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AFI Masterclass: Africa Trending, navigating the consumer landscape in Africa

August 30, 2017

Introducing international trends on the continent is certainly not a clear-cut process – it involves understanding where trends come from and how they fit into the unique lifestyles and cultures of African consumers, who are increasingly influenced by globalisation. This often leaves local retailers and designers questioning whether the local market is ready for something ‘different’, or indeed, whether retailers are capable of delivering it to market.

Understanding the relevance of global trends to the African consumer market formed the basis of a stimulating and introspective dialogue, the AFI Masterclass, hosted as part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg.

Dave Nemeth, owner at Trend Forward and one of SA’s top creative influencers and an analyst of current and future trends opened the conversation around the theme of Africa Trending, and was joined by trend analyst, cultural strategist and proud ‘Africanist’, Nicola Cooper. Cooper shared her take on trends, the ‘glocalisation’ movement, and the demands of Generation Z, based on her experience working with some of the world’s biggest brands.

“Without a doubt, Africa and South Africa are ready for everything, but the difficulty lies in taking it to market,” says Nemeth. “Instead of replicating what international players are doing, we need to be adapting those trends for local consumers. We need to have a better understanding of who the African consumer is, and what they want.”

“African consumers are in a state of brand boredom, and brands must find ways to reach out to them without copy-pasting what’s happening internationally,” says Cooper. “At the same time, local players are competing for consumers’ attention and it’s vital that brands understand that consumers want to be seen and served in their own right.”

Love local

African consumers are increasingly on the look-out for opportunities to celebrate and support locally-made products and services, but they’re not following trends blindly.

“It’s a far cry from ‘local is lekker’, where consumers may be expected to buy a local product even though it is perhaps of inferior quality, just because it was made here,” says Cooper. “Our circumstances are unique to the rest of the world, but many African brands make the mistake of waiting for international trendsetters to dictate how we should feel, instead of adapting offerings to suit local demand.”

Nemeth adds that consumers around the world are suffering from retail and design burnout, and are numb to the trends and products being pushed in their direction.

“It’s an issue that consumers experience on a global scale, not just in South Africa and Africa,” he says. “We’re looking at international models and replicating, instead of finding ways to make them our own. Why aren’t we innovating?”

There’s no such thing as ‘brand loyalty’ anymore, adds Nemeth, and brands need to constantly entice their audiences with fresh, exciting and customised offerings.

Disruption is everywhere – and it’s okay

“We live in an app world – our lives are ruled by apps – and customers expect that level of speed and efficiency when interacting with brands,” says Nemeth. “Retailers need to understand that customers will likely drop a basket full of shopping and walk out of the store at the sight of a long queue.”

According to a 2017 Harvard Business Review study, 86% of business leaders believe that customer experience is a vital component on the road to business success. As such, brands need to create innovative retail spaces by integrating digital with physical for a more efficient, enjoyable shopping experience.

Cooper adds that retailers need to be aware of self-service as a growing trend in the retail space, giving customers alternative payment options and platforms to make the payment process a lot smoother.

“Automation, which involves the use of smart data for customised shopping experiences, is also a growing trend in the integrated retail space,” says Nemeth. “It’s also vital that brands pay attention to the element of entertainment in stores in order to engage customers in exciting, interactive ways.”

People are increasingly placing value on experiences over ‘things’, and this is where retailers can use tech to their advantage in-store.

Give us authenticity

Local consumers are consuming more international content than we realise, thanks to technology that provides wider access to what’s going in the rest of the world. As a result, people have come to expect nothing less than authentic, real experiences and products, leaving no room for brands trying to be something they’re not.

The ‘industrial’ look, for example, has become a popular design trend around the world, with many people adopting the rustic, bare-brick look in home, office and event spaces. However, Nemeth points out how misplaced and contrived the trend has become, especially considering that it started out at similar times in both in Europe and the US as a practical way of making use of a building’s existing structure and features.

Authenticity is also gauged through brands opening up and telling their story, which needs to be crafted and disseminated strategically in order to win consumer’s interest. Cooper talked about the merits of using platforms like Instagram for story-telling and not just to push product, in order to engage more authentically with audiences. She offered these tips for businesses wanting to tell their stories in authentic ways:

 

  1. Story-telling and story-selling

Social media platforms like Instagram should be an extension of the overall brand experience for customers, but it’s not enough to simply post images and information about the products and services you offer. As Nemeth says, “product is not social”. Instead, use Instagram to tell interesting and meaningful stories about your brand and what it represents, with strategic product placement, in order to grow and maintain engagement with your audience.

 

  1. Drop a line about drops
    One of the biggest challenges for businesses in a digital world is finding effective ways to spread awareness about their products without alienating customers, who are constantly bombarded with product and service-focused noise from a multitude of other brands. A great approach to incorporating digital into your marketing plan is to include product drops and countdowns to product release dates, which creates excitement around a new product and brings attention and following to your brand’s social media pages.
  2. Causes matter

The newest generation of consumers, Generation Z – or ‘Gen-ZA’ as they’re known in South Africa – are an interesting group. Not only are they easily distracted, forcing brands to find innovative ways to catch and keep their attention, but they’re also fiercely supportive of social causes. Gen-Z consumers tend to support brands and businesses that make an effort to contribute towards making the world a better place. Brands would do well to partner with non-profit organisations that engage in philanthropic work. Remember that authenticity also matters, so be sure to choose a cause that aligns with your business.

Retail in Africa is by no means a static industry, but evolves according to ever-changing consumer demand and expectations. While we’re all scared of failure, embracing the changing tide is vital for future-proofing African retail and creating an immersive, exciting environment for consumers.

 About AFI:

African Fashion International (AFI) was established to market African talents and ignite local and international attention towards the African fashion industry. The company led the way by introducing desperately needed international platforms to showcase authentic African brands through its portfolio of ventures including AFI Fashion Week Cape Town, AFI Fashion Week Joburg, Fastrack™, Nextgen™, AFI Masterclass, and AFI Privé.

 

Within its development strategy, AFI’s Fastrack™ initiative identifies and invests in the best of the continent’s young designers, by providing them with direct access to: mentorships, media exposure and business acumen, through yearlong programmes that prepare them in navigating the fashion landscape. Over the past six years, AFI’s Fastrack™ incubator programme has so far assisted in developing the careers of 75 new talents.

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