Jan-Benedict Steenkamp. Picture: SUPPLIED
Jan-Benedict Steenkamp. Picture: SUPPLIED

Collectively, SA brands are suffering from a general lack of confidence — and this is the principal reason that many fail to find global traction.

This blunt assessment comes from one of the world’s leading marketing brains, Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, Knox Massey distinguished professor of marketing at the Kenan Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina, in the US.

Steenkamp spoke to the Financial Mail on the sidelines of the recent Wits Business School 2018 Emerging Markets Conference.

Netherlands-born Steenkamp has been ranked number one in the world in scholarly influence in marketing.

Apart from the self-esteem issue, he says local brands also fail to cohesively tell the global market about their strengths and what they have to offer, despite the best efforts of marketing bodies and organisations.

He suggests they need to speak to each other more, find common points of co-operation and synergy, and develop a more collegial, outward-looking strategy.

Steenkamp says local brands also need to work harder at building what he terms the "pride factor". Chinese and Indian businesses and their consumers, he says, seem to take more pride in their brands and their success than South Africans do.

"In India and China people are constantly asking why they have not produced a Nike or an Apple brand. I don’t think that is the case in SA," he says.

Steenkamp is baffled at the general lack of brand confidence in SA. "You have all the advantages. SA is the largest brand player on the continent, with well-known names; the country has developed and respected financial institutions and access to capital; and I have witnessed nothing but excellent core brand management competence."

While this swuggestion may stick in the craw of local marketers, Steenkamp says bigger and more complex brands looking beyond just African markets might do well to recruit international management expertise.

"We live now in a competitive global village and the only way to grow market share is by using best practice, no matter where it comes from," says Steenkamp, a specialist in global marketing, branding and emerging markets and strategy.

Connections and origins

Another hidden brand weapon, says Steenkamp, is SA’s global connections. "Business people from this country are unusually well connected and this network can be leveraged through the diaspora."

An Indian brand that has latched onto this thinking is the giant cosmetics marque Dabur. Through clever packaging and iconography playing on nostalgia and wisdom, it has made huge gains in the UK market among Indian expats.

Steenkamp also asks why SA commodities are not being given a stronger brand treatment. A concerted effort in Colombia to push the strength, history and origin of its coffee has led to a higher price premium.

"Italian wine at times can add a 100% premium just by noting the provenance. Does the SA wine market have an effective and cohesive brand strategy?"

Steenkamp is also part of an initiative in China called Brands Day. This is a chance for businesses to immerse themselves in brand marketing, to better understand each other’s products and work towards a more collaborative strategy for external markets.