…as tough environment slows down activity

The 109th edition of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show took place from the 19th to the 24th of August 2019 and ran under the theme “Technology, Innovation, Modernisation: Adopt, Accentuate, Accelerate.” According to the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society (ZAS), 527 commercial exhibitors took space on 75 481 square metres of exhibition space compared to 537 commercial exhibitors occupying 78 027 square metres in 2018. “We had 184 875 show goers compared to 225 000 in 2018, which is an overwhelming show of confidence in the rebranded Show in this environment,” said the ZAS in a statement.

Nyevero Muza of SoundGarden Services, an information and advisory services outfit which aggregates and distributes financial sector content, visited the stands of some financial institutions exhibiting at the rebranded show. The marketers manning these stands spoke about the opportunities provided by the annual showpiece, the challenges they face in the current economic environment and their verdict on the show.

Showcasing products, Meeting customers

Roy Nyakunuwa, the Acting Head of Marketing at diversified financial services group FBC Holdings Limited has this to say: “The Zimbabwe Agriculture Show is a good platform which gives us the opportunity to showcase our products and meet our customers. In the office, it’s more transactional but when we are exhibiting, it is more relationship-based.”

He added that being a diversified financial services group with interests in mainstream banking, insurance and microfinance, the show enabled them to showcase all their products in one place to a large number of existing and potential customers. Nyakunuwa however noted that activity at the 2019 edition of the show was low due to the adverse effects of the economic environment.

Evolving Trends… Keep Up or Get Left Behind

Muriel Dowa, BancABC’s marketing manager also observed that the 2019 edition of the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show recorded lower numbers of both exhibitors and show goers, which she attributed to the harsh economic environment that forced households to prioritise bread and butter issues. She also fingered the initial entry fee – which was initially on the high side, but had since been slashed to $10 – for the poor turnout.  The inclement weather, she said, could have played a part in curtailing attendance at the show.

“Maybe attendance will improve in the remaining days but last year we were in the same hall and it was packed,” Dowa revealed on the third day of the annual show. Despite the depressed attendance, Dowa lauded the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show for providing a platform for BancABC to showcase its full product range – from those meant for corporates to those targeted at children.

Turning to the challenges posed by the unfolding operating environment, Dowa said trends were changing rapidly and marketers needed to keep up to speed with the changes or risk being left behind. She noted that the market was so competitive that marketers were kept on their toes and constantly challenged to come up with viable products. Marketers also had to think long and hard about how to get through to the unbanked market segments in ways they can easily relate to. The evolution of communication channels from print to digital called for dynamism in information dissemination. Dowa however hastened to add that she saw these emerging challenges as opportunities to solve the sector’s nagging problems.

Enhancing Visibility, Creating Awareness 

“This year we were looking forward to the opportunity to exhibit because we have more to offer. We now have a stronger product portfolio, unlike last year when the bank had just been launched,” said Tsitsi Chingoka, a marketing officer at EmpowerBank Limited.

She however noted that business at the annual agricultural show had so far been fairly slow owing to the tough economic situation. She cited transport costs and entrance fees amounting to around $20 per person per day, which proved to be a big ask for ordinary people, against the background of low disposable incomes.

Chingoka said the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show provided a platform for the bank to market its products, enhance visibility and create market awareness, assess the activities of competitors and interact with business owners who are potentially customers of the youth-focused bank. She bemoaned the challenging economic situation which meant that the bank had to increase its marketing spend in order to get customers’ attention.

Interest Rate Hike Makes Mandate Difficult

Barbara Muyengwa, the marketing manager at the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB) described the 109th edition of the Zimbabwe Agriculture Show as low-key. She said this could have been because of the change of dates, which resulted in misalignment of show days with most people’s pay dates. This happened at a time prices had increased dramatically and disposable incomes fallen to alarming levels.

Muyengwa was however appreciative of the opportunity provided by the show to meet clients and suppliers as well as to showcase the bank’s products.  She added that there was also potential to use the show platform for data collection purposes.

“Anyone here with a dress is a potential customer of ours,” she said, adding that the bank, boasting of over 63 000 accounts, was formed to address women’s needs at the lower end of the market or the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP).  She however was concerned about the recent increase in interest rates which she said made it difficult for the bank to pursue its mandate effectively and offer affordable products to its target market in a sustainable manner.

Growing Interest in Products and Services

CardPro is a plastic card manufacturer that also supplies personalisation machines to the financial sector. The company also provides maintenance and back-up services. Brett Sinclair, the company’s managing director said they were at the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show to get exposure and interact with their customers, a fair number of which were also at the show. He said that they had been impressed  by the marked growth in interest in the company’s products and services compared to prior years. The only data card distributor in Zimbabwe, CardPro is also a distributor for Datacard, an American company. On hand to showcase the company’s products at the ZAS stand were Relationship Officer Lumbani Ncube, Sales Executive Memory Mupazviripo and Vulindlela Moyo.

Limited Budgets Hamper Marketing Programmes

An employee of POSB, who spoke on condition of anonymity, decried the low turnout at this year’s show, which she attributed to high transport costs and entrance fees. She said the country’s sole savings bank was at the show because it wanted to create awareness of the bank’s products, communicate new developments at the bank to potential and existing clients, while seeking to make some sales.

She further said that the bad state of the economy was making it difficult for marketers to convince customers to sign up for the bank’s products. The bank was also facing increasing competition from Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) which typically have less compliance and Know Your Customers (KYC) requirements than mainstream banks. She added that marketers were constrained by limited budgets that made it difficult to execute marketing programmes as austerity measures were also being implemented  at corporate level. Policy inconsistencies were identified as an impediment to public confidence.

One-Stop Shop for Engagement an Networking

Microcred, a credit-only microfinance institution was at the Zimbabwe Agriculture Show for the first time and aimed to use the opportunity to get more exposure in the market as it stabilised and consolidated after major shareholder changes. Samuel Burutu said that their target clientele – mainly SMEs – were exhibiting at the show, seen as a one-stop-shop at which to engage and network with service providers and other key stakeholders.

Liquidity Challenges Impact on Business Development Efforts

Tichaona Mbofana, a marketing and public relations officer at Success Microfinance Bank decried  the low turnout by show goers and attributed this to the initial ticket price of ZWL$35 which, although subsequently reduced to ZWL$10, was not sufficiently advertised. Despite the lower number of visitors, he reckoned there were more exhibitors than at the previous edition, which however turned out not to be the case according to statistics released by the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society.

Mbofana added that the deposit-taking microfinance institution was at the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show to engage with show goers while showcasing loans and other retail banking products. The bank also expected to sign up new clients on the back of a retail banking promotion which enabled clients to open accounts with a deposit of ZWL$5 instead of the usual ZWL$10.

The Chinhoyi University of Technology student of International Marketing said that the recent monetary measures which banned the use of USD dollars constituted a constraint at the current edition of the show as some people wanted to open accounts with USD but the currency changing service was not available at the show venue. He also bemoaned the economic hardships which had resulted in liquidity challenges that impacted negatively on business development efforts. Mbofana also cited stiff competition from well-known banking brands, some of which could offer collateral-free loans simply on the basis of possession of a mobile phone line.

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