According to Sithembile Ntombela, Marketing Awards Council Member and Head of Marketing at Brand South Africa, she has seen local and global brands using the rich culture, heritage and diversity that South Africa has to offer, linking themselves to more South African centric messaging with great results.

What springs immediately to mind is a Santam insurance advert that tapped into the psyche of a tourist and told a humorous story about South Africanism through their brand proposition of ‘one of a kind insurance for a one of a kind country’. It was a beautiful narrative of the South African way of doing things while selling insurance. And all just by cleverly acknowledging the complexities of our country and creating an original, clear and authentic brand proposition.

Time and time again we have seen the strong link forged between brands and countries, and the related perception of quality or consumer experience. More commonly referred to as the country of origin effect (COE), research has proven that this effect has a very strong influence on customers’ willingness to purchase products and the price level that they are willing to consider. Think of pricey German cars and how the connection between factors like precision engineering and high quality have been extrapolated from Germany as a country onto the cars they manufacture.

These are the kind of strategies that need to be accelerated, and for many brands this will mean doing things very differently. To my mind, it all begins with both local and global brands actively ending the apathy in their marketing strategies and applying a holistic understanding of the political, economic, and social realities in South Africa to their messaging and offerings. Undoubtedly, it will take strong, true marketing teams to innovate and deliver true value of this nature to markets.

Brands should have a clear stand on social issues

The truth is that you cannot be South African centric as a brand if you don’t play an active role in the issues of the community. Without a doubt, South Africa faces many social challenges, including poverty, gender-based violence, and xenophobia to name a few. These issues impact all brands’ consumers directly or indirectly and the way to win the consumers of your brand is to show empathy. In fact, showing empathy and incorporating a social drive into your brand is becoming the fastest way to get consumer buy-in in South African communities. This will, of course, mean that in order to show empathy brands will need to care enough to do something about these issues.

Brands who align their values with marketing strategies that seek to effect change in a given social issue are better able to bring their brand purpose to life and gain traction with consumers. After all, it is not just about building relationships based on a commercial transaction, it is about brand purposefulness. A key example is Investec, who partnered with Capital Hotels and Apartments as part of their ‘Get Well Hotel’ initiative to make hotel rooms available to their medical professional clients. This initiative allows individuals in the medical industry to self-isolate or recover from Covid-19 without putting their loved ones at risk. Most notably, Investec brought to life their purpose of safeguarding wealth and assets to offering people a safe haven during this precarious time.

Effectively, the time of brands wrapping their marketing strategies around bottom-line profits is over. If brands want to remain relevant and boost their reputations, they will have to put some snap and crackle behind their talk and take a clear stand on social challenges. Pleasingly, the number of brands engaging with communities around their points of pain is growing, with a small handful of brands, like Investec, showing that they care with actions that go far beyond the exchange of money. Another example is Carling Black Label’s ‘#NoExcuse’ campaign, which did more than sell beer. The campaign has raised significant awareness around child and women abuse by challenging traditional masculinity in South Africa and the ways in which it is violent.

Unfortunately, these strong examples aside, the number of brands willing to take a clear stand on social issues is relatively low. But this does mean that there is lots of room for brands to look at their purpose and use empathy to actively engage with the issues that their audiences face.

Brands should embrace and celebrate South Africanism

South Africa is poised to capture a strong country brand image and association in the minds of consumers worldwide, especially as the world is starting to aspire to a new African standard. This is particularly true in the creative space, where we are setting superior benchmarks and have positively positioned African brands on the global stage. Think of Mam Esther and the isiNdebele print, and how this has inspired many consumers and brands globally as well as locally.

In fact, I would argue that Africanism is the new best thing in the marketing space, evidenced by a growing hunger for locally produced content and products. What is more, this is clearly an ideal time in our nation’s history for brands to strategically localise their marketing communication and offering. That said, it is important for this to be done authentically. The last thing anyone wants is for local and international brands to mess up their brand proposition by being insensitive and seen as merely employing performative activism.

Perhaps the best way for brands to avoid this pitfall and to authentically inform their localised marketing strategies is to do the legwork and gain a firm grasp on the country’s history, its identity as it is now, and its hopes for the future. Examples that readily come to mind are local brand, Chicken Licken, and global player, Nando’s, who have both done well to localise their messaging by profiling South Africanism and Africanism through design and messaging, often showcasing the South African identity through humour.

The rewards await brands who become South African centric

Taking a South African centric approach in marketing strategies isn’t just the key to being culturally relevant. This relevance, when balanced with what a brand stands for, enables them to achieve longevity and gain a sustainable competitive advantage in the market. It could also bring credibility and prestige for their honest efforts.

Brand South Africa has once again partnered with The Marketing Achievement Awards (MAA) for the South African Resonance Marketing Award, which honours those brands who have successfully localised their marketing efforts. Through this year’s MAA event, all brands will have a platform and opportunity to access, network and co-create magic with those stakeholders that have bought into the vision of creating a country brand that inspires its people and is admired globally. The interest generated through these representative brand experiences can have positive spillover to the economy by making the country more attractive to tourists, skilled workers and investments.

There is only one South Africa and the sky is the limit in terms of potential innovation that can encapsulate the South African identity and tell the many South African stories that make our nation great. Given the recent and unfortunate events of the coronavirus pandemic which have triggered changes to consumer behaviour, we are living in a space in time where we can drill deeper into the country’s culture and heritage and deliver a more South African centric approach to the market. Whether it is a big innovation or small action, even something as seemingly simple as packaging, there are an abundance of opportunities for brands to embrace the South African identity, connect with her people, and strategically soar to new heights.