#21interviews: 2021 survival kit

by Louise Burgers. These are some of the key insights from the 21 retail and brand leaders in our #21interviews series.

by Louise Burgers. And so it begins… Another year. Another lockdown. But we must prevail and make the best of this year and these strange days, with the best of what we are made of. There is hope in the form of the global vaccine rollout and the inevitable innovation that will spring from this crisis. It will be a challenging year, of that I have no doubt; but there are research houses and clever people out there tracking the changes in consumer behaviour, ecommerce, brand strategy and retail innovation. We will make sure we bring you all the strategic, research and news resources you need to not just survive in 2021, but to thrive.

Probably the biggest challenge is to keep positive and keep seeing the opportunity in this crisis. Retailing Africa’s #21interviews series with the leadership of our industry, which was published in December, looked at how last year challenged retailers and brands; and how they planned for 2021 amidst the uncertainty. The list of all 21 retail and brand thought leaders who contributed or were interviewed, is below. These were some of their key insights:

1. Be agile in your planning. Try new things. PEP plans to open 100 new stores in 2021, says Pep CEO Jaap Hamman, as they believe more traditional top end retail customers will be cost cutting and looking for value. As for 2021 and what it may bring, Hamman’s best advice is to stay flexible. “There is still a lot of uncertainty about the future. It will still be a struggle for consumers and retailers. Be ready for everything. Be agile with your planning for a changing market and continue to speak and listen to your customer.” He says a ‘can do’ attitude and a willingness to try new things turn the challenges into opportunities.

2. Think like an entrepreneur. Wayne Naidoo, the founder and CEO of the Duke Group, says we all have to be entrepreneurial in our thinking. “We cannot rely on any of the rules of the past. If you do that, you will not survive. We already have the intellect, the skills, the capacity – use it. Don’t rely on committees and research after research. We all have to be massively courageous now, more than we have ever been before. Stop being afraid of your shareholders and exco. For businesses to survive, start thinking strategically.” He says clients need to draw more on agencies for strategic and creative thinking.

3. Be a purpose driven brand. Natasha Maharaj, marketing director, Distell, says brands have to have a purpose and make an authentic contribution to society. In the case of the alcohol industry, that means more self-regulation to promote safer consumption habits. “Globally and locally, we have noticed consumers shifting towards brands with purpose and things consumers care about. On the back of Covid, this has become more prolific. Brands with purpose will become even more important in the future. Advertising and marketing self-regulation will become more important and the promotion of responsible messaging and behaviour accelerated.”

4. Get close to your customers. There will be more pure play competitors to emerge in all categories and retailers will need to offer better, quicker service, says Shani Naidoo, TFG group director, who heads up operations in nine countries in Africa, as well as looking after 400 jewellery stores and the GStar denim and Fabiani menswear brands. “Retailers will need to be even closer to their customers. When people do go to malls, they go with very specific intentions, and this leads to higher instore conversion rates. Value for money is becoming increasingly important and there has been a tremendous growth in the number of customers shopping online.”

5. Deliver on brand promises. “Coronavirus is coming with us into 2021 and we need to figure out how to restart and rebuild economies, as we try to usher this most unwelcome of visitors out the door with a vaccine. We need to push on and lace up for the next marathon even though we’re all exhausted. That means treating your existing customers like gold and really delivering on your brand promise to them, even as you hustle for new business,” says Rachel Irvine, CEO of Irvine Partners PR and Integrated Marketing Agency, which has offices in the UK, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

6. Be fast and responsive. The impact and consequences of the pandemic will change the retail landscape and ecosystem in South Africa forever. Retailers which have not already responded fast and effectively to these changes will see their growth not only stagnate, but decline, says Enver Groenewald, group CEO of the Ogilvy South Africa Group, and former  Africa director of media, marketing and enterprise digital transformation at Unilever. Clinging to the traditional bricks-and-mortar model alone will no longer serve retailers well in ensuring a thriving, growing business. Not when consumers have experienced – and, in many instances enjoyed – the clear benefits of ecommerce and online shopping. Online channels level the playing field, meaning that both the retailing whales and the minnows have the most equal opportunity yet to vie for consumers.”

7. Understand your brand truths. Zizwe Vundla,marketing director of Diageo South Africa says get close to the data to understand how consumers are behaving and understand where your brand fits in. “Right now, as we strategise for 2021, despite all the flux, is settle on a few brand truths. Yes, many things have changed, but there will always be those few brand truths that remain: at the end of the day we know that our consumers are social beings. Whether things are open or not, consumers want to be with other people. They may not do it at a fancy restaurant or a tavern, they may do it at home now. So, what can we do to reach them in their home? We need to create great consumer experiences at home – we help them buy online; we plan for when things reopen; that is what I have grounded my team in.” Vundla says what we are going through right now is a teaching moment and we need to make sure we use the opportunity to question how we do business in the past and how we move forward, despite all the madness around us.

