Cash­ing in on per­cep­tion

Cre­ativ­ity and in­tu­ition the mark of the brand

Finweek English Edition - - Business Strategy - Thebe Ikalafeng CHIMWEMWE MWANZA

IF PUB­LIC PER­CEP­TIONS ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine re­al­ity, then Thebe Ikalafeng – founder of Brand Lead­er­ship – has the in­flu­en­tial job of mould­ing pub­lic opin­ion in the cut and thrust of a brand-con­scious mar­ket. “A brand is an ex­ten­sion of one’s life­style or sim­ply a re­flec­tion of who you are or a vi­sion of where you are headed,” Ikalafeng says of his com­pany’s ba­sic phi­los­o­phy.

He’s squarely on to some­thing. For ex­am­ple, pub­lic per­cep­tions of the South African Rev­enue Ser­vice have tra­di­tion­ally been neg­a­tive – rest­ing prin­ci­pally on a daunt­ing and oner­ous tax fil­ing pro­ce­dure and puni­tive con­se­quences for de­fault­ing tax­pay­ers. Even worse, Rev­enue’s mul­ti­ple green and yel­low brand­ing only served to ob­scure its po­si­tion­ing in the mar­ket. Un­til now.

Few would dis­pute Rev­enue has un­der­gone a re­mark­able makeover. Its brand con­sol­i­da­tion into a sin­gle blue colour backed by a con­sum­mate mes­sage of im­proved and ef­fi­cient ser­vice de­liv­ery is eye-catch­ing. What most tax­pay­ers don’t know is that the man be­hind that rad­i­cal makeover is Ikalafeng. The end prod­uct of his hand­i­work is a more di­rect re­la­tion­ship be­tween a com­pany’s mar­ket po­si­tion­ing and bot­tom line – which makes per­fect sense in a mar­ket more open to com­pet­ing prod­ucts.

Says Ikalafeng: “Th­ese days South African con­sumers across the racial and in­come di­vide are qui­etly savvy about brands and the mar­ket po­si­tion­ing of their ser­vice providers. And SA com­pa­nies – es­pe­cially those in the tele­coms sec­tor, where there’s been a record pro­lif­er­a­tion of start-ups – are al­ways keen to stay a step ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.”

In­deed, be­tween them cel­lu­lar groups Vo­da­com and MTN have spent well over R1bn an­nu­ally in build­ing their brands. “That best il­lus­trates the op­por­tu­ni­ties in the lo­cal brand­ing and mar­ket­ing in­dus­try,” Ikalafeng says.

How did he cut his teeth in the nearly R700m/year in­dus­try? It’s a ques­tion Ikalafeng takes great pride in an­swer­ing. He says his rise to one of SA’s top brand spe­cial­ists has the hall­marks of a se­rial risk taker. He says his most dar­ing de­ci­sion was to quit his stud­ies at Wits Uni­ver­sity with barely 18 months left to tion and cre­ativ­ity. “The abil­ity to spot the lim­i­ta­tions of a prod­uct and pub­lic per­cep­tions thereof and then re­cast that prod­uct in the mar­ket. You’ve got to keep your head up to know which busi­nesses will be pitch­ing brand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. That means hav­ing a huge con­tact base in the mar­ket with a view to pitch­ing for con­tracts.”

In essence, that’s been Ikalafeng’s busi­ness strat­egy. That com­bined with a highly creative team of young, up-and-com­ing brand en­thu­si­asts. The proof is in the num­ber of high value clients Brand Lead­er­ship has been able to add to its port­fo­lio of clients, among them State util­ity bulk freight car­rier Transnet, the Uni­ver­sity of South Africa and the SABC.

Though Ikalafeng de­clines to di­vulge the com­pany’s turnover, Fin­week’s an­nual AdRe­view – a com­pi­la­tion of var­i­ous brand­ing and mar­ket­ing trends – rates the com­pany among SA’s top five rev­enue spin­ners. With 19 em­ploy­ees, its turnover was al­most R25m last year. com­plete his ac­count­ing de­gree.

“Had I stayed a day later (to write the pa­per) I could have missed out on an op­por­tu­nity to join tooth­paste and de­ter­gent man­u­fac­turer Col­gate Pal­mo­live, which had of­fered me a po­si­tion in New York. I had no choice but to pack my bags and leave for the US.”

It was a de­ci­sion he doesn’t re­gret. In hind­sight, it’s his stint at Col­gate Pal­mo­live in the US that gave him real ex­po­sure to the work­ings of the global brand­ing and mar­ket­ing in­dus­try. On his re­turn to SA he briefly worked for Col­gate SA be­fore tak­ing up an even more chal­leng­ing po­si­tion that would in­volve launch­ing a new sports cloth­ing range in a heav­ily con­tested mar­ket.

“Ndaba Nt­sele (CE of in­vest­ment group Pamodzi) re­cruited me to mar­ket Nike, which made its de­but in SA in 2001. The fact that Adi­das and Ree­bok were more en­trenched in the mar­ket couldn’t de­ter me.”

Al­most a year into his po­si­tion he grew Nike’s rev­enue in SA by 460%. That feat proved even more decisive, in that it gave him the courage to launch a green­field brand­ing busi­ness of his own us­ing sav­ings he’d ac­cu­mu­lated over the years.

“The fact that I’m self-opin­ion­ated has largely helped to shape my mar­ket­ing ca­reer. Had I heeded the ad­vice of oth­ers, I wouldn’t have gone to the US and later on joined Col­gate Pal­mo­live.”

Of course, hubris and con­ceit – two char­ac­ter­is­tics Ikalafeng has in abun­dance – were in­te­gral to his suc­cess. For starters, he wouldn’t have taken the plunge when he ditched his stud­ies. Nei­ther would he have had the self-con­fi­dence to spot and ex­ploit an op­por­tu­nity that rests on the as­sump­tion his prod­uct of­fer­ing is far more se­duc­tive than those of his com­peti­tors.

In fact, self-con­fi­dence and seed funds are ar­guably the only two hur­dles to break­ing into the brand busi­ness. For­tu­nately, Ikalafeng got off to a good start. His ini­tial two con­tracts – the first a brand repo­si­tion­ing ex­er­cise by a fi­nan­cial ser­vices provider, then Rev­enue’s brand con­sol­i­da­tion drive – gave him a “huge kicker”.

What dis­tin­guishes Ikalafeng’s com­pany from his com­peti­tors in the busi­ness are in­tui-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.