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Brand equity is the core element of brand strength, adding resilience and encouraging growth in tough times like the current Covid-19 era as well as in the prosperous years of innovation on the horizon.

During this time of working smarter not harder, brand managers constantly have their feelers out for better ways to win consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets. It’s a fine balance because in a stretched economy, value is more than a price point. It also encompasses trust and convenience. 

That’s why brand value today requires a rethink to ensure emotional value for money as it’s not necessarily the cheapest product that goes into the trolley but the brand that best resonates with your audience, at the right price. This is a clear marketing win for those who have put in the time to make a mental mark, as it’s easier to reinforce an existing association by reminding consumers of what they already know than it is to start building a new one.

Time and again, the global Kantar BrandZ data has proven those brands that continue to invest in building a strong brand are the ones that grow faster. 

With that in mind, here are seven brand-boosting lessons from the home-grown brands that stood out in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable Brands of 2021 rankings:

Lesson 1: FNB on taking first spot and flourishing with functionality

FNB's repeat performance as top brand in the fourth Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands ranking is based on strong investments in digital innovation pre-pandemic and in showing strong consumer understanding in the face of the pandemic. 

FNB chief marketing officer Faye Mfikwe.
FNB chief marketing officer Faye Mfikwe.

FNB took #1 overall in 2021 with a brand value of $2.7bn in a year that saw extreme volatility in banking and financial services globally. It also stood out for creating a good range of well-designed products and services. 

FNB chief marketing officer Faye Mfikwe said at the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African launch: “When we continually strive to deliver against our purpose, which is underpinned by a promise of help, this recognition talks to how the market and our customers perceive us to have shown up as a brand through the difficult times that customers have had to navigate.

“We’re stepping into a data-driven, platform-based future that enables peer-to-peer capabilities, scaling this up to allow customers and businesses to interact directly on our digital platform with limited ‘middlemen’ intervention.”

At the crux of this is the bank’s use of technology to enhance the delivery of relevant financial solutions that minimise the angst associated with traditional banking, along with safer banking channels and meaningful value through the award-winning eBucks rewards programme.

Given the current economic climate and consumer context, FNB has also strived to help ease the financial burden by cutting basic banking costs and implementing cash flow relief measures. 

To help start-up businesses and sole proprietors, the FNB First Business Zero account carries no monthly account fees, free electronic transfers, free payment notifications and Cash@Till withdrawals, unlimited free POS card swipes, interoperable QR code for accepting payments and a linked Savings Pocket to ring-fence savings and earn interest.

The FNB Banking App is at the centre of their platform strategy

The FNB Banking App is at the centre of their platform strategy, with platform highlights including a virtual card, as well as the nav” Money “financial GPS”, which offers its 2.1-million users a snapshot their net worth; nav” Home, which has paid out about R26.8bn in loans since inception, with 970 current listings in the estate agent functionality; nav” Car, which lets you list a vehicle in minutes with an instant value estimate, having renewed and delivered more than 70,000 license discs and helped customers pay more than 200,000 fines on-the-go; and the new nav” Care solution, where customers can donate cash or eBucks to good causes in less than 60 seconds.

Then there’s the tutorial-packed Fundaba business education app, launched in 2019 to provide free interactive entrepreneurial e-learning via videos, podcasts, quizzes, templates, and tools to set up businesses for success. All delivered through a trusted digital platform, this showcases how the FNB brand has redefined functionality to include compassion, empathy and innovation.

Mfikwe explains: “We develop and deliver solutions from the viewpoint of the customer, not just the product. At FNB, brand-building is a deliberate and concerted effort that we undertake as we understand that a strong brand is an investment in terms of how it can contribute to the bottom line. Our brand-building initiatives are an investment in that having a strong and relevant brand in the market helps us to resonate with customers and can generate greater shareholder returns, but also provides resilience during downturns in the market and quicker return to growth when things improve. This has been very prevalent over the last two years, with the pandemic and other market constraints.”

Lesson 2: Checkers on reducing friction from the shopping experience through innovation

With digital no longer just a nice-to-have but a must-have for brand growth, technology is the biggest game-changer at play today. It’s what’s kept certain brand names in consumers’ minds and their products in consumers’ hands, driving the innovation that saw Checkers emerge as one of this year’s standout South African brands.

Coming in at #27 with a brand value of $334m, Checkers has developed a Mzansi e-commerce strategy that speaks strongly to the importance of innovation.

Checkers Group chief of strategy and innovation Neil Schreuder.
Checkers Group chief of strategy and innovation Neil Schreuder.

