The exact opposite of a Winterfell winter happens in West Africa. In my younger years, before gray hairs and wisdom caught up with me, which I both greatly cherish, I was responsible for global perfume sales for a fragrance house in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. After growing up in Southern Central Africa, West Africa was totally fascinating for me. The food was different (now I love plantains!), the traditions were different, the tribal marks, the culture...everything different!
In my travels in every market I would look for manufacturers of laundry powders, laundry bars, toilet soaps, lotions and shampoos—in that order. So in most meetings where I spoke to cosmetic or personal care manufacturers, they all wanted something “for the Harmattan season,” because that is when their sales would boom.
The conversation would go something like, “I would like such and such a note, can you give me a few options to consider. I would like to have a new range for the Harmattan.”
That expression, “For the Harmattan,” was the equivalent of “Winter is coming” in these parts. So for quite a while, the Harmattan was just something I heard talked about in meetings. Until one year, when I was in West Africa on business, in November, right in the thick of the Harmattan season. Only then did I finally understand. It was then that I received my “Intro to Harmattan season,” so to speak.
Welcome to Hell
The Harmattan is a hot, dry wind that sweeps across the West African sub region. It is coming from the Sahara desert for miles; so you can imagine it has a lot of sand. And the temperatures get really hot. And yet, sometimes the days are cool and dry. This season is harsh to the skin; skin dries up, lips crack, you get dust in your throat and eyes. People develop coughs and other breathing issues.
During Harmattan, I spent an inordinate amount of time, stopping in stores and walking store aisles to learn what brands I should target for my perfumes and all that. But when I stepped outside, whether out of the car or out of the shop, I stepped into an inferno—a sauna without the comforting humidity! The temperatures were unbearable. My nostrils became inflamed from breathing the hot air, because fragile nostrils normally do not endure such heat and dryness. The Harmattan is not something to experience, but something to endure, from November through February or March, every year.
Preparation Is Crucial
So in the spirit of preparation, taking lessons from my customers in West Africa and how much effort they put into preparation against the elements, as a raw material supplier to manufacturers of cosmetics, lotions and moisturizing creams, and so on, how much effort do you put in helping your customers prepare for the extreme elements? We all know the fashion industry does its part and really well in preparing us for the winter season, or summer, whatever the case, sharing with us the latest trends and so on. And I have no doubt that the editorial teams for the fashion magazines are preparing months in advance before the season hits. Do we have the same level of preparation and equipping customers for the next season as we see in the fashion industry from raw material suppliers perhaps? From ad agencies? What would be the effect if a raw materials supplier was to have the same level of focus and excitement as the fashion industry?
I have experience in the beverage space, an industry that is well-prepared for the change in seasons. For the beverage industry, summer is the high season. Clouds part, the sun shines, temperatures heat up and people want to take their clothes off—literally. They head for the nearest beach or the nearest pool and splash around in barely there bikinis and swimming trunks and they want a drink—a drink so cold that even the can is sweating. In the beverage business, temperatures really affect your bottom line. Literally. It is when consumers are feeling hot that they are encouraged to buy more cold drinks, water and similar products, in abundance.
More recently in a beverage meeting where we were discussing how the numbers are looking good and were on target for the first half of the year, the finance guy very aptly came up with that now very familiar expression that needed no further explanation… “Winter is coming,” reminding us all that if we were doing just okay, in winter these numbers will likely fall off and we will miss the target.
To Every Season…
I digress a bit to make my point: People and businesses prepare for seasons, for the change in weather in all of its extremes. Some industries do a better job of preparation than others. Consider the unfathomable zeal with which the clothing industry prepares for the change in seasons; mass fashion houses and suppliers prepare themselves and they prepare us, the consumers. I challenge our industry to welcome the change of season with the same gusto. It is easy to imagine that your industry is not exciting enough to apply the same excitement in preparation. But take a moment and think about it.
As a raw materials supplier, what could you bring to your customer to equip them for the next change in season? For the next winter? The next summer? And do not tell me that there is not enough excitement in your industry about the change in season. If you look hard enough, you’ll find an angle. And if there is no excitement? Create it. Seasonal changes are big enough to shift entire industries. And when shifts occur, they bring opportunities. As a fragrance supplier, what new notes are you proposing to your customer for the next winter? The next summer? As a supplier to the cosmetic industry, what exciting formulations are you bringing to your customer this coming season? For the next winter? The next Harmattan in West Africa?
As a personal care, lotion or moisturizer brand, what fresh ideas (pun intended) are you proposing for next winter or next summer? As a communications agency, what is new and different about your communication for your client’s moisturizing brand this coming winter? Even well-established brands that are decades old, can benefit from fresh ideas that aptly communicate the product benefit and address the challenge well.
Vaseline’s ad from a few years ago comes to mind. It featured naked bodies, lots of them, with a voice-over explaining that skin needs protection from the elements, how it is waterproof yet absorbent when necessary, how there is bacteria on it all the time, how it heals itself when damaged and so on. It ended with the statement, “your skin is amazing, keep it that way.”
A lot of other moisturizing lotions and other personal care formulas now use the same or similar concept. But for me, the first one was ground-breaking. It focused on skin, and for maximum effect, naked bodies. Of course, nakedness shocks consumers into paying attention. The ad agency prepared its client’s brand well for the change of seasons and, as a result, that year there was something new and ground-breaking. What new, ground-breaking communication on social media are you proposing for your customer’s brand in West Africa? Or, for that matter, in the “Kingdoms in the North?”
The Harmattan is coming or, shall I say, winter is coming.
Raymond Chimhandamba is founder and director of Handas Consulting (Pty) Ltd. He has 20 years’ experience in the FMCG sector in Africa region and experience in launching and building FMCG cosmetic and personal care brands in Africa. Chimhandamba is an internationally published FMCG expert and a thought leader in the hygiene sector in Africa, an international speaker and a mobile tech enthusiast. He is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Contact him at email@example.com