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Offer jobs, not just products
Posted by
Al Mackay at 10:00

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. 

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