Doing business in Nairobi: Marketing guidelines

Planning on doing business in Nairobi, Kenya? Here are a couple of marketing guidelines to ensure success;

  1. Work with a local partner
  2. Put yourself in your customer’s shoe
  3. Focus on building your audience
  4. Lead with value
  5. Avoid regulatory and compliance mistakes

Nairobi is a rather small market. Even though it often leads East Africa in number of internet users, the purchasing power of Nairobians is not as high as say, Johannesburg. That being said, there is a strong middle class that is rising.

If you look at the trends especially in the economic arena, Nairobi is fast rising and becoming the hub for business, tourism and finance in Africa. Experts predict it will be a leading economic force in Africa in the years to come. This presents tremendous opportunities for both local and international entrepreneurs. Why? Because businesses get to be part of the wave.

Nairobi is where you want to be.

Let us go over a few key tips to keep in mind, if you plan on relying on the internet to drive your business growth.

1: Work with a local partner

Ahadisoft Group LLC - Work with a local partner
Work with a local partner

One word, culture. A local understands what its like to live in the great city under the sun. They understand the struggles, the opportunities and the subtle nuances that define life in Nairobi. They understand the local culture and are thus far better suited to navigate potential issues and problems with relative ease.

Let us discuss a few benefits of hiring a local expert or agency;

a) Locals are fluent in the language

English is a lingua franca in Nairobi, so what do I mean by language? By language I mean how people converse an communicate on a day to day basis. I mean the various tonalities and vernacular that is injected to everyday language. For example, in Cape Town, there is a distinct difference in the statement, “I will be there now” and “I will be there now now”. In Cape Town, those two mean something completely different. Or the distinctions between American and British English.

Nairobi has Sheng, which is a Swahili and English based urban cant. It is derived from a mixture of local languages spoken in Kenya. The languages include Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba etc. They come together to form a very unique vocabulary and way of speaking. If you have never lived in Nairobi, it may take a while to learn it.

Because marketing is essentially communication, being unable to talk like the locals, will hinder your ability to communicate your vision and business.

b) Hiring local experts or agencies increases diversity

Why would a business need diversity? Diversity helps bring fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. It helps simulate the formulation of new ideas. Group think might feel familiar, certain and even safe but its an avenue for cognitive dissonance and one dimensional ideas.

In addition to that, diversity helps improve the overall face of the organization. It demonstrates to the community that the company is ready and willing to be part of their world. This is a huge PR win.

c) You get to leverage local networks

Another benefit of working with local partners is that you get to leverage the local partner’s networks and connections. This is the difference between finding it easy to implement ideas and struggling to gain traction. A local partner has the requisite expertise, connection and local industry know how. They understand the secrets and strategies required to accomplish your goals.

As you can see, working with a local partner will put you miles ahead of your competition. You avoid the learning curve, that is learning about the intricacies of succeeding in Nairobi and thus you are able to focus on your core business.

Luckily for you, Nairobi has no shortage of expertise. From an education perspective, there are hundreds of thousands of qualified graduates to choose from. There are also world class digital agencies that will help you bring your vision to life. To ensure your business success, you need to tap into this very valuable resource. So whether you are form New York, Kampala or Mombasa, you need to get some Nairobi people on your team.

2: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

Ahadisoft Group LLC - Put yourself in your customer's shoes
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes

When it comes to doing business in Nairobi, customer research is just not enough. As an entrepreneur you need greater empathy. You need to understand what life is like for your potential customer. This is the only way you can formulate solutions that solve their problems, and map out customer journeys.

The days of outbound sales techniques are slowly coming to an end. This is where customers are heavily pushed into the sales funnel. Nairobi consumers, like most consumers all over the world, don’t want to be sold to. They first need to develop trust with the brand. And this part is important.

Take a step back and and think about how your product or service will be beneficial. As a matter of fact, you need to go back further and think on the user intent. What is the intention of someone who buys your product or service? The main focus in marketing has always been sales, as it should, but sometimes communication can be really saturated by that driving force.

Here are some tips;

a) It is important to humanize yourself and your brand

Lets leave alone, digital marketing in Nairobi. Lets talk about business generally. Your customer isn’t some intangible persona on a whiteboard or PowerPoint presentation. These are real people, as such it is important to understand the stage of the customer journey that they are in. And at the end of the day, keep in mind that you are creating communication for a human being.

b) Understand that people are different

Your customers, whether they are from Shenzhen, California or Budapest, are different individual people. People from Nairobi, Kenya are different people. Don’t think of them as a group. They are different individuals with different problems and desires. Even if they are from the same demographics, for example, they will respond differently to certain images, colors and words.

c) You need to pay attention to your customers, listen to them and be pro active

Whether it is through social media and online forums of from feedback from sales representatives, you need to know what your customers are saying. What is it that they like about you or hate about you. In these days of cancel culture, taking your eye off the ball, with regards to what people are saying about you, is playing with fire. The Nairobi, Kenyan crowd is so quick to “cancel” businesses.