Shoprite Group chief of strategy and innovation Neil Schreuder said at the launch that the Xtra Savings Rewards programme has seen more than 20-million members in Shoprite and in Checkers — “that’s a million a month, all signed up on digital channels like WhatsApp, USSD, the app and the website so there was no physical paperwork, and no trees were harmed in the making of the rewards programme.”

Schreuder said that after 40 years of business, this is helping the brand know its customers intimately for the first time. “We know their age, how often they shop, and what time they read their emails. This allows us to be more customer-centric as a company. We were already famous for our low prices, now we’re also famous for giving customers low prices and value, in a personalised way.”

Regarding the popularity of the Checkers Sixty60 mobile app, Schreuder said it had to be simple and easy to use, as it let customers shop in as little as 60 seconds, but the truly pioneering angle is getting your order delivered in as little as 60 minutes. At present the number one grocery delivery app in the country, the true magic lies in the experience, with 90% of orders delivered within that 60-minute promise, proving that innovation doesn’t have to come at the expense of jobs, with Checkers Sixty60 having created 2,870 new positions since inception. 

Checkers has also invested in the fresh food experience, particularly in new stores where everything’s been built with the customer in mind, from the silent floors, so you don’t hear a trolley clicking, to partnerships with fresh food pioneers like Kauai, My Sugar artisanal chocolates, and organic honey producers.

Schreuder confirmed: “Our private label developers like Forage & Feast with Michelin-starred chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen have pushed the envelope on indulgent foods, in that they don’t have to cost the earth. We believe innovation around the customer experience is what creates long-term winners in the market, particularly in retail.”

Lesson 3: How customer obsession and tech have powered the Takealot growth story 

High on the Kantar BrandZ radar for many years, Takealot has been integral to consumers’ rapid adoption of e-commerce. Ensuring contactless deliveries during the pandemic saw the brand enter the ranking at #23 in 2021 as the year’s only newcomer — with a value of $446m. 

Takealot chief marketing officer Julie-Ann Walsh.
Takealot chief marketing officer Julie-Ann Walsh.

Takealot chief marketing officer Julie-Anne Walsh said at the brand launch event it was an honour to have a voice among local champion brands that Takealot had always looked up to.

“Takealot is the ultimate South African brand story, and we love to talk from a point of where we began, to appreciate where we are now and what our lofty goals are for five to 10 years’ time. We started out at a little rented house in Goodwood in Cape Town, with 25 staff members and a couple of hundred delivery drivers that delivered directly to the door. Everyone was doing everything. Over time, we’ve grown into a solid business with strong executive leadership that has a defined vision and mission that hasn’t changed over time.” 

That vision is to provide the most customer-centric online shopping experience in Africa, with the mission to offer the widest range of products and best prices, while serving customers, enabling business partners to prosper, and employees to thrive. 

Walsh confirmed: “With that in mind, every decision we make around how we spend our budget for marketing and every call we make around what we do with technology and where we put our focus and effort is based on our strategy of driving brand growth by better satisfying our customers’ needs. Our steely focus, understanding our customers and putting our money into brand-building, will yield long-term brand awareness, while keeping the lights on, with performance marketing, being quintessentially South African in our makeup and every story we tell, will drive our brand growth over time.” 

But there’s more to brand growth than pushing play on tech enablement. Kantar BrandZ valuations isolate the value generated by the strength of the brand alone in the minds of consumers.

Explaining how to influence consumer perceptions to build on that brand equity, Kantar BrandZ thought leadership director Graham Staplehurst explains there are four fundamental areas of brand building that drive consumer demand in the digital-first era:

  1. Experience: Strong brands meet expectations of new users and continually deliver a superior experience to regular users. The memories laid down by these experiences are one of the key foundations of a brand’s relationship with its customers.
  2. Function: Ensure you offer a product or service that is seen as well-designed with a suitable range of options — and innovate as necessary.
  3. Convenience: In a consumer-led environment, brand choice should be habitual and easy, without the need for conscious thought from busy consumers.
  4. Exposure: The best brands are created in the mind of the consumer through great communications, which define the brand and frame the actual product or service experience. Messaging needs to be relevant, memorable, creative, and consistent.
The four fundamental areas of brand building that drive consumer demand in the digital-first era.
The four fundamental areas of brand building that drive consumer demand in the digital-first era.

"As the proportion of brand equity driven by these is 62% in SA, we’ve taken this global insight and added a South African perspective, so brand managers can pick up sticky tips to unlock the elements of brand growth from this selection that came out tops in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable Brands of 2021," Staplehurst adds.

Lesson 4: Netcare on giving customer experience a digital heartbeat

Coming in #28th in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands of 2021 ranking with a brand value of $314m, Netcare stood out for delivering superior experience across all branded touchpoints. 

