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Picture: 123RF/dolgachov
Picture: 123RF/dolgachov

Brands, companies and nations had already started to communicate with audiences in new ways before the pandemic, with a focus on engaging with customers and stakeholders on an emotional rather than a transactional level.

There was a movement towards not just providing a value proposition to customers but for companies to embody and communicate values that people truly care about in areas such as the environment, or diversity and equality, or social justice and impact.

The Covid pandemic accelerated the way people looked to corporations for leadership and a reflection of their own values. While we may be emerging from the pandemic, there are clear indicators that we will continue to live in uncertain times when ordinary citizens will be affected by issues such as food security, rising energy and food costs, inflation and economic volatility, and the increasing toll of climate change. This continued period of dramatic change will require marketers to do things differently and truly resonate with their customers in order to create and nurture deep connections.

It was within this context that I moderated a panel discussion on the theme of “Africa Rising” at the recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. This CNN conversation, held in partnership with the International Advertising Association (IAA), looked at how some of Africa’s leading CMOs are telling brand stories to the continent and the world during this time of change. Gathered together at the Warner Bros Discovery beach space were Africa marketing leader of the Year Andisa Ntsubane, Nedbank group executive of marketing & corporate affairs Khensani Nobanda and president of North America for SA Tourism Jerry Mpufane.

IAA’s world president & chair Joel Nettey pointed out that “Africa Rising is not an event in time. Africa Rising is present and continuous. It’s Africa Rising all the time in spite of the challenges.”

The conversation quickly turned to the topic of “purpose marketing” and what brands should be doing to help and reflect the needs of their employees, communities, customers and the countries within which they operate. As Nettey eloquently put it, “brands have a role to play where purpose is concerned, and consumers care about brands that care about more than just the bottom line”.

The panel was in agreement that purpose marketing has the power to drive connections but that it requires a story and it needs substance. Mpufane said that research for SA Tourism shows that while visitors will admire the country, its safaris, its beaches and its landscapes, there is one thing that stands alone as the number one reason why visitors fall in love with SA – its people. He explained how SA Tourism deliberately puts people at the centre of its campaigns, with the essence of people inviting their “friends” from around the world to visit the country. 

Putting people and purpose at the heart of a campaign requires an anchor point to give focus and provide outcomes. Ntsubane said: “Marketing functions that will be successful in future are those that can connect marketing to the [sustainable development goals] in terms of impact.” This point was echoed by Nobanda, who agreed that building culture, values and a customer proposition around these goals gives Nedbank focus in its work concerning impact and purpose. Her message was very clear: “We believe as a bank that we can’t be a sustainable organisation in an unsustainable world”. 

The context of the world around us is absolutely vital for any marketer focused on purpose. If there is a social justice movement that aligns with your values as a company and is important to your customers, more often than not your customers will expect you to take a position on it. However, any action must be authentic and meaningful – it can’t just be a badging exercise or an opportunistic move to be part of the latest fad.

At CNN, we counsel our clients about the reasons why they want to conduct a particular campaign – whatever we and our partners do must be authentic. For Ntsubane, a company’s drive to stand for something and to embody certain values must come from the top.  “Purpose should be owned by the CEO, not the CMO. It must be executive led, not marketing led,” he said.

Mpufane agreed, adding, “If you’re running a business and you think ‘I am part of this community, I am part of the employee set, I take national pride, I fly the flag,’ you think about things differently”. 

There was clear agreement that African youth have to be central to purpose marketing and that they have a major part to play in Africa Rising. Nedbank has put youth development at the core of its purpose. Nobanda explained how the bank took on 3,000 young trainees as part of the Youth Employment Service scheme. The majority of the trainees (97%) went on to get jobs after their participation in the scheme. This is a great example of a company with a purpose put into real action.

At CNN, we have seen a global drive towards purpose marketing and we know from our data insight that there is audience appetite to engage with stories and campaigns that they can emotionally connect with and that align with their values.

Having worked with African brands for almost a decade now, I can confidently say that Africa can be at the forefront of driving change through purpose. The panellists were just as enthusiastic in articulating the opportunity that lies ahead. Telling stories to the world will be an essential component of this.

“The world is looking for new stories across the sciences, across the arts,” says Mpufane. “We have great examples of Africans doing great things across the world. You want to focus, engage with the continent, engage with the young people and engage with the African people. That’s where we can change the relationship of the continent with the rest of the world.”

We live in challenging times and the future may be unpredictable, but the message from some of Africa’s leading CMOs at Cannes Lions was positive and inspirational. A world where purpose matters is a world in which ‘Africa Rising’ is more relevant and important than ever before.   

Zara Driss is director of CNN International Commercial.

The big take-out:

A world where purpose matters is a world in which “Africa Rising” is more relevant and important than ever before.  

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