JOHANNESBURG: South African brands need to find new ways to connect with consumers according to a report which says far too many of them communicate in cliché and have only a superficial understanding of their customers.

The Yellowwood brand strategy consultancy polled 900 consumers in Johannesburg and Cape Town about their views on brands while also analysing leading brands surveys and campaigns to identify trends for its report, Building brands in a rapidly changing market: Lessons for South Africa.

It concluded that in the 20 years since the end of apartheid, brands had failed to keep pace with the changes in society and had not altered their product and marketing mix sufficiently.

Consumers were asked which brands had best transformed in line with South Africa and the answer "none" came out in second place. Young South Africans were particularly unconvinced and were more likely than other age groups to prefer international brands and to consider that these best understood them. Overall, however, most consumers continued to prefer local brands.

The brand that had most successfully adapted to the new South Africa was retailer Shoprite, which, Yellowood noted, appealed across income segments and was emblematic of a new type of "hybrid consumer". These would shop for the very lowest prices in order to save money for premium or super-premium products.

"The same consumer may buy groceries at Shoprite and shoes at Nike or Carvela. Are South African brands ready to cater for rich and poor in the same space?" asked Yellowwood.

The report also found that women were nearly twice as likely as men to prefer international brands over local ones, a trend it attributed in part to the latter's habit of talking to its target audience in "amateurish, girly ways".

Two brands that were successfully engaging with South African women were Capitec, a new financial services brand that avoids patronising female clients and simply offers gender-neutral banking, and Nike, whose advertising portrays women as powerful and driven.

Breaking free of the traditional way of doing things, breaking down barriers, broadening access and embracing community were other things that brands could do to connect with consumers.

"The leading brands of the next twenty years won't be those that just throw money at advertising campaigns," the report concluded. "They will be those that re-humanise their marketing and put South African consumers first."

Data sourced from Yellowwod; additional content by Warc staff