#10Q: How to truly understand the SA consumer

Gillian Rightford is one of the editors of a new free marketing textbook, Marketing to South African Consumers.

Gillian Rightford is one of the editors of a new free marketing textbook, Marketing to South African Consumers, which provides core introductory marketing theory “underpinned by a contemporary and localised South African perspective”. The book’s editors point out that, “South Africa has a unique hybrid economy with strong formal and informal economies co-existing in a deeply unequal society.” The textbook, published by the UCT Liberty Institute for Strategic Marketing, is edited by academics and specialist marketers, Rightford, James Lappeman, Thabang Ramogase and Paul Egan. It starts with a classic view of marketing theory, with an added focus on consumer behaviour in the South African formal and informal retail context. Contributors include industry experts, academics and students.

Retailing Africa interviewed Rightford, marketing specialist, founder of Adtherapy consulting and the former Group Managing Director of Lowe Bull advertising agency, on why this particular marketing book is special and should be read by everyone working on a brand or with an interest in marketing – which is pretty much anyone in business.

Gillian Rightford.
1. Tell me about the book?

Discussions on the book started after #feesmustfall and the decolonisation of learning debate, about the need for more relevant and inclusive learning in South Africa. Many of the models and textbooks we were using were American, expensive, hard to get, and missed the local nuances. James (Lappeman) had this idea and through his work with the UCT Liberty Institute for Strategic Marketing, saw there was a gap. There are other South African marketing books, but this includes South African demographics.

2. Why offer it free to the industry?

It provides a unique contribution to the marketing textbook landscape, in that it is written by marketing academics, professionals and students, and is focused on making local context a central reference rather than a peripheral addition. The textbook is relevant to any marketer or business owner who would like to gain more understanding of marketing in general and South African consumers in particular. There was this desire to make it inclusive and that is why the decision was taken that it would be free and a gift to the industry, rather than a fee making thing.

3. Why should the industry read it?

It is aimed primarily at tertiary students of marketing; but it is also aimed at small business; and anybody who wants a current, up to date relevant refresher on marketing. If you are studying marketing it will give you the basics. And even if you know what is going on, there is a lot that is new. It is refreshing in that it is told by different voices – from executives in the industry to students – but the central message builds an overall picture of the industry in South Africa.

4. Does it include advice for a post-Covid world?

It references Covid and speaks about innovation during Covid and is super current. I like the fact that it is Open Source and online, because we can update it. We can put in more chapters as we feel necessary. This book is accessible enough for an entrepreneur to draw up their own marketing plan for their business.

5. What surprised you about the project?

How long it took! The quality of the project and everyone who participated was phenomenal. We also spent a long time defining terminology, like “customer vs consumer”. People use them interchangeably, but there is actually a difference. In the industry customer is more B2B and consumer is more relevant in the B2C context. We had to define that all upfront and I spent hours editing for that. Making sure we had the language and terminology right from the beginning was important.

6. What do you want marketers to take away from it?

You can’t do marketing without understand your consumer. That’s basic. As much as there are a lot of fundamental marketing principles that are universal; we also have a unique marketing environment. I’d like marketers to be more curious. Curiosity is the attribute that marketers need.

7. What is the best advice you think the book gives?

Marketing is not just about tactics, there is a whole picture to marketing. Everything builds to meet your business goals in the beginning. This is the whole picture.

8. What makes South African consumers most unique?

The fact that so many people live in very difficult economic circumstances; that we have two or more different economies. There are major challenges due to the legacy of Apartheid. We have a very small affluent economy and an enormous economy that is economically active. If I were still running an agency, I would make them all read this book and give them an exam after and fire anyone who failed. How can you give brands advice if you know nothing about their consumers and live in a northern suburbs bubble?

9. The most gratifying part about working on the book?

I think when it all came together. The final push. Seeing it all coming through, from the spreadsheets where we debated where the chapters would be and what came first; to the final contributions.

10. Best quote or section from the book?

I really like the part on consumer segmentation. It is very South African. I would like to see everyone using that terminology. Right through the book there are so many stories about innovation and the stuff that makes living here quite special. There are lovely examples of what companies have done and how people have responded.


*A new consumer segmentation is offered up in Chapter Five – SA Consumer Landscape, and deals with South Africans arranged into five cohorts: from Pre-Apartheid generation (born before 1933) to the Transition Generation (born 1980-1999) and the current, Second Wave Generation (born 2000-2020).

*The book is available for free download under Creative Commons license.


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