Sunday, November 01, 2009

Marketing in South Africa

Spending a few days in Johannesburg, South Africa, this week, I was intrigued by three core observations that I was able to make, mostly through discussions with brand marketers, advertising colleagues, and trade journalists:

  • The quality of the strategic thinking of the senior marketers that I met parallels the top marketing countries in the world. South Africa can be proud of having outstanding strategic thinkers in its marketing communities. The key hurdles of elevating the sophistication of the marketing discourse even further in the right direction seem to be twofold: The lack of trusted and cost-efficient accessible marketing data and insufficient and reliable Internet bandwidth. Both issues should be addressed by the countries leading marketing organizations, since a lack of improvement could seriously hamper South Africa’s currently advanced place as a top marketing leader.
  • The lack of sufficient and consistently strong Internet bandwidth hampers quite a few marketing innovations. Using the Internet in South Africa reminded me of 2002 or 2003 in North America due to its slow Internet connection. One, used to today’s high Broadband penetration in North America and Europe, easily forgets how dramatically different the Internet usage with slow speed is. The government spends rightfully quite a lot of investments on physical roads in preparation of the 2010 Soccer World cup. But one needs to ask if there is sufficient investment into Internet bandwidth. Should the government spend an available $100 million for an additional road or for extended Internet bandwidth? There are quite a few good arguments that Internet connections could provide a better investment choice to increase the wealth of a nation and spur development for the underprivileged than an incremental physical road.
  • South Africa could become a great test market for piloting and prototyping brands and product solutions for a market that has two highly diverse income segments: 20% of the population as part of the upper middle class with a good income base and the rest of the population with a significantly lower income level, any strong and large middle class is lacking. South Africa has roughly 45-50 million inhabitants with less than 5 million taxpayers. It has a similar population structure as China or India but on a much smaller scale. The challenges of successfully promoting a brand with the need for such a significant brand stretch could be well experimented and piloted in South Africa with all the key results extrapolated to some of the largest nations of the world.

South Africa seems to sometimes struggle with finding its identity within the global marketing community, but there is much to be proud of and more opportunities than most believe. South Africa remains a fascinating creatively talented and increasingly strategic deep marketing community that should be on the radar of every curious marketer. It’s not just the upcoming 2010 World Cup that should motivate a visit.

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