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13 min read

Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Mathew Sedze


In this episode, we chat with Facebook's Product Marketing Manager, Mathew Sedze, and pick his brains on what it’s like launching products in emerging markets, based on his experiences. He shares his key lessons for PMMs working in emerging markets, the challenges he’s encountered, plus his top tips for success, and heaps more.

Full transcript:

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:02

Hi everyone and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Emma Bilardi and I'm a copywriter here at PMA. Today we're joined by Mathew Sedze, Product Marketing Manager at Facebook and we'll be discussing launching products in an emerging market. His journey with social media giants began in Johannesburg South Africa and for the past three years, he's been based in Dublin, Ireland. Anyway, enough from me, welcome to the show, Mathew.

Mathew Sedze  0:32

Hi, Emma, thanks for having me.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:34

It's our pleasure. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your role at Tik Tok?

Mathew Sedze  0:39

Yes, so currently, I am a product marketing manager at Tik Tok looking after the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. Tik Tok becoming a really large and emerging platform, really taking to market a lot of our products as we start becoming a major player within the advertising space and in the social media space.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  1:06

So in the intro, we talked a little bit about your time at Facebook. Can you tell us a bit about the products you launched while working in Sub Saharan Africa?

Mathew Sedze  1:15

Yeah, so we launched a ton of products. I think it's fair to say we were launching a huge amount of products at the time. When I joined Facebook was expanding in the region. We launched products like slideshow, we launched offline conversions, we launched across some of the cross border business products. And those were some of the exciting launches. But some of them were also the expansion of existing products into the market, as we looked at lead ads, which was a product that was developed and was now being scaled into Sub Saharan Africa.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  1:52

Okay, and can you tell us a little bit about Africa as a market?

Mathew Sedze  1:56

I think the best way I can talk about Africa as a market is that Africa is ahead and behind at the same time. When I say that it's a Center for Innovation. If you look at solutions like Impesa, if you look at some of the offline areas providing electricity to markets or to places that don't have electricity, I think there's a lot of innovation that's happening in the space. I think right now, Africa is one of the largest areas where investors are investing in FinTech but also when you look at the market it's also behind in terms of infrastructure. So if you're looking at the percentage of coverage of the internet across the continent, it's not as high or broadband penetration on continent is not as high. So you have this sort of interesting situation where when you're approaching that market, you have to consider the fact that there are things where Africa is going to be at the cutting edge in defining what happens next in that space. But then there are also areas that Africa is still quite behind. And you have to approach it with that mindset.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  3:11

Okay, so when we're talking about emerging markets, both with your work at Tik Tok and Facebook, what are the difference between those emerging markets? And how did those differences change your approach to launching a product?

Mathew Sedze  3:28

I think the biggest difference, I think with launching a product in an emerging market and launching products in other markets is just you've got to reconsider everything that you know about your products. If you've got the product in existence somewhere else in another international market, or in the US or in the UK, when you're starting to take the product to an emerging market like let's say, Nigeria, you're thinking about it more holistically. You're not just looking at saying I'm going to expand and get a critical mass. One of the interesting things that I found during my time at Facebook was Africa's credit card penetration is around 4%. So if you're looking at launching a product in that market, and you don't consider payments as one of the areas that you need to look at, you're going to have some difficulties launching in that market. And then the other thing is also, Africa is, especially when you look at Sub Saharan Africa, it's probably three times the landmass size of the United States, so you're looking at one area that's also very geographically diverse. But at the same time, you have additional complexities, the region itself, we've got over 2000 languages that are spoken there. So you've got a large population mass, but actually, it's actually a very fragmented population. Whereas in the US, for example, if you're looking to launch a product, you're looking at an almost homogeneous set of 300 or 350 million people, if you're looking to reach as a target market, but in Africa, you've got a billion people, but that's spread across multiple languages, and you don't have that consistency when it comes to the market.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  5:16

Okay. So what comes first for you then? Is it the product or the market? So, are you building a product for an emerging market? Or do you build a product and kind of discover an emerging market as you go along? Or is that kind of a mixed bag for you?

