After living in South Africa a couple of months, I can say without hesitation that I couldn’t have chosen a more incredible market for my Global Fellowship. In addition to being one of the most beautiful and welcoming places I have ever lived, South Africa (and Africa as a whole) is overflowing with opportunity and the people here are eager to support new brands and leaders who will help foster growth and prosperity across the continent.
Even though I have only just begun to scratch the surface, here are a few refreshingly unique things about South African culture, as well as a few general communications insights to note about the market:
While it may seem obvious, far too often foreigners approach Africa as though it is one country and not a continent. They are then unpleasantly surprised when a launch strategy that was effective in South Africa isn’t successful when mirrored in other African markets like Nigeria or Kenya. Therefore, it is imperative that both the overall communications marketing strategy and tactics are specifically tailored to address each African country, territory or island in unique and appropriate ways.
One of the most delightful parts about living in this country is how South Africans treat one another. There is a genuine discourse that is commonplace for even the most basic interactions. For example, if you want to pass a slow moving car in front of you on the highway, the driver ahead will willingly pull over to the shoulder so that you can pass safely. You would then put on your hazard lights to say “thank you” and they do the same as if saying “you’re welcome – good luck.” I digress. The point is, more so than other cultures, South Africans seem to have a sincere interest in establishing connections with others and this cultural nuance extends into the workplace. For instance, in South Africa, there is still a lot of value placed on meeting face-to-face, and having daily in-person engagement is essential for maintaining a healthy and successful relationship with clients. So, while in the States it has become very common to hold the majority of client/agency meetings remotely, that trend has not yet (and may never) take hold here.
The best way that I have been able to explain life in Johannesburg, and South Africa in general, is that everyone here is living in both a third and first world country. In this country alone there are 11 official languages, a drastic range of income levels and varying news source preferences. So, no matter what industry your client is in, communications marketing strategies have to span across all facets of the Cloverleaf in exceptionally creative and resourceful ways to be effective.
More to come!
Zoe Dunn Hanson is a senior account supervisor with the Silicon Valley Consumer Technology practice now working in Johannesburg as a 2016 Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellow.