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Nicole Velleman
Aspirational brands for the South African consumer
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It’s no secret that South Africans are aspirational. We’re a nation of big-dreamers and self-starters that want to make things happen and build a better, more successful future for ourselves and those around us. And it’s not just a sentiment either – it’s a reality.

Since 2004, LSM 1-3 have halved in size while LSM 6 has doubled, and there's been a 99% increase in LSM 7+. The urban population has increased from 52% in 1990 to 63% in 2013 and is expected to continue growing. The increasing spending power of the growing, urban middle class is a sign that people are moving up.

Recently, I've noticed a lot of brand communication that plays in the aspirational space. KFC's 'Sithi Salute Kleva' campaign, for example, celebrates the South African entrepreneurial spirit: "the hustlers, the aboKleva, the dreamers, the street smarts, the savvy I'll-make-it-happen self-starters of our country".

In Nedbank's latest campaign, 'Make Your Savvy Life Happen', Eugene demonstrates how you can live the life you want if you're more savvy with your money. This communication is padded up with events and online content featuring the #Talks4Success project, which profiles inspirational South Africans and allows them to tell their stories of how they turned their lives around.

This got me thinking about the 'rising', 'emerging' middle class we're always talking about, and how much more brands could do to help them reach their goals. Brands that become a part of their journey to success will generate huge amounts of loyalty and love. These aspirational consumers are looking for more than just functional products and services. They attach emotional value to the brands that support their aspirations and enrich their life experiences.

There are brands with all the right intentions that completely fail to connect with these consumers. Many premium brands that have tried to broaden their appeal and target the emerging middle class have done so by re-packaging their offerings to feel like a 'cheaper' option. In Soweto, for example, we've seen retailers offer clothing that's slightly behind season, and a restaurant chain offering a menu with some of the more expensive options removed. It immediately looks like a low-cost, less important option. Getting the balance right between affordability and aspiration can be difficult. Consumers can be really put off if it makes them feel cheap.  

Consumers look for value - and value doesn't mean 'cheap'. Value means getting more benefit for what you pay. When choosing between brands, consumers are all about the value equation, even if it's subconscious: what value is this brand adding to my life? And am I willing to pay slightly more for what I am getting because the total value is more than what I can get from any other brand? For many aspirational consumers this value is assumed to be flash - a way to shout about economic and social status. But it's a mistake to think that's the only thing aspirational consumers care about. They want brands that help them feel successful in many other ways. 

Woolworths is a great example of delivering value through quality. Because they have not compromised on this value to customers, they have managed to stretch down and capture the 'value-orientated' but aspirational lower end of the market. Clever marketing, weekly specials and packaged meal deals have pushed the brand into a more affordable space, and its now competing with the likes of Pick 'n Pay and Shoprite. It's seen to be more affordable, yet it is still aspirational, and manages to stay relevant at both ends of the market.

Middle class consumers are transient. They're moving up and will likely continue to move up - and brands that can offer exceptional value at each point in their life journey will stick with them as they move up. DSTV, for example, does this with its various bouquets of channels at different price points.

So what can brands do to better market to the rising middle class?

  1. Offer exceptional, unique and relevant value beyond the product and service
  2. Avoid being perceived as a 'low-cost' alternative only
  3. Understand consumer aspirations and find ways to help them achieve them
  4. Give consumers a special experience regardless of the price point
  5. Give consumers the option and the space to grow with your brand

Connecting with a new generation of aspirational South African consumers means being a part of their journey to success, supporting them in reaching their goals, making them feel successful for choosing your brand, offering them what they value above all else, and making sure you have something even better to offer them once they're made it. This nation of big dreamers loves the brands that help them turn those dreams into reality. 

This article first appeared in The Red Zone.

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