African startups must define their purpose


African startups must be sure of what their purpose is in order to truly resonate with customers.

This is according to Michael Baretta, founder of South African company [dot]GOOD, which helps brands build marketing plans around positive social impact. He told last week’s Net Prophet conference in Cape Town that the “why” was more important than the “what” when it comes to building a relationship with customers.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” Baretta said.

“Most companies start with what they do, how they sell it, and how they are different to the competition. Truly inspired companies, however, make you feel it.”

Defining the purpose of your business, and why it does what it does, is an important marketing strategy, he said.

“What does your organisation believe? What does it stand for? What is the purpose? And most importantly, how does it make its users or consumers feel?”

As an example, Baretta used South African supermarket Woolworths, which has built a business model on healthy food and giving back to local communities.

“You feel like you’re making a healthier and more considered decision, for yourself and for your family,” he said.

“They do this by providing quality products at affordable prices without compromising on people or planet.”

In the tech world, there are a number of huge global companies that have managed to define their purpose extremely well, with people very clear on their “mission” though they are corporate enterprises with a need to make profits. Baretta said he had made it his purpose to understand the purpose behind organisations.

“In this day and age I don’t believe doing things will be enough anymore, we have to do things right too,” he said.

“I realised it was possible to build brands to drive sales but also to do good at the same time.”

Startups, then, need to define their purpose, the problem they are solving, and exactly what it is their solution does for people.

“Imagine your last day of work, and you look back on your career and what you have achieved. Ask yourself what stands out, what matters to you. You can use these kinds of ideas as a roadmap to define your purpose,” Baretta said.


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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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