Sonja Winter, group head of marketing and person-centred engagement at  Netcare, confirms the brand has embraced the three global megatrends of customer-centricity, data, and digitalisation as core differentiators. “Traditionally, healthcare organisations have been very ‘transactional’ and focused on managing the episode-of-care only, excluding key components of the patient’s journey and experience of what happens before an event, as well as after.” 

Sonja Winter, Netcare's group head of marketing and person-centred engagement.
Sonja Winter, Netcare's group head of marketing and person-centred engagement.

Instead, Netcare has found a winning strategy of compassion, expertise and technology to support every patient with the best and safest care, while also attending to their wellness and wellbeing. Their brand strategy is therefore premised on person-centred health care that is digitally enabled and data-driven, recognising every patient’s journey as unique. 

Winter explains that the introduction of electronic medical records across all Netcare’s service platforms is the backbone of this approach, enabling doctors to remotely access patient charts and test results, improve collaboration across disciplines and operations, as well as their electronic prescription system. But their customer engagement platform is what’s truly revolutionising how the brand engages with patients. It gives them seamless access to their Netcare electronic health records through multiple digital channels, allowing for the delivery of an exceptional, intuitive and personalised experience.

Lesson 5: Clicks on the power of personalisation to enhance convenience

With so much choice in the realm of retail, convenience has become king, with difference-driven brands raking in the rewards. Clicks is a prime example. Known for its 3-for-2 promotions and the Clicks ClubCard loyalty programme that reaches more than 9-million active members, providing personalised engagement and rewards for members, while remaining simple, free, and easy-to-use.

Clicks came #22 in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands of 2021 with a brand value of $449m, also standing out for convenience in ensuring a seamless fit with consumers’ everyday lives.

Clicks Group marketing head Melanie Van Rooy.
Clicks Group marketing head Melanie Van Rooy.

Clicks Group marketing head Melanie Van Rooy explains: “As SA’s leading pharmacy, health and beauty retailer, we offer our customers in the middle- to upper-income market (LSM 6 to 10) exceptional value for money in convenient and appealing formats.” 

In this consumer-led environment, it is essential for brands to fit seamlessly into the everyday lives of users. While the brand has kept up with the times in becoming the largest private Covid-19 vaccine provider in SA, Clicks’ “Pay Less” tagline hasn’t changed in more than 50 years. It is just as relevant today as it was when Jack Goldin opened the first Clicks store in St George’s Street, Cape Town, in 1968. Value, convenience and differentiation remain front and centre, with digital convenience boosted through the Clicks e-commerce online store, allowing for home delivery or click and collect from any Clicks store nationwide, as well as a state-of-the-art queue management system in its pharmacies.

Clicks has also partnered with Vodacom to offer customers access to an enhanced online shopping experience and personalised digital engagement as the first health-and-beauty retail partner in the VodaPay super app. 

Lesson 6: Vodacom on messaging that reflects the consumer reality through exposure

There’s no denying that the right messages, resonating through memorable devices and stories, are a vital part of marketing. Getting this right means keeping an eye on the long game, consistently creating a wealth of positive brand associations that drive consumer choice. Many were steered off course during the pandemic but the need to stay connected while working, learning, and even socialising from home increased demand for telecom providers’ services.

Category leader Vodacom took this to heart, leaning into messaging during the pandemic with a wide range of welcome adverts and campaigns centred on humour, connection and resilience. 

That’s why in addition to moving up the ranking to #2 overall with a brand value of $2.57bn, Vodacom stood out in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable Brands of 2021 for cutting through with advertising, featuring memorable icons and messages.

Vodacom leads at present as SA’s top brand for exposure, as its innovative products and services are advertised in a way that reflects SA culture and tells real stories of personable characters who have combined their indomitable human spirit with tech to achieve their ambitions.

Abey Mokgwatsane, Vodacom's outgoing managing executive: brand and comms.
Abey Mokgwatsane, Vodacom's outgoing managing executive: brand and comms.

Abey Mokgwatsane, Vodacom's outgoing managing executive: brand and comms, explains: “Brands are a heuristic for customers in a cluttered world. Brand building is about creating an easy-to-understand reference to the solutions customers seek — this is where a brand is critical to the success of any business. Vodacom has done this through consistent communication that amplifies innovative products, embedded in purpose, that offer great value for money.” 

Over and above connectivity, Vodacom builds and implements innovative solutions that leverage the connectivity layer to enable a digitally connected economy for all. As a purpose-led technology company that uses its resources to connect Africans to a better future, this manifests in initiatives such as e-School, where more than 1.2-million children have free access to the entire public-school library on the Vodacom network, and funding of the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Call Centre in partnership with the social development department to fight the scourge of GBV.

