By Faye Mfikwe | Chief Marketing Officer | First National Bank and Marketing Awards Council Member

South Africa is no stranger to turbulent times. From economically unstable waters and health pandemics to racial conflict and wealth disparity, we have experienced it all. Behind many of these challenges, a number of brands have used their weight to create awareness, however, the question is, how do brands know where to draw the line between being relevant and being inauthentic?

The balance between these positions is an important consideration for any brand, and to my mind, it comes down to two crucial factors. The first is the relevance of the cause to your brand’s target audiences, and the second is the credibility of your brand to support this cause. In a country like South Africa, there are numerous causes that brands can choose to support, but if your audiences aren’t also passionate about an issue you choose to back or it isn’t aligned to your brand’s persona, promise, and positioning, you stand to lose. Not only could your support be interpreted as inauthentic, but you also stand to lose relevance, credibility, and customer loyalty.

Take the FNB sponsorship of the Springboks, for example. FNB as a brand has over the years aligned itself to messaging that supports nation building. Knowing that rugby in South Africa has the power to unite the nation, FNB decided to support the team and deliberately used this sponsorship to bring rugby to consumers who would not typically have watched the sport. By expanding the audience, the brand helped bring the nation together with a powerful call for support during the Rugby World Cup.

The key to relevance is consistency

Whatever cause or causes your brand stands behind, what remains most important is the consistency of support over time in order to demonstrate commitment and build credibility. Those brands that continually shift between causes and pick whatever is most topical at any point in time fail to build recognition of their support and risk appearing opportunistic. One brand that has successfully taken a consistent stance on an issue that is relevant to its audiences and its brand proposition is Nike. With its support of athletes who are discriminated against, even in the face of significant backlash from certain communities, such as Colin Kaepernick in the USA and Caster Semenya in South Africa, the brand has consistently stood by its message of equality in sports. Now, more than ever, Nike is known for its ongoing, relevant support, which means something valuable to its audiences.

Locally, we have also seen how FNB recently consistently backed its long-held value of ‘Help’ through its #RealHelp campaign. Launched at the start of lockdown, the campaign showcased how FNB’s solutions could address the real concerns and problems South African consumers and businesses were facing. The brand took one step forward as lockdown progressed and it became evident that one of the most important requirements necessary for an economic revival in South Africa would be active support for local businesses when they started opening up again. The brand utilised its credibility as a strong voice that unites the nation which it developed over the course of numerous campaigns to once again call South Africans together. This time, the nation was called to #HelpOneAnother by supporting local.

The risk of recklessness

Supporting causes relevant to your target audiences drives credibility and recognition, and brand affinity. This leads to perceptual brand strength and customer loyalty which results in greater brand asset value, given that loyal customers increase company earnings. However, the cost of putting your weight behind causes that aren’t relevant to your target audiences or picking causes that aren’t aligned to your brand’s positioning, is dire. You either run the risk of alienating your audiences entirely or destroying any loyalty previously developed. The reality is that if your brand appears inauthentic or irrelevant, customers will either decide that your brand isn’t worth their support and opt for another or they will develop a purely transactional relationship with your brand, one that’s easily be swayed by competitive offers.

Simply put, your brand won’t fully deliver on the value it should be creating if your customers are less loyal. When creating an effective marketing strategy that drives loyalty, it’s vital for brands to understand that they are playing the long game. The journey starts with knowing what you need to achieve throughout the conversion funnel and not just merely at the awareness level. From there, it’s key to develop relevant messages for the different audiences who are at different levels of relationship with your brand. This is what consistently move customers through that funnel, creates sustainable brand affinity, and enables your brand to deliver greater financial value.