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A group of youngsters in Langa, Cape Town, relax against a wall bearing a painting of Steve Biko. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH
A group of youngsters in Langa, Cape Town, relax against a wall bearing a painting of Steve Biko. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH

As marketers, we like to believe the products we are selling and the companies and brands we are creating for, are making a difference in the lives of the customers we are selling to. But how often do we get it right?

For many of us, living our carefully balanced, always-on-sometimes-off hybrid lives, the past year and a half has been bumpy. But for many South Africans, almost half of whom live in townships and informal settlements, it’s been especially challenging. 

While unemployment is rife and household incomes are low, in aggregate, the township market represents billions in spending power. Yet little publicly available data exists to help marketers better understand how to tailor their messaging to speak to the needs and wants of this substantial audience.

The 2021 Township Marketing Report, by Rogerwilco, market research company Survey54 and Marketing Mix Conferences aim to partially plug this gap and equip marketers with actionable insights. 

More than 1,000 people living in townships in SA were polled to examine how they support themselves financially: where and on what they spend their money and how this has changed over the past year; what their preferred payment methods are; and what influences shopping behaviour and the types of communications they prefer to receive from marketers.

Picture: SUPPLIED/ROGERWILCO
Picture: SUPPLIED/ROGERWILCO

Mass market doesn’t mean mass marketing

Historically townships were considered the “mass market”, meaning predominantly low-income households, and this led to a homogenised approach to communication. The same would not ring true in present day reality.

The report provides insights on ways to engage with township residents with recommendations from friends and family — cited by 15% — followed by newspaper inserts (13%) making the top of the list. Anyone who has visited a township on payday will recognise the significance of couponing as a major driver of purchase behaviour.

Despite brands channelling increasing chunks of their marketing budgets into digital channels, television continues to wield power, with 11% of respondents citing it as a key source of information. Conventional broadcast commercials outperformed website and social media advertising (9%).

Influencer or influential?

On the topic of influencers, township residents were almost twice as likely to be swayed by those holding positions of authority in their communities (11%) than they were by celebrity influencers.

This once again draws into question the value of high-budget influencer marketing and shows the value that micro-influencers can bring to marketing programmes. Better, therefore, for brands to build connections in the community by working with elders, religious leaders and teachers than investing in blockbuster campaigns that look to capitalise on high-profile personalities with large social followings.

It was interesting to note that SMS marketing was the form of communication least likely to convince township residents to part with their cash. This is perhaps reflected in the 5% compound annual decline in SMS and MMS spend reported by PWC in its latest African Entertainment and Media Outlook.

When it comes to the best language to communicate in, 70% of the respondents stated a preference for English, and 9% requested advertising be personalised into one of SA’s 10 other official languages.  

So, where does this research leave SA brands as they look to create more meaningful engagement with their consumers?

The evolution of marketing

The most resonant campaigns are those that show affinity with their target market and are not one-size-fits-all. Whether this is through an understanding of the lifestyle pressures that affect decisionmaking; doubling down on education; committing to offer all constituents the same quality of service; or ensuring messaging is in the right language, this report shows if marketers up their game when it comes to positioning their brands to township audiences, their campaigns will be successful.

The need for effective education is identified in many areas of the report. While financial institutions have tried to engage township audiences, the slow switchover from cash to other payment methods suggests that their messaging is not landing as intended.

The topic of loyalty is an interesting one. In a township context where depressed household incomes dictate purchasing decisions, it’s evident that convenience and familiarity often outweigh price and can scupper all but the best loyalty programmes.

Fake famous brands

Attitudes towards counterfeit products are also worthy of mention. The peculiar influence of the human psyche is felt across our varied landscape, and no time more so than when it comes to our fear of exposure. Aspiration is familiar to us all and brands can learn from this and look to create genuine lower-cost products that fulfil the needs of their customers.

Where to from here?

With so many marketing mediums being used to reach audiences, it’s clear that the most successful campaigns are integrated and will use a variety of channels to engage.

For some brands this might mean combining a coupon/leaflet campaign with strong above-the-line television commercials focusing on price points. For others, there’s an opportunity to build trust by creating authentic partnerships with local, community-based influencers and broadcasting the depth of these commitments across social media platforms using WhatsApp as the central pillar. For the sake of consistency, it seems best to stick to English.

While this research paper is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of the township environment, the authors hope that it will provide some level of insight that empowers marketers to refine their activities to better engage one of the most misunderstood audience segments in SA.

Click here to read the full report >>>

This article was paid for by Rogerwilco.

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