GenNext: How brands can resonate with SA’s youth

Telling authentic stories, whether of hope, inspiration or support, will engage with young consumers

08 July 2021 - 12:00
Local brands need to be cognisant of young people's circumstances and realities.
Local brands need to be cognisant of young people's circumstances and realities.
Image: Pexels/Sidnei Maia

Given the vast youth population in SA, brands and marketers need to be “woke” and focused on the youth market if they plan to remain on top of this group’s shopping and spending priorities in the years to come, particularly given their sizeable spending power.

A recent Sunday Times GenNext online event, in partnership with Proudly South African and Yellowwood and moderated by Yellowwood strategy director Ntombizamasala Hlope, put the spotlight on the strategies local brands are using to market their products, including how they are creating campaigns that highlight the value and desirability of their brands so they resonate with young people. 

Local brands are seeing the value of telling authentically South African stories, in the process embracing our culture and heritage, said Siyabonga Zungu, brand manager at Proudly South African. At the same time they are moving away from the misconception that international and imported is better. However, to resonate with local consumers, he said it is important that local brands have consistent messaging and positioning that is aligned to their purpose.

We try to be very consistent in our messaging
Bathu Shoes founder Theo Baloyi 

Pointing out that there are many great South African products and brands that can hold their own on an international stage, he said local brands should not wait for international affirmations and instead need to see themselves as worthy in their own right. There is also a need for more consumer education around the benefit of buying local, given that these are the brands and the businesses creating employment opportunities and supporting the local economy.

To resonate with the youth market requires local brands to be cognisant of the youth’s circumstances and realities, said Skye O’Leary, a young professional and a member of Yellowwood’s junior board of directors. Brands that are not in touch with those realities won’t resonate with the youth, she said.

Theo Baloyi, founder of Proudly South African brand Bathu Shoes, said his brand was intentional and purposeful in its approach to marketing. The brand tells authentic stories of hope and inspiration that its consumers can relate to. “We try to be very consistent in our messaging,” he said.

What consumers want — irrespective of their demographic — is a brand that feels different and makes a difference to communities, said Retroviral Digital founder Mike Sharman. Too many brands are lazy, he said, and climb onto whatever idea or influencer is trendy or popular. However, for consumers to buy into a brand’s narrative requires that its messaging is authentic. He said too many brands talk at consumers and forget to engage with them in a way that is collaborative and supportive.

The last word went to Zungu, who said South Africans need to create a common goal that recognises local excellence and then work together to achieve that goal. “We’re all responsible for the future." 

To re-watch this online discussion, click here.

Sunday Times GenNext, now in its 17th year, is the leading annual brand preference and consumer behaviour research on the youth. The GenNext survey provides meaningful insights into the minds of South African youth. From this year, all youth capabilities, including the 2021 annual Sunday Times GenNext youth survey, will be enhanced by the strategic might of Yellowwood.


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