Proudly South African Entrepreneurs
Chatting to business owners exhibiting at the Buy Local Summit was inspiring. So inspiring that I almost entirely missed the official programme. Dragging myself away from the businesses exhibiting I attended the sessions after lunch. Over three sessions I was left with a distinct sense that the Proudly South Africa lacked a strategy and an identity. The panelists all emphasised useful points on the need for leadership in South Africa, social dialogue and raised a couple of interesting experiments in supply chain and franchising. Nothing wrong with these statements, but there was little or no attention on how this related to increasing the demands for South African products by South Africans. It is typical of all conferences in South Africa, general calls for leadership without what conference goers call ‘actionable insights’. As I listened to the interviews on radio and TV on the event, my sense of a directionless campaign grew, despite me nodding to the fact that buying local was good for economy.
The Buy Local Summit is the premier event for Proudly South Africa, an organisation aimed at promoting South Africans to buy local goods and services. The official message from leaders inside and outside of government was that buying locally was patriotic, was supportive of job creation and contributed to the economy of South Africa. Outside in the exhibition space, business owners emphasised not the link between my wallet and my patriotism, but rather the link between their product or service and how it could help me. For example, businesses focussed on designing products, focused on the innovativeness or uniqueness of the product. Next, they emphasised international quality of their products, and that they were fairly priced. I quizzed them on whether they thought South African were not patriotic by not buying more South African products, and they argued that the real problem was customers knowing about the product. Those in manufacturing and construction always added that they found it difficult to compete with the ‘big boys’. Most importantly, they understood Proudly South Africa not as patriotic buying, but rather that the country has lots going on and that they could compete internationally. Herein, may lie a future direction for Proudly South Africa campaign. A campaign that emphasises the uniqueness, quality and price points of local products.
Learning from Shot ‘Left
The Shot ‘Left campaign offers a way to illustrate what is possible. The campaign emphasises memories, fun and family all within South Africa. The Shot ‘left campaign asked the nation to change our perception, offering memories, fun and quality time. They were not arguing that the intrinsic value of the South African tourism offering was one of patriotism, but rather than great and affordable holidays are possible in South Africa. In a way it transforms what it means to be South Africans, especially for families who have never had a holiday before. It opened markets and created a new segments. This is important, because the process sees government and social partners working together to create new markets, through an exceptionally targeted campaign. In short, it is an effective and positive marketing campaign with none of the policy babble, although its motivations are to reach a policy objective of growing tourism by South Africans in South Africa. Proudly South Africa needs to do something similar. It is a marketing organisation, and needs to devise a marketing strategy that emphasises the intrinsic value of South African experience. What would such a marketing campaign focus on? First, it would deal with questions of quality of South African products, erroneously regarded as inferior to imported goods Second, it will reposition South African goods as being ‘cool’ and well designed, emphasising the intrinsic value of South African brands. Third, it would have a very specific target audience for its marketing campaign, not a broad appeal to conscious of South Africans.
Creating local demand
Now, one might be wondering what this tells us about human nature. Should an appeal to patriotism not be enough?
The problem with the current message is that it is not actionable, even for patriotic ethical consumers who are seeking local products. The problem is magnified for consumers not already convinced to buy local products. A marketing campaign linked to easy ways to find and purchase South African goods would make Proudly South Africa relevant. It would offer an important platform for South African companies, especially those that produce manufactured goods, a way to reach a wider audience. In so doing, the benefits of having many smaller businesses and more employment would be more realisable. The clarion call to patriotic shopping needs to be replaced with a message that South African products are cool and quality products. This change in the marketing strategy in itself is an important starting point, but will require complimentary initiatives to help growing businesses operate and succeed in the South African economy. Much of the wider economic strategy is outside the ambit of Proudly South Africa, but it can play a crucial role in creating demand for locally produced products and services.