Mathew Sedze  5:34

I think depending on where you're approaching it from if you're looking at a whole new innovation, and you've got the time, I'd say build products for emerging markets because there are certain constraints that you wouldn't have to deal with if you're building that same product for a mature market, like the US or the EU. But when you're now building and you build a product specifically for emerging markets, you're going to have much more success. Part of what I found out is that when you build for an emerging market, and you start looking at the application, there's a lot of commonality in how that product is going to be used across other markets. So looking at products like Slideshow that Facebook invented and worked on, the focus was very much on emerging markets. But as the product launched, people started to see the use cases could be actually also applied for small businesses at a global level. And that's a really good example of when you're designing or building a product for emerging markets, how it can actually go and be able to scale to other markets. But when you're looking at it the other way around, which is when you're taking a product from an existing market, or you're launching and launching it into a new market, some of the times you're actually thinking about are you actually launching a whole new business altogether so you have to think about channels, what are the constraints that you have in terms of the channels that you can reach people in that new market versus in your existing market? Do you need a different set of partnerships? Do you need to think about payments Do you need to think about an entirely different go to market strategy? The majority of what happens in some cases, especially the ones that I've had the least amount of success in emerging markets is you've got an existing strategy, you've got an existing business, and all you're looking to do is expand into a new market. But with a lot of emerging markets, the nuances that exist there require you to rethink, that you actually have to approach it as I'm launching a new entire business, does the unit economics make sense? Can I charge it to this particular the same price point, as I have it in international or another international market? Yes, that's the cost. Yes, that's what you've been charging. But sometimes that might not be the price point you need to be starting off in the market. A really interesting example is offline mode and offline listening for things like Spotify, it’s a massive opportunity. But if you're going to do an all streaming app, in an emerging market, where bandwidth can be unreliable, the product actually is not so good. So you have to rethink how you make that business model work or that particular service work besides just the launch.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  8:32

Okay, so, just to backpedal a little bit, how do you go about validating opportunities in an emerging market?

Mathew Sedze  8:39

I think this is one of the toughest things that are out there. I think when you look at just you're gonna go on a data-driven approach, right? And the majority of the time there isn't a lot of data. I still struggle with trying to find who are the top advertisers, who are the top marketers in a specific market? And it's really hard. And part of launching into an emerging market is understanding you're building a really good start for a product that might have critical mass later on. So you have to think about it as an investment. I think having that mindset of understanding, I'm not investing on just basically where I can see now and be able to validate and have the data to do it, but I'm thinking about what is this product going to be five years from now 10 years from now? And how much of an impact is it actually going to have? I think there is a difference between looking to exploit or looking to maximize an existing opportunity and then thinking about how do you actually sort of plant a tree and watch it grow and bear fruit over time and I think with emerging markets, even thinking about product launches and expansion is approaching it that way is how do I plant a tree and bear the fruit over the time?

Emma Bilardi - PMA  10:03

So you'd say there's more risk involved in launching for an emerging market versus an established market. But can you talk us through some of the key differences there?

Mathew Sedze  10:14

So I think one of the key differences is just price point, right? If you're launching a product here as a SaaS provider and you're launching a product, you have to consider is $1 or $5, what percentage is it of somebody's basic income or monthly income or daily income based upon that, and that's one really key thing is understanding that five US dollars in Africa or in a specific emerging market might not be the same as $5 elsewhere. But then that's also part of, I think, the discussion of ahead and behind, in some markets, in some areas and some sections of the economy, some people are actually doing really well. So interesting fact is, champagne is consumed in Nigeria at a massive pace, but it's one of the largest markets for champagne. But you're still thinking about people that are earning less than $5 a day still exist in the same market. So understanding I think that difference and the market is not black and white. It's more of a spectrum. I think that's important when it comes to pricing. The second thing is also channels. You're looking to reach a mass amount of people but not everybody can be reached with some of the traditional marketing channels that you have. I think as product marketers, the first thing is like, how is my online marketing presence going to look like? And sometimes in some markets, if you're looking to reach a particular audience, it might not be the best way to be able to reach that particular target audience. So thinking about channels differently is really important. And also having I think the courage to invest in offline channels. One of the things I experienced while in Lagos was a massive billboard from Google, actually talking about Google search. And that was really an eye-opener for me is this assumption that you can be able to just take online channels and be able to launch the product through just online channels and having to understand that there is going to be a mix of both online and offline within your go-to-market strategy. The other thing is just around period before you get an investment, right, when you get a return on the investment that you're putting in. I think that slow growth is something that you're going to have to expect when you launch into some of these markets. There are lots of barriers that come around with that and I think one of the most significant ones is just complexity. You have to think about markets that have leapfrogged and might not actually have all the background of what's that evolution, like currently, some of these emerging markets, whether it's in Southeast Asia or Africa is conversational commerce is already native to the platform. They've skipped over the point of having a website in order for you to transact and to have to do commerce. But they might not understand what was the importance of having a website or understanding why you needed to have banner displays. That's not the background that they come from, and having to now say, I understand where you are right now, which is ahead of the curve. But we need to get some things settled in terms of your understanding, how do you develop an online marketing strategy and how do you then use a conversational commerce as part of a broader strategy? And I think that's really important for a lot of companies to understand is there is going to be some investment, a lot of upfront investment around education, training and being able to get to a point where people can confidently use it. There are clients right now if you're in the cloud business that are cloud natives, they've never had to invest in physical server infrastructure. They understand the need for cloud services. But if you're going to try and pitch or sell them a particular service within the cloud space, you're talking to a cloud-native and your positioning, your messaging has to be different, even though they're in an emerging market, which might not tick all the boxes of being an advanced market in that space. There's a lot of people that are just native to certain technologies and certain platforms.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  14:49

