Capturing the bottom of the pyramid: big brands target South Africa’s marginal consumers
Friday, July 12, 2013
According to a CNN report, South Africa’s emerging middle class have quickly matured as a retail market. Saturated with brand information through the mass media, these consumers are increasingly immune to the hard sell, traditionally defined. To reach them, corporates have adopted an entirely new, uniquely African, platform.
Bring on the zonal champions. Zonal champions – a term coined by South African marketers The Creative Channel – are individuals who market a brand on a person-to-person basis. They are essentially non-celebrity brand ambassadors who bring the brand into day-to-day interactions otherwise devoid of a commercial presence. The genius, and the risk, of this concept is the same: by bringing a brand promotion into private life, the brand is at once entering a space free from competitors but also ripe for backlash. Not everyone wants a family member pushing one brand of washing powder over another at a meaningful family event.
However, South Africa has long been a niche leader in innovative marketing and advertising, and the zonal champion concept is a refined form of word-of-mouth – the holy grail of marketers – that relies on the tact and savvy of the zonal champion him- or herself to finesse the entire process.
Zonal champions make a certain kind of sense when you consider the size of the market of poor and middle-income South Africans: they are easy to train, they tend to come from the nation’s large pool of long-term unemployed and low-skilled, and they have unmatched penetration into rural and township communities. However, in a context in which global manufacturers and multinational corporations increasingly use South Africa as a springboard, the prospect for word-of-mouth micromarketing by members of a local community takes on a very different prospect.