8. ‘Normal’ does not exist. Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is a trend forecaster and founder at Trend Forward. He says it will not be business as usual in 2021; nor will business return to the way we knew it before this pandemic. “Certain things may normalise somewhat, but many aspects have changed forever. Clients and consumers have become far more demanding. They expect things to happen faster and generally to receive greater value. Consumers are getting very comfortable with doing things online; from ordering goods, attending virtual exhibitions, as well as being involved in meetings utilising platforms such as Zoom, and others. This means that when things begin to open up to larger audiences, consumers will still expect to be able to have the content available online, regardless of whether or not they are attending physical functions. The models for events such as conferences, training and expos have changed forever.”

9. Nothing is certain. Elouise Brink, the senior marketing manager at Australian lifestyle brand, Country Road Group (CRG) South Africa, part of Woolworths Holdings, says Covid has created a vulnerability for brands that means marketers must socialise and workshop creative ideas across diverse creative teams before executing, because consumers expect more from brands. “They expect them to be authentic, responsible and purpose-driven. This, what we currently live in, is life as we know it with all the uncertainty, until there is a vaccine. I’m setting up strategies and I’m keeping up the momentum of the local partnerships we started this year. As long as I can lead my team into this new world with purpose, the rest we will adapt to. What we are going through now, is teaching us to be better at what we do, better people, better marketers, just better. So, don’t lose hope.”

10. Plan for growth. Herman Botha, group general manager of the 28-year-old PNA retail group, says plan for growth not just survival. PNA opened three new stores during Covid lockdown and announced that it planned to open another eight new stores by the end of 2020 in major urban malls, bringing the store count to 95 nationally. As a franchisor, its business model varies from the traditional franchise models to enable store owners to tailor their product offering to meet the needs of their immediate communities. The pandemic allowed stores to move quickly to meet shifting consumer needs, dispensing with historical business models and data that were no longer useful. “Our motto is if you only plan for survival, you will only survive. We continue to plan for growth and we believe if you plan for growth, you will grow; without being ignorant about the challenges that may occur.”

11. Human connections are important. Karin Du Chenne, chief growth officer Africa and the Middle East at Kantar, tells Retailing Africa that there is an increasing correlation with business success and being more purpose-led in approach. “Offering flexible working solutions will be a strong driver of being an employer of choice in 2021. I believe that ecommerce will remain at the new higher levels we’ve seen under lockdown; and that the innovation that has taken place in the courier and delivery space will continue, as people enjoy getting what they want, fast. I think as soon as people know that the soon-to-come vaccine is working and they feel safe again, they will return to many old behaviours and choices. However, when it comes to brand choices, many are likely to stick with the choices they made during lockdown. I also feel that the need for human connection and bonding will become increasingly important as people tire of isolation and brands will need to be cognisant of this.”

12. Be brave. Bozoma Saint John, the global chief marketing officer of Netflix, shares how brands need to be brave during this crisis.Nobody knows what the future holds. Bravery for me, is about being able to be vulnerable. It takes real bravery to stop and say, ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on… I have to stop and reassess my business… I have to reassess the way I talk to people – from customers to employees… I have to adjust my company values…’ It is about that pure vulnerability about being open.” She encourages brands to be human and for us all to show our humanity; for brands to show they really care; and for all organisations to be transparent and show what they stand for.


For all the insights from retail and brand leaders in our Retailing Africa #21interviews series which was published 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:


INTRODUCTION: #21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer, by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com.

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave, says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix.

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value, by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar.

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021, says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group.

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion, by Craig Bellingham, Founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack.

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability, says Elouise Brink, Senior Marketing Manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings.

#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’, with Economist and Author of the post-pandemic book, FutureNEXT, Dr Iraj Abedian, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Embrace technology at all levels, says Thabani Maluleka, Business Development Director for Rogerwilco.

#21interviews: It will not be business as usual, by Dave NemethTrend Forecaster & Founder of at Trend Forward.

#21interviews: Lessons from an unprecedented year in retailby Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO, Teljoy.

#21interviews: Beware ‘Covid fatigue’, by Guy Yehiav, General Manager, Zebra Analytics, part of Zebra Technologies.

#21interviews: Be deliberate in listening, says Zizwe Vundla, Marketing Director of Diageo South Africa, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Critical factors for retail growth, by Enver Groenewald, Group CEO, Ogilvy South Africa.

#21interviews: The future of micro-commerce in Africa, with Vahid Monadjem, CEO and Founder of Nomanini, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Plan for a ballet of black swans, by Rachel Irvine, Founder & CEO, Irvine Partners.

#21interviews: Consumers are investing to connect, says Shani Naidoo, Group Director, TFG (The Foschini Group).

#21interviews: Data is key to the future of shopping, by Nompumelelo Mokou, the intelligent customer experience executive at Dimension Data.

#21interviews: Direct to consumer is the future for some brands, says Will Battersby, CEO, BOS Brands, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Our products need to make a difference to society, says Natasha Maharaj, Marketing Director, Distell.

#21interviews: Community support will win loyal customers, says Sanjeev Raghubir, Sustainability Manager, Shoprite Group, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: The strength of vulnerability, by Wayne Naidoo, Founder & CEO, Duke Group, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: PEP plans to open 100 new stores in 2021, says Jaap Hamman, Pep CEO, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher and Editor, Louise Burgers.


Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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