• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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‘Integrating content, data, artificial intelligence will enhance firms’ brand marketing success’

Ntsubane 1

Andisa Ntsubane is a leading African brand activist with over 15 years of working experience for top African and international brands across multiple industries including, Microsoft and Standard Bank. He is currently the Marketing Chief for Africa at Old Mutual Limited. In this interview with DESMOND OKON, he speaks on trends that will shape Africa’s brand marketing and growth strategies for companies in 2020. Excerpts:

How would you describe brand marketing in Africa today, after over 15 years of experience working with the some of the best brands?

I think we have come a long way as a continent. Africa is one of the last frontiers for global growth with some of the fastest-growing economies when compared with subdued growth in the rest of the world. Africa also has significant demographic and digital dividends, with a young population and high mobile penetration, and this makes it a continent of great potential. My sense is that over the past 15 years there has been a significant shift in how the world perceives Africa. Global and Pan African brands have come to recognise the continent’s uniqueness. They have come to realize that it’s not a cut and paste effort and for them to succeed on the continent, they really must take time to understand every country because Africa itself is not a country, every single country has unique cultural nuances, the brands that immerse themselves in that contextual understanding of customers and what the key insights are the ones that will succeed. The manifestation of this has been the emergence of more global and pan African brands translating their brand messages into local languages and using slang to connect better with markets in Africa. Other brands have also begun to use images of local people across their creative assets unlike in the past where they used similar images across multiple geographies which did not always resonate. Another significant shift is in the area of culture and influence. If you think about the global music stage, African music and culture is being exported globally with music and fashion artists sharing playing leading roles on the global stage. Brands have recognised the appeal of these icons and have begun to leverage them to help drive and promote brands locally as key part of their marketing connection strategies.
Brand Marketers are definitely making significant progress in reaching and connecting with audiences across the continent.

Using Nigeria as an example, what brand marketing strategy do you think works best?

For me, Nigeria is like the heartbeat of Africa. The resilience and vibrancy of the consumers in this market is unrivalled. Many brands look at the unique demographic dynamics in this market and see a lucrative opportunity to build their businesses. The challenge though is that many brands have failed. Some have entered this market and exited only within a few years. To win in this market you have to have a clear path to growth and key part of that is playing a role, not only building the brand, but also building the category within which the brand is playing. This means that you need to be clear about which cities you want to be in, and ensure the customer value propositions are crisp and compelling and then from a marketing mix perspective, I would recommend that brand awareness is supplemented by digital and physical engagement. Brand engagement is key as brands need to engage and ideate with consumers so that there is a level of awareness and education around products and services in order to drive brand advocacy. Nigeria represents a melting pot of opportunities with its dynamic and diverse market but it is crucial that brands take time to understand customers from a cultural and religious perspective and then focus on the customer journey to drive conversion and advocacy.
 

What is the future of brand marketing in Africa, especially the role of chief marketing officers (CMOs) because whenever there is a challenge in the economy, marketing budgets get the axe first, some other companies go as far as removing the position?

Well, I think we have got to start with assessing what the role of the CMO is and how this has changed over the past few years. My sense is that there has been a big shift from CMO’s performing the role of driving Marketing Communications campaigns and supporting corporate business plans to operating in today’s digitally-led era where CMOs are now playing the role of the Chief Growth Officer for an organisation. This means that the CMO’s role has become more commercially led and Marketing leaders have to lead in identifying sources of business growth and winning customers and play a critical role in driving market competitiveness for the business and brand they are overseeing. Marketing must be the function that identifies the markets/customer segments where the brand must play and then define the go-to-market strategies that will enable the brand to connect and drive advocacy.  I also think that for CMO’s to be indispensable to any organisation, there must be a strong drive to link brand communications to customers’ experience, because ultimately, your brand is a reflection of how customers experience a product or service. CMO’s must also take up the responsibilities to really crystallize what the brand stands for and what that means from an experience point of view. The brands that are going to succeed are the ones delivering exceptional customer experience.

How do you think storytelling in marketing can resonate with Africans?

 
The most interesting point for me is that the very concept of storytelling started here on the continent so brands that can articulate their purpose and value propositions in the form of a narrative will be the ones that connect better with consumers on the continent. The delivery of that narrative needs to be in short bite-size content that is produced across multiple platforms aligned to the customer journey so that the right message lands with the right consumers in the right context at the right time. There is no doubt that whilst content is key, context will be king in 2020.

How will you evaluate professionalism and expertise in Africa’s brand marketing?

I think that one of the key things is for Brand Marketers’ to focus more on delivering on business outcomes. Marketers’ have always been good at asking for money but have mostly fallen short of accurately articulating what the business is going to get for that money.  Marketers’ have got to spend a lot more time upfront talking about the key outcomes that marketing is going to deliver and then aligning the marketing scorecard to those outcomes so that teams are focused on delivering achieving those goals.
Brand Marketers can also play a significant role in supporting efforts to protect the reputation of their businesses and brands at a strategic level. In an increasingly digital world, where social media platforms can erode brand equity in an instant, Brand Marketers should be taking a leadership role to proactively engage and develop strategies to mitigate brand risk online.