The brand’s technological innovation also creates value for customers through products such as the Just4You customised special deals platform and Vodabucks, the largest loyalty programme in SA that rewards customers just for being on the network. Simpler customer experiences like SA’s largest chatbot Tobi also save customers time by circumventing the call centre. VodaPay, SA’s largest super app, with more than 1.5-million registered users, is an online megastore for customers and merchants to buy anything from data for any network to TVs.

Mokgwatsane says: “The best brand building not only amplifies products and services but also drives the business it represents to continue to build products that meet customer and societal needs, such that the brand expresses only what is true and authentic — nothing less will suffice in the connected world we live in, where customers and stakeholders expect brands to build a sustainable future. The acceleration of technology has in a sense accelerated society’s willingness to embrace the future Vodacom has been preparing for.” 

Lesson 7: Capitec Bank on making a meaningful difference with an entrepreneurial mindset 

Analysis of the Kantar BrandZ Global brand valuations in 2021 shows that the most valuable brands typically perform better across all four of the fundamentals. But Stina van Rooyen, Kantar insights division head of brand, SA, reveals that the secret sauce to predisposing people to pick your brands over the competition lies in creating a meaningful difference.

“Ultimately, predisposed consumers end up buying with less reminding, because you have succeeded in building up a bank of cumulative associations on which they have come to rely. As a result, they don’t need to evaluate their options every time they make a decision because they have already created a mental shortcut. Of course, this predisposition isn’t open-ended or infinite; rather, you need to keep reinforcing it through marketing and brand experience.” 

That’s why in addition to claiming 11th place in the ranking with a brand value of $928m in the challenging socioeconomic climate, Capitec Bank stood out for making a meaningful difference in consumers’ lives and setting trends while meeting both functional and emotional needs. 

Capitec Bank CEO Gerrie Fourie.
Capitec Bank CEO Gerrie Fourie.

Capitec Bank CEO Gerrie Fourie says it all boils down to agility, resilience and innovation. This focus on turning the economic crisis into an opportunity to bolster their digital offering while staying true to fundamentals of simplicity, affordability and personalised service has seen Capitec Bank’s active digital banking clients across the app, internet banking and USSD growing by 22% to 8.9-million.

The app allows customers to open a Global One account in real-time by scanning in their face and identity document, or to use the free virtual card with no transaction fees. Fourie confirms: “We’re seeing rapid growth in SA’s digital economy as clients also adopt contactless card payments and online shopping.” 

There’s also a focus on growing a strong savings culture in SA and fostering partnerships to create better value for clients, such as decreasing the cost of credit while creating bespoke purpose credit solutions that allow clients to access home loans with SA Home Loans, home improvements at CTM, vehicle finance at WeBuyCars, medical treatment at Mediclinic and education at Stadio. Capitec Bank has also partnered with Dis-Chem, Shell, Educate24, GetSmarter, Hello Doctor, JOOX, Rentalcars.com and Travelstart, ensuring clients receive cashback or discounts simply for activating a free Live Better savings account. 

What is your brand’s growth formula for 2022? 

The acceleration of technology and digitalisation has clearly changed the way we all do business. With technological advancements only set to accelerate in 2022, brands need to ensure they’re driving consumer demand in the digital-first era by providing superior experiences across all consumer touchpoints; communicating this through great advertising with memorable icons and messages; and to promote well-designed, innovative functionality that’s convenient and fits seamlessly into the everyday lives of users. 

Bonus lesson: The magic formula for brand growth is rooted in your brand tracker. Reflect on SA’s most valuable brands from 2018 to date and what the top brands have been up to in the last year.  Find out how to build brand equity, with data-driven insights exploring how different assets and channels influence perceptions and drive brand growth.

Discover more about Kantar BrandZ: Read the full report: the 2021 Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands ranking, report and extensive analysis.

About the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands Ranking

Kantar BrandZ is the global currency when assessing brand value, quantifying the contribution of brands to business’s financial performance. Kantar’s annual global and local brand valuation rankings combine rigorously analysed financial data with extensive brand equity research.

Since 1998, BrandZ has shared brand-building insights with business leaders based on interviews with 4-million consumers, for 18,000 brands in 51 markets, including opinions from 31,335 South African consumers on 660 brands in 47 categories.

The ability of any brand to power business growth relies on how it is perceived by customers. Grounded in consumer opinion, Kantar BrandZ analysis enables businesses to identify their brand’s strength in the market and provides clear strategic guidance on how to boost value for the long-term. The eligibility criteria are:

  • The brand must originally have been created in SA and be owned by an enterprise listed on the JSE or a credible stock exchange; and
  • For private brands originated in SA, their complete financial statements must be available in the public domain.

This article was paid for by Kantar.

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