymous, people are brands and brands are people. The Owner Cobra has already watched his clubs burn down twice before his eyes, he’s now watching his third club burn down before his very eyes. When people attacked Cocobean, they attacked him, he attacked back, defended himself, but lost his client base. At this rate 99% of his clients are against him, that should worry him, but he cannot separate his own ego and persona from a brand.


A brand is a vehicle to make money, not to massage your ego, when your brand is toxic and stopping you from making money, you rebrand or ditch it altogether. Rwandan companies are doing online social media branding coz it is cool and all the cool kids are doing it. They are unaware of the pitfalls of online branding, it can expose you if you are out of touch and not all branding is good branding. If you are analogue in management but want a digital online brand, it will be exposed as outdated. Like Cobra is destroying his image, a company must understand a brand is underpinned by values, not the name, names change every day but values remain. The values of Cocobean should be inclusiveness, fraternity and having a good time, and that is what people expected from a club previously known as Cadillac. Arrogance is killing the brand, it feels like Studio 54 in 70’s New York, they have the right to reject people because they are popular. This can change instantly, Rwandans can boycott a place overnight, maybe the City of Kigali will wake up to the violations of code sometime soon. Give Cobra a proper club, there are so many empty nightclubs in Kigali, yet we prefer a converted sitting room because of the name of the owner. Let him take that name to a proper club, with safety, good service, music and drinks.


Online branding is only a reflection of your offline brand, it cannot make up for deficiencies in management. A recent example was RwandaMotors offering a free World Cup ball with every car sold. Do you think I will buy a car worth 18m to get a ball of 10k? They missed the opportunity to sell more cars, slash prices say 10% show savings in real money, for one month on limited models. If the car is 18m, say it is 400k a month ONLY!!!! Make me want to buy it, tease me into a test drive, try to close sales. The problem is not the online guys who just tweet what they are told, the problem is an unimaginative sales and marketing department. I&M Bank was another that got my goat, advertising “Wedding Loans”  this lead to many criticizing them for bad taste, and bad financial advice, to advise young couples to borrow at 18% for one day’s fun. Call it a “Starter loan” I understand young couples need that blanket of security the first year but not at the cost of their future with massive debts. A well-run online presence can be great marketing and reduce your costs as you handle customer service online. Good examples are Irembo, Jumia, EWASA (I still call them that anyway) several ministries, RDB, Rwandair, Airtel, they all interact in real time with their customers and resolve issues instantly. As you see, these are well-run and efficient offline as well, it is merely an mirror image of their efficient management.


What are you branding for?


Online marketing has seen a boom in recent years with the decline of traditional media, social media seems to have all the answers but one must be careful. Online media can help with the following in cutting costs but increasing efficiency in.

Advertising – strategies like viral advertising have changed the game, with the right catchy campaign you can reach more people by user-to-user sharing via memes and gifs.

Sales promotion – this is the proof of the pudding, is the online campaign inducing more sales?

Direct marketing – you can bypass the conventional supply chain by directly selling and delivering to your client

Personal sales – your customers now become your sales team and recommend you to other clients

PR and customer service – this is what most companies do it for, PR has to lead to better sales, more profit, and not just a nice name. It works as a feedback loop to help you improve your services and products.


Online marketing still uses the same principles of marketing, it just does it online but quicker. Marketing has not changed much, only the mediums we use. An online brander should still be focused on the 4 pillars of Brand identity.

Attributes – what attributes define your brand?

Benefits – what are the benefits of using your brand?

Values – what are the values behind your brand?

Personality – a brand is like a person, it has a personality and we identify with it like a friend.


Every tweet, every post, should be focused on these 4, not on funny jokes or memes. You have to be defining your attributes, emphasizing benefits of your product, reinforcing values and moulding a personality in the minds of readers. What marketing in Rwanda is suffering from is too much top-down thinking, the boss has to approve of everything, what he likes goes. There is not enough use of data to back up marketing, it is done according to feelings. There is not enough use of focus groups to get feedback on product rollouts, no market surveys on potential clients, just what the DG approves. There is too much focus on the ego of the boss, you’ll see a pic of the DG grinning in a full page ad “Wishing all survivors well on Kwibuka” such tastelessness, advertising on genocide commemoration. Lack of tact, not understanding your market, assuming you know better than what the customer wants, but this is caused by a bigger problem. COMPLACENCY the Rwanda market is not competitive, the same old players have dominated almost every market and always will. There is no competition for the very last franc, walk into a bank and no-one is trying to sign you up, take it or leave it attitude. We need disruption in the Rwandan market, just like Cobra thinks he can treat people like turds and they will still beg to come, so does every company in Rwanda, from the biggest telecoms to a shop around the corner. We kept these people safe from competition for so long but it will kill us in the long term, protecting cartels from competition will not save us.


The Cod and the Catfish


There is a story of how codfish was overfished around Britain in the 60’s and the British couldn’t have their fish and chips. A solution was sought outside in the North Atlantic Codfish from America. They always died in transit, they tried putting oxygen in the water, they tried using water with the perfect Ph balance, they tried special foods, but they always died. Until a person told them to put a catfish in there, the catfish was the natural predator of the codfish, if there are 40,000 fish in a tank then put 5 catfish. These 5 can only eat 2 cod each so you won’t lose many. It had the desired effect, the codfish woke up from their complacency, the survival instinct kicked in and they began swirling around in schools. This helped them breath better as water was passing through their gills, they became healthy and fit from movement, it reduced disease from the stagnant water, and for no cost at all.


They say Rwanda is a small market, the same people who say that are eating big off this small market, it is just big enough for them, any bigger and they would have to evolve so they want things the same. Our whole system is based on price cartels, not market forces, a few people have monopoly in most profitable sectors and don’t want change. They want to die of complacency like the codfish. Rwanda needs competition, fair competition, not bloated fatcats we can’t afford this anymore.




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  1. William says:

    What a read!!! Huge thanks to the author.

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