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In this digital age, where so many interactions are detached and impersonal, turning your sales promotion into a meaningful customer experience could be the big brand differentiator you’ve been looking for.


What’s the formula for creating real heart-to-heart customer connections? The sort of warm fondness for a brand that lasts long beyond everyday interest in the product? I’m thinking here about Kellogg’s Coco Pops®. The cereal of choice for me and most South African kids X-number of years ago, more recently replaced by the more sensible, All Bran®.  

Remember those poppy, crunchy chocolate pebbles floating in a pool of chocolaty milk? And even better, the thrill of the prize at the bottom of the box?  Morning routines were so much more exciting when there was a chance that an iron-on-sticker, or decoder ring, or plastic figurine could plop out the box and into your cereal bowl! To this day, the brand remains a cultural icon. That’s the kind of magic every business wants to recreate.

And how about Chappies® bubblegum? People continue to reach for that brand over others if they’re looking for a fun, chewy, “Did you know?” moment. Most South Africans have the fondest memories of Ouma® rusks. Who didn’t get Black Cat® peanut butter on their school sandwiches? We all did! And even today, your national pride is called into question if you choose Heinz® ketchup over All Gold® tomato sauce.

What those special consumer relationships tell us is that the perceived value of a brand is about the ability to form long-term connections. The kind that only the heart can define.

Trends in brand activations and promotions

Globally, there’s been a massive shift towards online retail, digital brand activations, data-driven analysis of customer behaviour and automated – well – everything. Marketing Charts reports that in the first half of 2018, brands distributed over 4 billion digital promotion offers (that’s a whopping 25% year-over-year increase).

The digital shift has provided incredible insights that highlight what kind of activations and promotions work best. For example, a RetailMeNot survey shows that 48% of purchases are sped up if there’s a discounted option. According to Salesforce, 65% of consumers say their loyalty is influenced by companies sending personalised or exclusive offers/discounts. And then this interesting nugget of information: The top tactics used by retailers for customer retention in 2018 were:

  1. Discounts (77%)
  2. Free shipping (52%)
  3. Loyalty program points (44%)

What works in the rest of the world

America is the undisputed champion of sales promotions, which means there are many examples of great executions. But the most notable surely must be the McDonald’s Happy Meal. With the simple line, ‘collect all four’ and clever movie toy tie-ins, the fast food pioneer won the hearts of children the world over. McDonald’s Monopoly, which is targeted at adults and has helped the company remain “the Big Mac of sales promotions”, also deserves a mention.

In the UK, findings indicate that price discounts, and price discounts only, have a significant effect on how fast a sale is made and how often someone new is willing to try a product. But that doesn’t mean British marketers don’t recognise the need to create lasting connections when it comes to promotional strategies. Take, for example, Walkers crisps; their “Do us a Flavour” and “Free book for Schools” sales promotions have made them the biggest impulse-buy brand in the UK.

Nurturing our cautious, local consumers

But here in South Africa, we’re still considered an emerging market and the playing field is slightly different. According to a recent McKinsey survey, most local customers choose to shop at discounters and hypermarkets and not online. That means many of the global trends we’re seeing everywhere else, simply don’t apply.

McKinsey also found that 75% of South Africans are “increasingly looking for ways to save money.” They go on to characterise our local consumers as “cautious and concerned”, rightly pointing out that South Africans are facing stark economic realities. So it’s no surprise that customer loyalty is very price-dependent and consumers are not afraid to shop across channels and find value at discounters.

While the rest of the world is exploiting data opportunities in the digital realm with location tracking, voice technology, and other innovations, we’re just getting up to speed with applying some of the technology to help define our brand activation and promotions.

We do know that in order to change customer buying behaviour and create brand differentiation, traditional media has lost some traction. Just as in the rest of the world, our customers expect personalised experiences.

Getting to the heart of the matter

There’s a reason why, after all these years, brands like Ouma rusks, Tastic rice, and Coco Pops still have strong appeal in our marketplace: Emotional connection.

The best way to win the heart of the South African marketplace is to start with an understanding of the target audience. A recent research paper by Prof. Amarentia Thérèse Roux, Tshwane University of Technology, offers many insights. Here are some of the most pertinent findings:

  • Saving money isn’t the only reason why South African consumers respond to sales promotions. A significant percentage of people prefer experiences or items that make them feel good as opposed to items that are practical or save them money. If you have a more practical offering, you need to add value.
  • Local consumers prefer food/grocery promotions, as well as personal care/toiletries, and alcohol.
  • Traditional, outdoor and mall promotions are preferred to online and social media promotions.
  • When it comes to promotions for necessity items, local consumers want value for money, quality, and convenience (in that order). For example, higher quality product, for a lower price.
  • In terms of personal luxury products, local customers are looking for value expression (satisfied and pleased with purchase), exploration (an exciting, rewarding buying experience) and entertainment (something fun to participate in).
  • Most South Africans still like to find out about promotions via traditional media like TV commercials and print ads.
  • South African men prefer newspaper advertisements while South African women prefer magazines and mall advertising.
  • In our local marketplace, instant rewards (free samples and bonus packs) result in more impulse buying or stockpiling than delayed rewards (loyalty, competitions and sweepstakes).
  • Hedonic customers (people buying non-necessity items) value non-monetary promotions.
  • More prudent, practical consumers (people buying toilet paper, bread, milk, etc.) don’t mind if the promotion is monetary, instant or delayed.
  • Price promotions give customers a mental break from the sea of competitive options, which brings about positive perceptions of your brand.
  • Most South Africans have a hard time justifying luxury expenses, so sales promotions for those types of items are very successful.
  • The more a customer earns, the more inclined they are to enjoy and pursue self-indulgent benefits.

Your next steps

Let’s be honest, the core of any sales promotion or brand activation is to push a purchase.

But if it was that simple, the entire advertising industry would implode. We know that we can’t be that narrow-minded. Every interaction with our customers has to delight, add value, or at least, leave a positive impression that brings them back for more.

Tap into the brave new world of digital data to understand your target audience, then take your lead from South Africa’s best-loved brands. Create a legacy with sales promotions that add value and develop emotional connections.

Imagine if you could recreate the childhood joy of a Coco Pops breakfast? That should be your benchmark for any future promotional activity.

Not sure where to begin? We can help make your next brand activation a hit with end-to-end rewards and fulfilment services. Give us a call.


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