Absolutely. So you have a lot of experience in launching products in emerging markets. What have been your main lessons? Are there any hard lessons that you've had to learn along the way that you could share with us?

Mathew Sedze  15:07

I think the first hard lesson is payments, payments, payments, payments. Having been sort of launching products and you're relying on a client actually being able to pay for the product, and finding out that, well, you've got this low penetration of credit cards, then you've got this low penetration of debit cards as well. And for some marketers, it's your first experience is well, people use debit cards instead of credit cards? So things like that actually make a huge difference. Thinking about as you launch into emerging markets can customers actually pay for your product? It is part of the business planning but it's always something that I say even with product marketing, you're like the product's already built, it's ready to go to market, but someone has to ask the question, can a client actually pay for this? And can they transfer money to us? Can we get paid? Can we receive the money-back? And that's been a major lesson. And the second thing is also, as I said before, and I continuously always hit this home is, you're gonna have that difference in market, it's ahead and it's behind all at the same time. And having to kind of navigate how you do your go-to-market strategy means you have to invest additional time in understanding who your customer is, and being clear about what are the other factors, what is the context in which my customer lives in? And being able to actually say, "I'm going to launch this product in this particular context. These are some of the areas that we need to think about" whether your company says "This is a critical part of it, and we're going to solve it", I think the businesses that have succeeded the most on the continent, I always talk about, I think one of the biggest ones is telco operators who have had to invest in electricity infrastructure in order for them to be able to provide services in those areas. And that's not something that you would have to do if you're becoming a telco operator in another market, is you have to think about it as a whole. Can I also invest in the additional infrastructure that surrounds this product? Or this other solution? Whether it's from a training perspective, can I get people that actually understand my technology or my solution, going through and being part of the talent pool that clients are going to hire from and investing in this almost as an entire investment, not just a simple product launch.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  17:55

For anyone who's new to launching a product in an emerging market, what advice would you give them?

Mathew Sedze  18:02

Over invest in time with your customers. Whether it's customer interviews, spending actual time on the ground, travel to these markets, understand what is the cultural context? What is the social context that all these products are living in? And being able to have these very candid conversations with your customers. You'll be surprised at how much they know about the area that you're launching a product in, how much advice and guidance that they can give you in terms of how to make the product better, how to launch successfully in the market. Because I think, as product marketers we love spending time with our customers. But actually being in the local context helps you to have a very different perspective of actually what's happening in the market and spending time understanding, "Well, I can't use this language in this particular region, I have to use X because that's a dialect that's spoken there in order for me to have traction", so spending time with your customers, and potential customers and spending time in the market, physically on the ground, interacting, tasting the food, drinking the water as they say, and really immersing yourself, not just in the customers’ problem, but in the context in which your customers' going to be using your product. And that I think is the most important one.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  19:34

I think that's a really nice note to kind of wrap things up on. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Mathew. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Mathew Sedze  19:43

Thanks so much, Emma, really great sharing this time with you. Thank you.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  19:48

Take care, Mathew.

Mathew Sedze  19:50

All right. Bye.

Written by:

Emma Bilardi

Emma Bilardi

Emma is a Manchester-based freelance writer. She's been writing for as long as she can remember, and in the last few years predominantly about product design.

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Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Mathew Sedze