“I think retailers often think it is all about a good price. But when dealing with the middle class, that’s not their only focus – and if you only offer on price, you will fail with this group. Two things are more important to them: quality is key, and also the reassurance of a brand that they can trust.”
This is according to Geoff Whyte, CEO for Southern Africa at fast-food retailer Nando’s. The restaurant chain, which was started in 1987 in South Africa, now has around 1,300 outlets in well over 20 countries. This includes a presence in African markets such as Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as well as internationally in the US, UK, Australia, India and Qatar, to name a few.
The chain has done particularly well in capturing the emerging middle-class consumer in South Africa, according to Whyte. Speaking at last week’s Retail Congress Africa held in Cape Town, he shared a number of tips for attracting these aspirational consumers in African markets.
Brand must be trustworthy
“If you have a limited amount of money, you cannot afford to waste it. So you cannot risk getting it wrong.”
As a result, brand trust is more important to consumers with less spending power, and they therefore gravitate towards brands they know and trust.
Status is important
“The discrimination of colonialism and apartheid created second-class citizens, and it deprived millions of people of status.”
Whyte explained that in addition to the economic impact of this, there is also a psychological impact, which resulted in historically marginalised Africans looking to change their perception of self-worth and status in society. This has lead to some “unusual consumer behaviour”, he noted.
“A phenomenon we see in South Africa is where cars, a very visible status symbol, are prioritised over housing. And you will see houses that are almost shacks with a brand new Mercedes outside.”
A number of brands of beer have made their advertisements all about success, and even revised their packaging to embody this idea to successfully attract status-seeking consumers.
Whyte added there is also a more recent shift from a longing for just status, to a desire for significance and to have an impact. Consumers will therefore be attracted to brands and companies that support a cause or point of view.
“But it has got to be authentic, if the company doesn’t believe what it says, they will be found out,” he emphasised.
Offer an experience
“It is very clear that status-craving consumers want more than just aspirational brands, they want that aspirational experience. They want to feel good when they are making that purchase. So investing in a great retail environment is as important as what is on sale.”
Nando’s has revamped its restaurants – all designed differently – to offer an experience that will cater to the status-conscious consumer. According to Whyte, the goal was not just to create an environment that these consumers want to be in, but like to be seen in too.
Each restaurant is designed with contemporary South African artworks and colours. And outlets near townships receive just as much investment. “If anything, status is more important to guys in the township,” he continued, adding that it would have been a mistake to offer a two-tiered system.
For example, the Nando’s outlet in Soweto’s Maponya Mall was equipped with a full bar offering some of the more expensive alcohol brands.
Quality over quantity
It is a myth that lower-income consumers are willing to compromise on quality, added Whyte. Rather companies should make their quality products more affordable to lower-income consumers.
One way to do this is to offer smaller packages or sizes, a common strategy deployed by consumer-facing businesses targeting the African market. For example, to better target consumers in emerging markets, Cadbury started offering smaller-sizes for some of its most popular chocolates.
“Don’t compromise on brand, don’t compromise on quality. Make it available at an affordable price and give people the real thing.”