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South African brands beyond our borders

Stina Van Rooyen

Head of Brand, South Africa

Kantar, Insights Division


South African brands beyond our borders

South Africa has given us some of the world’s best recognized personal brands: Christiaan Barnard, Gary Player (the Black Knight), Ernie Els (the Big Easy), Elon Musk, Trevor Noah, Charlize Theron, and of course the world icon Madiba.

Why then is it that South African consumer and service brands have a low presence on the world stage? When the BrandZ Top 30 South African brands launched in 2018, the results showed that less than a fifth of revenues from these brands are being generated overseas. In fact, only 4 brands within the Top 30 generated the majority of their revenues from outside South Africa.

In this respect, South Africa lags behind countries like the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Surprisingly we are ahead of China, Australia and India. Granted, we may have had a disadvantage during the apartheid years, but is there another reason?

BrandZ valuation takes into account the brand’s financial value, as well as the intangible financial value that is contributed by creating demand for the brand in the mind of the consumer (brand contribution). The total value of the SA Top 30 is the lowest of all of BrandZ’s Top 30 markets around the world—even relatively underdeveloped markets like Indonesia, India and LATAM.  This is primarily due to much lower contribution to the brand value through the intangible part of the equation, suggesting that brand building is an underestimated strategy of adding value among South African businesses.

As Geoff Whyte, CEO of Nando’s IMEA, says, “South African businesses tend to focus on financial optimization, rather than brand building linked to the consumer.” He knows what he’s talking about. A brand like Nando’s punches well above its financial weight in the rankings due to its high brand contribution. It also tops the list of brands that generate the majority of their revenue outside our borders. How has the chicken managed to fly the coop?

In his book The Global Brand: How to create and develop lasting brand value in the world market, Nigel Hollis identifies five success factors to building a great global brand:

  1. A great brand experience
  2. Clear and consistent positioning
  3. A sense of dynamism
  4. A sense of authenticity
  5. A strong corporate culture

Nando’s ticks many of these boxes and other brands would do well to follow. The first part of their exceptional brand experience flows from their strong corporate culture, which is centered on creating a supportive and nurturing environment for people who work for them, resulting in happy, motivated people who help you when you buy chicken. Or as their website states: “It’s never been just about the chicken. It’s about the people who make the chicken.”

The second part of the experience is the chicken itself. Whyte describes it as: “Our very differentiated and fantastic product.”

The third part is the immersive experience. The brand’s origins shine through with a captivating story, built around its humble beginnings in South Africa and expressed in unique, SA-centric restaurant designs with original Southern African art and furniture. This is present not only in its physical spaces but also echoed digitally, which delivers a strong sense of authenticity.

All of the above is rooted in absolute unwavering clarity of what the brand stands for and sticking to it.

Another Top 30 brand, Absa, has recently had to revisit a clear and consistent positioning before spreading its wings into Africa. After splitting from Barclays, Absa had to take stock of whether its brand would be strong enough to stretch across 12 African countries. While simultaneously developing its new business strategy and new brand proposition, it had an insight that its corporate purpose and brand strategy should be one and the same.

There are many similarities between Absa and Nando’s when it comes to building a winning brand and equipping it to transcend borders. Absa’s new corporate culture has a strong focus on becoming both people and consumer-centric. As David Wingfield, Managing Executive, Group Marketing and Brand at Absa says, “Banking is not just about the system. It’s about the people and whether they believe.”

Absa also leverages its heritage and refers to being “rooted in Africa and fiercely proud of our heritage.” The brand is sensitive to local preferences in the different African countries, paying attention to details, such as ensuring Absa designs and colors can be used on Masai shuka blankets and Ghanaian kente cloth.

While Nando’s has had the benefit of time, Absa has just started the journey and has the tough task of rebranding well into 2020. Only time will tell whether Absa succeeds in creating a consistently great brand experience.

South African Top 30 brands show good potential to grow versus Top 30 brands in other countries. Isn’t it time for more local brands to share our South African difference beyond our borders?