Our Thinking

Communicating with cash-strapped consumers

An interview with our MD, Refilwe Maluleke

09 March 2018

Communicating with cash-strapped consumers

In an environment in which SA consumers are strapped for cash, brands must ensure two things: that they build trust with their consumers; and that they are clear about the value they can add to consumers’ lives – not in the form of discounted prices, but by making a real difference, says Refilwe Maluleke, newly appointed MD at marketing consultancy Yellowwood.

“Whether they’re struggling to afford the upkeep on their second homes or to buy meat for the family dinner, every consumer is feeling the pressure,” says Maluleke. Political, social and cultural volatility is creating additional tension, she adds, resulting in consumers desperately needing brands to keep their promises in every facet of delivery.

For brands to win consumers’ trust, they need to begin by ensuring that their strategy is rooted in meaningful consumer insight. This creates lasting relevance for a brand and does not tend to change over time. Once a brand has defined what it stands for, Maluleke says, it can start making deliberate choices about the customer experiences it delivers at every touch point.

It’s a challenging landscape, she warns. Consumer expectations are no longer confined to product categories. Rather, a favourable experience in one category – banking, for example – will create an expectation for every other category, from e-commerce to hospitality. Consumers want faster, more personalised experiences across the board – a challenge that means marketers need to be cognisant of what is happening in all categories, not just their own.

“This state of affairs may seem to be similar to drinking water from a fire hydrant,” says Maluleke. This is where deliberate choices become important: brands need to decide which moments on the customer journey they are able to enhance and then work on those, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

A further challenge facing marketers is the increasing cultural awareness of consumers and their lack of tolerance towards brands that are “tone deaf” in this regard, she says.

Challenges aside, Maluleke says it’s an exhilarating time be in the industry. She is particularly enthusiastic about the increased purchasing power of women and what brands are doing to harness the opportunities around this market. “Women make decisions in a completely different way to men and it’s going to be exciting to see what brands are doing in this regard,” she says.

Closer to home, Maluleke says she is thrilled to be taking on the challenging role of MD at Yellowwood, and is looking forward to maintaining the company’s growth trajectory, as well as working on digitising the business to a greater degree. “Externally, we’re looking to expand the scope of the business, helping our clients to ‘live’ their strategies,” she explains.

Interview by Lynette Dicey, originally published on Financial Mail