The consumer profile of the country has changed beyond recognition since 1994. We have become more urbanised, wealthier and more integrated into the global economy, bringing global brands to our shores and opening up the world to our most successful brands.
From a marketers' point of view, the biggest change of the past twenty years has undoubtedly been the rise of the black middle class. This has meant spending power is shifting to an entirely new set of consumers, with differing histories, contexts and needs to the markets most brands are accustomed to serving.
It is our view that brands are not doing enough to connect with today's South African consumer - they are playing half the role they could play. There are some that are making a difference and these are reflected in our results below.
Yellowwood asked South African consumers for their point of view. Running a mobile survey with nearly 900 people across Johannesburg and Cape Town in March of this year, we asked respondents to name the brands they think best understand them and why, the brands they believe have most transformed in line with South Africa, and their favourite brands and why. We combined this research with an analysis of the Sunday Times Top Brands over the past twenty years to look for patterns in which brands had risen to prominence, which had fallen from favour and which had remained favourites. There are a number of interesting lessons and tips for marketers from the results.
Shoprite: Shoprite ranked number one for the South Africans we surveyed. Shoprite is loved because it offers access, affordability and choice. Many respondents said that they love the brand because of the customer experience - Shoprite treats its customers with respect, something that is still far too rare for mass-market consumers. An interesting finding in our results was that Shoprite appealed across the socio-economic spectrum, showing that South Africa is witnessing the emergence of 'hybrid consumers' who shop for the lowest prices on everyday things to save up for luxuries. The relationship between price and income isn't linear.
Coca-Cola: Coca-Cola is the most consistent winner of the Sunday Times Top Brands Survey over the past twenty years. Consumers love Coke because it is a joyful brand. The product is delicious, refreshing and affordable, but it is the marketing of this brand that really makes it shine. It makes people smile. It gets close to people by personalising cans. Consumers really appreciate that Coke invests in communities and gives to charity - it was commonly cited as a reason for loving the brand.
Pick n Pay: The success of Pick n Pay is very simple. Consumers trust Pick n Pay. It is a brand that offers good quality at affordable prices, and this, along with excellent customer service, is what really appeals to South African consumers. It is a friendly and generous and that is an excellent way to build a strong South African brand.
Nike: Nike has transcended South Africa's social barriers, appealing to a broad variety of consumers, using attitude as a platform. Lower-income consumers think the brand gives them 'swagger' and makes them feel stylish, while higher-income consumers love the quality of their clothes and the power of their brand philosophy. "Just do it" is the perfect message for our young democracy - showing determination and belief in oneself. Nike pushes social integration with events like Run Jozi that get South Africans out into the streets and into each other's space. Though South Africa is not yet as integrated as we would like to be, South African consumers love brands that make us feel a sense of being part of something bigger. This is what drove so much affinity for Castle in the 1990s.
Woolworths: Woolworths is a transformed brand. It ranks in the top five favourite brands for all race groups and both black and white consumers believe it has transformed in line with South Africa. Consumers love Woolworths for its unrelenting focus on quality, for its in-store experience which one respondent described as 'so relaxing I sometimes just go and stand in there' and because of its good business journey. Across the board in our research, the brands that care about the country were rewarded with loyalty from consumers.
FNB: FNB appeals to a young generation of South Africans, scoring highly for brand transformation among young consumers. FNB is reinventing the rules of financial services - it is innovative, tech-savvy and responsive on social media. By positioning itself as the customer champion in a category that is traditionally confusing and dull, it earns the love of South African consumers who have no time for conventions that do nothing for them.
MTN: Like Coke, MTN is an upbeat and positive brand, making consumers feel good and tapping into shared South African passions and national pride. It has developed a new lexicon and language for South Africa. MTN is an African success story, and that resonates with a new generation of South Africans who feel proud of where we are going and determined to succeed against all odds. The story of success against adversity is hugely motivating in the South African context.
The brands that do well in South Africa today are those that get the basics of quality, value and accessibility right. But there is still so much more that can be done beyond product and service. Sadly, many brands are treating the black middle class as a target and are missing the opportunity to lead and drive change in these consumers' worlds.
For the full results, and lessons learned, download our latest white paper, Building Brands in a Rapidly Changing Market: Lessons for South Africa here
This article first appeared in the Saturday Star and the Weekend Argus, 17 May 2014