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How do you shift the culture of a brand to an authentic position of care and a place of relevance in society, while building relationships with consumers, that matter and adds to the bottom line?

Ross Drakes, our fearless founder, explores not just doing good, but what being good is all about with Sizakele Marutlulle, CEO and founder of Marutlulle & Co, a Pan African strategy and ideas lab, in a recent conversation at the recording of One More Question, a podcast by the people of Nicework. They unpack how this purpose-driven work could add to your company’s profits while getting real about a few things. It can also make you feel pretty good too (If you want to be selfish and do good at the same time). This is a no judgment zone.

In a three-part blog series, we explore a few compelling considerations around Pan African expansion, conscious consumerism and intersectional branding, the sustainability conversation, small agencies and using all the crayons in your box!

Part #1: Let’s Talk Pan Africa, Some Advice For Businesses

How many strategy documents have you seen out there, that have the words “expand into Africa” in them? The data looks good, the economic growth rate of the market of entry looks good. Then there is the question of local partnerships to help with the expansion, but often these expansion discussions lack real consideration or thoughtful weight, other than a desire for expansion as part of the race for Africa and 10Xing the business. I mean we are even in the process of doing some work in Kenya…

Being deliberate about your expansion is important, often companies lunge into new countries boldly with zero sensitivity for the people who live there and their way of doing things. This can easily lead to brand engagement being inauthentic and sometimes even coming off as arrogant. Irrespective of how much you believe in your product and service, people will not engage if you do not live their culture, understand what is important to them or speak their language.

Sizakele shares a moment she had at a big advertising agency that claimed to be Pan African – you know those 36 dots on the map, on the website, saying you are all over this continent. Essentially, it meant that there was a guy with a briefcase who arrived and gave you a presentation deck, with “tools” who then left again and did not even reside there.

We get all hot and bothered by brands that get real and engaging with their consumers in an authentic way, from our perspective it is important to consider a few points:

You need to be clear about what you are bringing to the market. You need to understand your market from a point of resonance. It is about knowing your company purpose and what you are looking to give the new markets you are entering into and how it fits with market values.

You need to get out of your comfort zone and learn from these markets and really respect the rules of the village you enter. It is important to spend time and immerse yourself in the countries you are going to expand into and test your assumptions. The challenge for South Africans is that for the most part we have been so Westernised that when a cab arrives late we are like “Oh my goodness this is Africa, it’s a banana republic or whatever fruit salad names we use” remarks Sizakele. It is fairly simple… don’t be a dick and you will be welcomed.

You need to be curious, you need to understand – how your brand can affect a positive and lasting change on the consumers who use your it as well as the society within which your brand functions.

There is this thing that multinationals have when they enter “Africa”. A very important, but often overlooked reality check: We are not a country, we are in fact a continent – a very, very rich and diverse continent. Just because you succeeded in one country and market segment does not mean that you can use the same formula in another African country, or market segment. The dynamics are different, the sociology is different and values are different – your brand engagement and product offerings need to adapt. Why are we still having this conversation, it is 2019 after all?

Balancing Pan Africa as Brand Partners

For us, as practitioners, the challenge is an ongoing desire to move beyond comfort zones, because getting comfortable is a dangerous thing says Sizakele. As Ross puts it – it is about forcing yourself into space where you know you are going to have to grow and you are going to have to open your eyes, otherwise you are not going to thrive and be able to continue to add the necessary value to clients or consumers.

The great thing about technology and co-working spaces is the mobility factor and working in ecosystems which allows companies like Nicework and Marutlulle and Co to seamlessly work across the continent and globally.

Being flexible in structuring our relationships, enable us to contract with clients who love to have us on site and those who are comfortable with us coming in on the days in which we’ve committed to delivering, or workshopping in our space across the continent.

We believe in immersing ourselves in our clients’ brands and the ecosystems in which those brands function to understand the brand philosophy, company culture and consumer values. It is about creating relevant brands that your consumers can engage with and trust over a long period of time, because when you know what your purpose is and the value that you offer the market that fits, you can build relationships that last beyond “one hit wonder” products.
To do this effectively we have an ecosystem of partners locally and internationally who support the complete value chain journey of moving from purpose and identity to a website or billboard, think “the Band of Niceguys” so to speak.

Working from a global co-working space gives us the freedom to expand internationally while offering our clients and partners space for brainstorms, design sprints and fresh perspective by having access to our team of creatives and partners to solve important communication and service problems. We even have amazing coffee or a range of herbal teas if that is more your speed.

We agree with Sizakele that the magic comes from collaborating in an ecosystem and recognise the value of partnerships so that we can focus on the things we are exceptional at, that means that we do not “leak value” and pass that onto you, because we know what makes us unique and seek out partners who are experts in their fields, so we can focus on what we do. Our Moms even say we are really good at it.

And then there are the Nice-snacks. Yep, we love good snacks and love sharing them, especially if the snack involves a brand we love working on like, BGR (best easy burger and fries). We also take time to develop new skills and gather insights through online learning, attending local and international conferences and encourage curiosity and personal projects. Being intentional about developing our team makes everyone happy!

Coffee on us!

If you are a specialist in your craft in the brand, marketing, communications and service design world, have international reach and would like to explore strategic partnerships, chats to us. Ross loves a great cup of coffee and moorish conversations.

Stay tuned for Part #2: The Rise Of Conscious Consumerism And Intersectional Brand Building.

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