So what would you describe as the major shortcoming of brand marketing professionals?

For starters, I think that as Brand Marketing Professionals, we sometimes execute with a lot of media wastage and inefficiencies and this ties back to the ROI story. Brand Marketer’s must make sure they develop their Marketing strategies based on data and customer journeys. The world is moving towards mass personalisation and therefore, media and content needs to be highly targeted and my sense is that we have some way to go to raise the bar and reach maximum efficiency standards across the industry.

What are the trends you think will shape brand marketing in 2020?

I have spoken about content and context being important to ensure that brands drive resonating messaging strategies. Data will be at the heart of innovation and growth over the next decade. The emergence of Artificial Intelligence as a platform to gather, analyse and store large amounts of data must be leveraged by Marketers to ensure that it helps us to easily understand and predict customer trends and incorporate that knowledge into our marketing strategies. Aligning brand positioning with a seamless customer experience will be important to maintain integrity between what the brand says and how it is experienced. Employee brand and culture will be a massive focus to unlock customer centricity and demonstrate how the brand can be lived within an organization and aligned to the experience.
All of these are important but where I think the biggest trend will be in the ability of brands to seamlessly integrate brand content, data, artificial intelligence, customer experience, employee brand and culture in service of the customer’s needs. Brands that will win in 2020 will be the ones that are able to create cross functional teams that are able to lead this integration in order to drive organisational competitiveness in the market.

On the agency side, this will also be a year where there will be a lot of consolidation on the continent. Agencies are seeking to provide full services to clients and therefore I suspect there will be a lot of integration of different creative, online, offline and through the line services aligned to media which will be interesting to see. A consequence may be the growth of independent agencies or the entry of global agencies with networks acquiring independent agencies to leverage synergies.
Last but not least, 2020 will be the year that there will also be an increase in the investment in Marketing Technology. In fact, some organizations have introduced the role of Marketing Technologist to support the implementation of a Marketing Technology stack to support marketing operations and execution tracking. Marketing Technology will be a key enabler in assisting Brand Marketers to report on performance.

What would you say has been the high point of your career as a brand strategist?

 
I have been blessed to have worked across multiple industries and on global and local brands in my career. From building brands to rebranding and integrating brands on the continent, I have really enjoyed being able to play a part in building brand equity for businesses. At the moment, at Old Mutual, I am particularly proud of the work that we have done as a Marketing team to influence our Executive team to support our recommendation to revitalize and reposition our 175 year-old brand to ensure that we enhance its promise and relevance within the markets where we operate whilst making it meaningfully differentiated from our competitors. We have an amazing brand which plays an important role to sustain and grow the prosperity of the customers, families and communities that we serve. The responsibility that we play as brand leaders is to ensure that we enhance the equity of the brand we manage and leave them in a better position that we found them and that is the work that we have been driving at Old Mutual and I am extremely proud to be making a contribution in service of that ambition. Another special memory in my career was when I was at Standard Bank and had the amazing opportunity to launch innovative sponsorship platforms that delivered on business outcomes as well as achieved global recognition and served as best practice. Two examples of this are the launch of the 20 over cricket property called the Standard Bank Pro20 series to capture the youth market in South Africa. The property captured the hearts and minds of the South African market in general and the youth market in particular. Some of the innovations were a world first and ended up being adopted at the 20 over ICC Cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League. We won awards for the innovations. On the rest of the continent, I had the opportunity to be part of the team that oversaw the sponsorship of the Africa Cup of Nations football property. With football being the other language of Africans, it was amazing to leverage it to build the Standard Bank and Stanbic Bank brand across the African continent. Truly special moments.

What actually influenced your career choice as a brand marketing specialist and passion for African brands? 

It is interesting, because I almost stumbled across marketing much later on learning journey. Everyone wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, or an engineer, we never had marketing advertising people come to talk to us about it, but I have always been fascinated by people’s behavior and how people are influenced. So, I love the fact that our industry is about creating ideas and the power of ideas to help change lives.  We have a significant role to play in creating value for customers and employees in the markets where we operate whilst also leading the growth of the businesses and brands that we serve, and that is what drives me today.

I am optimistic and passionate about the continent. I really think that the story of Africa rising has gone on for too long. Now is the time to actually take our rightful place on the global marketing stage; this is the decade for Africa.

 Final words

If you’re looking for a vibrant career where you will be challenged, stretched, developed and fulfilled, then certainly Brand Marketing is the profession to be in. A massive responsibility, but trust me, it is hugely rewarding both personally and professionally.