So a few key primers to help you succeed in doing business in Nairobi;

  1. Understand what your audience wants and needs
  2. Use emotion in your advertising
  3. Always strive to inspire
  4. Don’t be too obvious in you selling activities.
  5. Also, don’t have too many goals per marketing capaign

3) Focus on building your audience

Ahadisoft Group LLC - Build your audience
Ahadisoft Group LLC – Build your audience – Doing business in Nairobi

Marketing, whether digital or otherwise is expensive. When you spend your resources to get someone’s attention, it should cost you way less to get their attention next time. Building an audience will really help reduce your marketing costs.

There are several ways of building you audience, for example

  1. Building your email list
  2. Increasing your social media followers

While there are others, we shall focus on these two crucial strategies.

a) Building your email list

Email is rather big in Nairobi, Kenya. If your target market is the middle class, which constitutes of working professionals, you will get results with email marketing. There are several ways to build your email list, we will not get into details, but lets look at a few.

  • Add CTA buttons to subscribe on your landing pages
  • Post about your newsletters on your social channels
  • Make sure you mention the benefits people will derive from getting on your newsletter

After you collect your emails, remember to keep your list organized by;


This is the act of separating email lists based on individual personalized preferences. This can include

  • Purchase history
  • Demographics
  • Update history

Personally, out of all the channels that I have utilized for myself and clients, email has continued to be a strong performer. Even if you are not selling any products, you need to collect emails to that you can continuously get back to your readers and audience.

Also, its impractical to build your audience on rented land such as Facebook or Google. With an email list, you own it. It is a potent basis for your audience. You can read more on email marketing here

b) Increase your social media

Everyone is on social media. In Nairobi, this is no different. The average Nairobian is Twitting on Twitter, doing dances on TikTok or watching YouTube videos. These platform form an awesome way of reaching your consumers. In addition to that, you could build an audience on these platforms. Of course you need relevant and engaging content. Remember, as mentioned above, the Nairobi crowd responds to a certain type of content and language. Keep that in mind as you craft your social media strategy.

4) Lead with value

Ahadisoft Group LLC - Lead with value
Ahadisoft Group LLC – Lead with value – doing business in Nairobi

As mentioned above, people don’t like to be sold to. But they want their problems and issues solved. If you have a solution, Nairobians will pay you really well for it. Leading with value also puts you ahead of your competitors because you are less annoying.

Value based marketing is the process of taking a consultative approach sales and portraying the value of the product as you do it. Lets discuss that approach a little bit.

The primary goal of this strategy is to put the customer at the center. You guide them and help them make an informed choice. To execute this well you need to;

  • Do your homework – the entire goal here is to put the user first. You will not be able to do this, if you know nothing about your audience. Take time to learn about your Nairobi/Kenya customer.
  • Don’t jump into your sales pitch too early – Resist the temptation to sell to your prospect too early. Give them the space and opportunity to elaborate more on their problem and fears. This will help you build more trust and help you service the customer better
  • Communicate how your product provides value – Make sure the benefits and applications of your products are easy to understand. Make sure your unique differentiators are aligned with the customers requirements and needs.
  • Focus on teaching instead of selling – Imparting knowledge and skill is an easy way of creating value. In addition to that, it helps your prospect trust you.

Also leading with value allows you to rightfully come across as the expert you are. Your prospects will turn to you for advise and ideas on how to solve their issues. You become a trusted advisor, not just another business hungry to part them with their money. This is not just a tip on doing business in Nairobi. This is how brand loyalty is built and price insensitive customers are acquired.

5) Avoid regulatory and compliance mistakes

This is a bonus section that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with marketing. In order to succeed in doing business in Nairobi and Kenya in general, you need to understand the regulatory framework regarding the particular industry you are operating in.

Different industries have different nuances in regulation. This is not a reason to panic however as Kenya ranks third in Africa with regards to ease of doing business.

Even in the marketing sector, there are some rules, regulations and general guidelines that need to be followed. For example, in Europe, there are some sections that are not against nudity. It is perfectly ok to have near nude models in an advert for example. This is different in Kenya of course because of the deeply conservative nature of Kenyans.

Another example is the language used in Advertising. When doing business in Nairobi, you cannot, for example exaggerate a product too much. Kenyans are not forgiving with regards to false or deceptive advertising. Most are not wealthy people, although middle class. Parting them with their hard earned cash via false pretenses is an easy way to destroy your brand and business.

But for the most part, operating in Nairobi or Kenya as whole should be fairly easy as compared to other African or Middle eastern countries. Compliance is getting easier and easier, and guess what? the legal system actually works.

More reading is available here, with regards to doing business in Nairobi.

You can also read another great article on digital marketing here

David Mbwana is an SEO specialist at Ahadisoft Group LLC. The company is based in Nairobi, Kenya and it helps businesses navigate the world of digital. You can reach Ahadisoft Group LLC at