Last week I spoke at a conference on Accelerating Youth
Employment in South Africa. The conference was organised by Harambee, a non-profit
that bridges the gap between job-seekers and the formal economy by
providing psychometric testing, job-matching and training of young
people for interviews and the workplace. The work they do is
inspirational, but we were surprised earlier in the year when they
surfaced as a favourite brand amongst young, lower income South
Africans in research that we were conducting for our white paper
Building Brands in a Rapidly Changing South Africa. They are
not a consumer brand, after all.
Youth unemployment may seem like a strange topic for marketing
and brand strategy, but it isn't. Our research shows that marketers
should care about joblessness because consumers do. In a country
where more than 30% of the youth are unemployed, it's no surprise
that social issues have made their way into brand decisions.
Consumers aren't just consumers; they are people.
We found that across the board, South Africans want brands that
contribute to solving the country's social problems. It is simply
not true that only wealthier consumers care about social
investment. Wealthier consumers just express it differently. Where
some may love being able to contribute to the investment (such as
Woolworths's "MySchool" programme or KFC's "Add Hope"), others may
choose brands because they have invested in their community or
given them, a friend or family member a leg up.
We heard respondents say things like "I love brand x because
they give jobs", or "they make a difference in my community" or
"they help me lead a better life than my parents". Brands like Avon
made it into the Top 10 Favourite Brands list partly because of
their business model of directly employing ordinary women as their
sales force and distribution network. OUTsurance's pointsmen system
is so brilliant because they use people as their marketing. They
create jobs and give a visible demonstration of their brand promise
through people, where others just rely on traditional media.
Access is a basic of marketing, and yet too few brands are
thinking about what this means in the South African context.
Providing access to new goods and services and experiences is
important. But providing access to the economy is no less
important. Our economy still excludes far too many people, and
brands that can find ways to include the excluded will generate
huge amounts of goodwill and create strong brand loyalty. Marketers
shouldn't just be thinking of ways to sell things to people; they
should be thinking about how they can include potential customers
in ways that generate income for both parties.
Consumers are looking for brands that are serious about social
investment. That means marketers need to find ways to offer
opportunities, and not just products.