Radio veteran Bob Mabena talks brand sustainability at Brand South Africa


Veteran radio presenter and manager, and media consultant Bob Mabena was a special guest speaker at Brand South Africa’s Gauteng Provincial Stakeholder Workshop. He offered insights into sustaining good nation branding while maintaining a creative edge and an authenticity identifiable to consumers.

Brand South Africa, Stakeholders Workshop, Bob Mabena, nation branding, Joy Mathebula.
Radio personality, media and marketing expert Bob Mabena speaks at the Brand South Africa Gauteng Stakeholders Workshop, held in Johannesburg on 8 June 2017. (Image: Brand South Africa)

CD Anderson

Bob Mabena joined Brand South Africa speakers and other invited strategy experts at the Gauteng Provincial Stakeholder Workshop held in Johannesburg on 8 June 2017.

The aim of the workshop was to help Brand South Africa stakeholders develop their roles in contributing towards building the nation brand, while finding ways to strengthen existing efforts to build a more cohesive and creative brand building standard across local, national and global platforms.

Brand South Africa’s general manager for marketing Sithembile Ntombela presented an extensive overview of the history and work of the organisation, highlighting its foundational pillars — Ubuntu, diversity, sustainability, possibility and innovation — around which the South African nation brand focused its communication strategy.

An overview of new research projects, as well as the latest results of the various global perceptions indices in which South Africa featured strongly, were also presented by Brand South Africa general manager for research Dr Petrus de Kock.

Creating a connection between brand and consumer

Opening the workshop was Joy Mathebula, marketing strategist at Red and Black Communications, who unpacked the fundamentals of brand marketing. Mathebula spoke about the essential elements of building a sustainable brand – identifying “touch points” that built strong connections between a brand and its audience.

While the creation of a strong brand identity idea was vital, Mathebula pointed out the importance of the successful implementation of those ideas. Interaction between brand and consumer was key to this, something Mathebula compared to a music performance — “Audiences have to be able to find the connection with the musician.”

Messages needed to be relevant to customers and had to evolve with the times: “Brands must never forget who the message serves: the customer,” Mathebula said.

Mabena: good branding is expectation met

With 28 years of experience as presenter and station manager in the radio industry, as well as founding the Endow Media & Marketing consultancy firm, where he has been managing director since 2010, Mabena understands the importance of building a strong public identity using mass media.

However, he pointed out, the key to sustaining that brand awareness lay in having a strong reputation: “Marketing might be able to sell your product, but branding sells your reputation, sells the work you do to create the product,” Mabena said.

Brands were built by consumer perceptions, and while companies might not always be able to control those perceptions, there were key actions to take — Mabena called them “levers that companies can pull” — to positively boost perceptions and meet customers’ expectations of the brand.

Emotion, honesty, innovation and “be your customer”

Emotion: The best brands, Mabena said, created dreams, aroused aspiration and sustained enduring relationships with customers through emotional pull. “Make your brand real, organic and genuine,” he said. There was a reason why some car companies seemed lifeless compared to stronger car brands that used emotion to highlight their selling points — “There is humanity to these companies.”

Mabena also pointed out how individual, personal brands worked so well, citing the example of pop singer Beyoncé and her relationship with her fans. Fans felt like they were part of that brand, they were emotionally invested in the person and influential in the longevity of the individual’s brand.

Honesty: Companies must look at their brand perceptions and be honest about what they wanted to communicate. Once that true purpose was found, companies needed to stick to that ideal; they also needed to be consistent with the overall authentic messaging. “Honest brands with honest promises capture hearts and minds, and then wallets,” Mabena explained.

Innovative branding: Find the real reason your brand worked or didn’t work and capitalise on the strongest points, while innovating ways to overcome negative perceptions. Overhaul the touch points in your brand messaging, change and review mediums you use to communicate with customers.

Be the customer: “Walking in the customer’s shoes”, Mabena explained, gave you a better understanding of your brand perception — is it viewed as real and authentic? Is it “cool”? Are you communicating the right ideas to consumers using the right channels?

A good barometer for finding the “realness” of your brand was asking if what you were communicating created a positive emotional response. “If it makes you smile, then it will make your customer smile.” Ultimately, he pointed out, you should never underestimate the humanity of your public.

Mabena concluded his good-natured and anecdote-filled presentation by highlighting what lessons brands could learn from a company such as Apple and the philosophy of its founder, the late Steve Jobs:

Being an innovator in everything you did as an individual or as an organisation — from your products to your brand building, from your messages and the mediums you chose to communicate those messages — could make you a leader, not a follower.

Source: Brand South Africa

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