Industry Updates

Small fish thrive in big ponds

01 Feb 2017

Brilliant brand solutions are not always built by the biggest kids on the international block
Globalisation has seen trends, brands and styles adopted across culture and country, similarity breeding imitation and integration becoming the new name of the game. And yet every country has its quirks, its own lingo and languages which must be spoken in the right way to attract the right people. South Africa is no different. Our market, consumers and media have their own expectations and ideas when it comes to the ways in which brands engage with them across platform and social channel. The South African market is vibrant and dynamic – it also isn’t stupid, and there is a need for a deft touch rather than a global hammer. This is where the right local agency with the right talent is the perfect fit, they have the tools to bring big brands the local attention they deserve.
“South Africa is very different from the rest of the world,” says Lizelle McDermott, managing director, McD Squared. “International agencies tend to forget this. Our media want local context and statistics and our consumers want communication which speaks to them in their language. Even though the large global agencies have significant experience across European markets, these are not the same as the South African one. The people here have a very different way of engaging.”
On the media frontier, journalists want content which has relevance and a local context, not global content which is being shoehorned to fit, and they are willing to go the extra mile to get it. Small, local agencies are more likely to be in tune with how the South African journalist operates, and the kind of content they need. They have cut their teeth on the vagaries of editorial whim and recognise the value of a local flavour, regardless of its international roots.
“Companies feel that they need to hire the big international guns to ensure their content and engagement are relevant, but this isn’t accurate at all,” adds McDermott. “Local agencies know precisely how to connect with the media in ways which get results and often international agencies don’t know how to hit the right notes. A great example is social media – in South Africa, people use a very different language and don’t relate to social in the same way as people who live in Europe do. Even compare South Africa to Nigeria and you can see how engagement styles are fundamentally different.”
A local company is also far less likely to make one of the most common mistakes made by brands entering the South African market – dumbing down the content. It is all good and well to tone down dialogue on complex solutions, but often the big guns shooting into Africa tend to make the content a little too simple.
“It is one thing to make a product or solution easy to understand, but quite another to make it so simple that you are insulting your market’s intelligence,” adds McDermott. “Our consumers have access to vast quantities of online information and are perfectly capable of finding out what they need to know.”
It is an unfortunate fact that many international organisations are reluctant to put their brand development into the hands of the smaller business. It’s a fair point - why bother? Surely that international organisation with footprints in every country is far more capable of taking your brand to the next level? Of course, they can do it, and do it well, but they are not going to give your brand as much attention, or help you dodge the common mistakes those without local know-how make.
“Local agencies are more agile, deliver more competitive pricing and they work harder to delight their clients,” says McDermott. “Unfortunately, sometimes our lower pricing structure can impact on the value perception, which ends up in a frustrating catch-22. The thing is, a smaller agency is far more able to take on a project at short notice and are more willing to collaborate with other agencies to ensure the best results.”
Small agencies also breed local talent, keeping the skills within the borders and allowing for growth of the local economy. And, one of the biggest advantages, is that they have vast networks which allow for them to source service providers and suppliers for their clients that would normally be overlooked by international agencies.
“If I get a client who needs a Facebook game developed, for example, I have an agency for that,” says McDermott. “If I need something printed, I have the company for that.  It’s all about networking and building relationships so that we can ensure that the client gets the right products at the best prices, sidestepping the bigger companies in favour of bolstering the smaller ones.”
However, companies looking to expand their brands into South Africa should ensure that the local talent they source has a few stamps of approval. Word of mouth, referrals, industry relationships and a strong track record of proven delivery – these are the boxes any business must tick before taking on a campaign.
“Look at what an agency has done, speak to their clients and note how long they have been in business,” concludes McDermott. “Smaller agencies often have extremely loyal clients who’ve remained with them for years thanks to the personalised service and tangible results. Small businesses also need to push themselves more and change the perception that we don’t deliver. We do, and we do it in a way that shows how well we know South Africans, the media and what engagement means to them.”

Irene von Buddenbrock
T: 0783652608