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Direct line to township

The township market has long been something of a mystery to many brands, through a lack of data and effective measurement tools. But it has, in recent years, become a sought-after target market for brands looking to capitalise on the aspirational nature of township consumers.

“We now have tools in place which enable brands to receive immediate, real-time responses from consumers directly from their mobiles and to analyse their own data, removing sketchy assumptions of what consumers in these areas want and need,” says Peter du Toit, editorial director of Soccer Laduma. The publication has formalised its market insights and research unit into Brands Laduma, which helps brands to understand customers, most notably in townships across South Africa.

Using new measurement and analysis tools, while essential, still doesn’t take into consideration the most vital ingredient: consumers. Brands, argues Du Toit, need to build a trusting relationship with their customers so that consumers will start to freely volunteer vital information about themselves. Once brands and consumers share a relationship of trust, customers are less likely to find questions directed at them by the brand invasive, and instead will answer honestly.

Real-time conversations conducted with township consumers are going some way towards changing the misperceptions surrounding this market segment. “We exist,” explains Du Toit, “in an age where brands no longer have to wait for gurus or experts to tell them what they need to know. Mobile has made it possible to access the information they require directly from their customer as a result of the relationship the two parties share.”

Mobile also makes township consumers as accessible as consumers in Sandton. The digital landscape places the quality of brand/customer relationships at the core of its success, Du Toit points out, and becomes about asking the right questions to effectively serve customers’ needs.

What has largely emerged through conversations with township consumers, he reports, is that their aspirations are the same as those of consumers anywhere – it’s simply the degree of expectation of meeting these aspirations that changes.

“There is plenty of determination and willpower in the townships, but adversely there are many new responsibilities that accompany success, such as the need to assist their families financially – leading to the coining of the term ‘Ubuntu Millennials’ – and resulting in high levels of debt,” Du Toit acknowledges. “The practicalities are where the problems arise, as they are more real than aspirations to township consumers.”

As a result, he advises, the golden rule of brand communication with township consumers is researching their wants and needs to find an emotional connection to build on. “Once brands know how consumers feel, it’s possible to build a product or service to cater to that,” he concludes. “Brands need to ask themselves if they have the will to build a trusting relationship.”

Big take-out: Mobile is making township consumers more accessible than ever before for brands willing to invest in relationships of trust.

This article was first published in the 13 August 2015 Edition of the Financial Mail.

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