Gabazira's blog

The Effectiveness-Lab

The Power of Soft-marketing

In this first blog of 2016 at the Effectiveness Lab, I want to share some experience that got me to question why companies spend millions of dollars on advertising every year. Apparently, the annual global advertising spend currently stands at $573 billion. While Africa and I assume Kenya’s share of the global marketing expenditure may appear insignificant at just over $12 billion, it is a lot of money given Africa’s economic context

So let us ask ourselves: why do companies waste millions on advertisement in newspapers, online, radio, TV, as well as billboards? You may wonder why we at the Effectiveness Lab are asking this question; after all, to many of you, it is a no-brainer that companies have to advertise. I don’t know about your experience, but I can count the number of times my buying decision has been influenced by advertisement of any type. There must be many of us that are like that. So why do companies spend millions and bombard us with adverts every day? From the Effectiveness Lab lens, this is pretty ineffective.  Is it though?


So, on to our story of 2016 – 3rd of January, and we embark on the long journey back to Nairobi from my Mothers country home in Uganda – we had spent a very rewarding two weeks with my 78-year-old Mother. Because our last daughter Eliina suffers from Cerebral Palsy (CP), and is physically challenged in many ways, we always dread travelling, especially by air. It even becomes more complicated when travelling in Africa by air – Africa’s infrastructure and air transport service culture are incredibly blind to the challenges the physically challenged face.

Over the last three years we have realised as a family that flying is a hassle for us – one time, on a flight from Kigali to Nairobi, we were told that our daughter’s wheelchair could not be taken with us in the cabin; fair point indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that we were informed of this position minutes before we boarded the plane, had to carry our increasingly heavy daughter in our hands, and worst of all, her specialised wheelchair was put in the luggage hold under the belly of the Embraer jet we were flying, but was not secured well. The result as you may imagine was damage to a very specialised wheelchair that we can’t buy in the East African region.

Manoeuvring your way around most airport buildings in Africa with a wheel chair is next to impossible – reminds me of my bicycle rides in Nairobi where you will see a bicycle path only to discover once on it that it not only runs for a kilometre or two but leads directly onto a very busy highway. In many cases, you won’t feel comfortable riding on the road with super fast cars or riding back to where you came from due to the lack of a viable route back. You are condemned to either break traffic rules by riding or pushing your bike on the wrong side of the road. The latter is not very different from the experience at airports in Africa, for those in wheelchairs. You do not even want to say a thing about toilets and bathrooms at airports!

So what does our experience above got to do with soft-marketing?

Well, I have flown Kenya Airways for many years, in some cases, simply because I did not have a choice. This is no to say Kenya Airways is always not good enough when it comes to its service offer, but that choice in the East African airline industry is not always guaranteed. About six years ago, on a trip to Dar es Salaam via Nairobi, with my then very young son Peter, we were stuck in Nairobi for 24 hours due to unforeseen flight cancellations by Kenya Airways. That experience has lived with us for years. How can it take you x24 hours to get to Dar es Salaam from Nairobi?

Every time I see a Kenya Airways advert on a billboard, Newspaper, TV I cannot help but connect back to our experience of six years ago. What Kenya Airways did that many years ago, was to undermine its brand in our eyes, by having us go through a very negative experience, that until the end of 2015, forced us to associate the Kenya Airways brand with the negative.

I am not sure if advertising by Kenya Airways, that sells the brand as the “Pride of Africa’, changed our feelings about the brand – and believe me, Kenya Airways adverts are good. It has to be something thing different that can start to change our attitude about their brand. Perhaps, ‘soft-treatment’ by Kenya Airways, but, this time, more positive than our experience six years ago, can start to change our negative feelings

….and Indeed, Kenya Airways seized the moment on the 3rd January 2016, as we flew back from Entebbe to Nairobi, again with our lovely Eliina in tow.

Experiencing a ‘new’ Kenya Airways:

The same Kenya Airways that we have had issues with for the past six years put us through an x30 minute experience on the night of 3rd January 2016 that will stay with us for some time, I hope. On the night, I left Jomo Kenyatta International Airport considering the Kenya Airways brand in far more positive light – that is how easy it is for companies to win over clients, yet they constantly get this wrong. I wondered how such short ‘soft-experience’ could go a long way in changing ones’ perception of a brand. There is a lesson or two in this, for many companies

Our experience from Entebbe to Nairobi: right from check-in time at Entebbe Airport, Eliina was given special attention – preferential check-in, special wheelchair tagging and management, all the way to the seat arrangement on the plane for the family. There was a young man at Entebbe Airport that treated us and our problem, in a very professional manner. I left Entebbe thinking, and sorry for the pessimism: well that was a one off by Kenya Airways, and was braced for the usual logistics challenges at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Well, another and more significant surprise awaited us at Jommo Kenyatta International Airport. We land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and we are told to stay on the plane and wait for an ambulance. In minutes a specialised ambulance was by the side of the plane, and using specialised hydraulic equipment, we were given easy wheelchair exit from the aircraft onto the ambulance; we were driven straight to the arrival lounge and once again, accorded specialised treatment. The staff that was assigned to help us, a one Misheck Njoki, was brilliant and only left us when we were in the safety of our vehicle.

I did not want to write this week’s blog that Sunday night as, in my pessimism, I wanted to be sure my change in attitude about the Kenya Airways brand was real and not short-lived. At the time of writing this blog, Wednesday late night, after a long day at work, I still think positively about Kenya Airways and so are the other members of my family

That is the power of high quality, targeted customer care and ‘soft-marketing’ – why do companies bother with ‘hard-marketing’?

My takeaway: Why do companies spend millions, when in high-quality services, like the one we got from Kenya Airways on the night of 3rd January 2016, can come guaranteed brand loyalty? Companies can become very effective at what they do, by perfecting their service offer to clients – companies cannot forever dupe customers with advertisements when their quality of service is poor. How many Customer-service directors are members of the Senior Management Teams at big private sector companies? Why does customer service continue to be a sub-unit of Marketing or some other function at companies? It may be time companies paid attention to this increasingly critical function.

Well-done Kenya Airways, I hope that our experience wasn’t a one-off! …and by the way, many watched what you were doing for us and in them, may come more brand commitments

Happy 2016!


6 responses to “The Power of Soft-marketing”

  1. […] In last weeks’ blog the Effectiveness Lab discussed soft-marketing and the efficacy and value it brings to companies, via high quality and targeted customer services. We asked why companies, and some colossal corporates at that, spend millions on hard-marketing and miss the fact that in high-quality and consistent customer service, comes extremely effective marketing. We shared my family’s experience at Jomo Kenya International Airport – Nairobi […]


  2. This is really great. Congulations Kenya Airways. Value for money. I feel honoured too for my Daughter Aliisa I wish for her the best and quality always. As for advertising I concer Apollo. For the years I ve worked I have not believed in paid for advert. I believe in my Works to do the advertisiment. Only one virtue. “There is no second impression “


    1. Hello Andrew – thanks for reading the blog as well as your response. I go away with a lesson from you: ‘There is no second impression’


  3. Oh yes! I felt that was first class treatment and the first of its kind that we have experienced throughout our travel. That is what special needs treatment should look like.


    1. Yes Peter – I pray that we get that going fwd. and that the likes of Elina will have their travel rights addressed in most of Africa 👌🏿


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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