The discipline of experience is maturing rapidly in South Africa. The next step is to bring more localisation to experience efforts, says Joe Public’s Dan Herman.

In Gartner’s ‘State of Marketing Budgets 2021’ report, marketing budgets have been slashed from 11% of total revenue to a paltry 6.4%, and of those budgets, 72% of total investment is being focused on pure-play digital channels, which have become the central focus of experience activities. This has been complemented by recent figures which show that marketing at a global level is becoming de-emphasised, with a larger portion of budgets going towards commerce and experience capabilities.

In South Africa, the retail landscape is being drastically reshaped through a profound focus on delivering powerful end-to-end and digital-first customer experiences. For example, the Foschini Group’s recent acquisition of Quench, a digital shopping and last-mile delivery provider, will enable it to scale its local commerce capability to levels not seen in the local fashion industry. Shoprite Holdings, encouraged by the rampant success of Checkers60, is currently trialling a cashier-less grocery store, akin to the Amazon Go model seen in the US, to drastically revolutionise the shopper experience for a new age.

In addition to this, creative agencies in South Africa have become crucial vehicles for growth in the experience industry, as brands seek more creativity and differentiation in their customer and user experiences. This has been further validated by Accenture's recent acquisition of King James Group, deepening a narrative around creatively inspired experience that agency groups like WPP have been driving in our market for several years already through powerhouse agencies like Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R.

Reinforced by real in-market success stories, stress-tested by the pandemic and accelerated by the emergence of genuine creative experience players in our market, the discipline of experience is maturing rapidly in South Africa. The next step is to bring more localisation to experience efforts – making more ‘South African’ customer and user experiences.

Here are four ways brands can bring more local inspiration into the experience.

1. Develop digital-first experience strategies that bring brand context in alignment with the local customer context

According to the Harvard Business Review, all brands’ experiences compete on a continuum of being frictionless to being memorable. For example, automotive players like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have launched a frictionless online shopping and fulfillment capability to take the pain out of the purchase journey, a genuine pain point for South African car buyers. On the other hand, UCook, a South African meal kit provider, provides delight and memorability by including value-added experiences like cocktail kits, while weekly influencer partnerships inform the recipes to delight and excite their customers and keep things fresh.

Defining the right experience strategy for your brand can be key to differentiating you amongst a variety of players driving the experience conversation.

2. Invest in understanding the deep diversity of South African customers and the unique ways in which they experience your brand, product or service

By collecting and analysing a variety of data sources, including brands’ owned data, primary research and third-party data providers, South African brands can deepen their understanding of customers, build robust segmentation models and craft in-depth journey maps that recognise the inherent diversity of customer journeys.

Once their journeys are understood, investigate customers’ priority touchpoints from their perspective to identify and resolve crucial pain points, while also identifying opportunities for improvement and delight.

3. Put a local aesthetic at the heart of your experience design efforts

Instead of appropriating international best practices, brands should consider incorporating local design aesthetics into their digitally-led experiences. This means leveraging culturally specific elements such as language, colour usage, imagery and other design elements in an intelligent way to create aesthetically pleasing and inherently familiar experiences for customers.

Do this by creating scalable design systems and digital style guides with diverse South African users in mind to ensure ample room for trial and experimentation.

4. Develop an agile, data-led optimisation framework to ensure effective implementation and growth

Brands that can leverage data with a high-performance mindset will improve their experiences and be delightful to local audiences. Use performance data to enrich your understanding of audience personas and keep your customer journeys up to date. Equip the C-Suite with KPI-oriented reporting reinforced with business insights, while providing working teams with more granular data visualizations to inform detailed optimisations and backlog development.

This focus on continuous experience improvement will drive the success of South African borne user and customer experiences.

To summarise, a brand that truly leverages the ‘power of local’ in the formulation of its customer and user experiences will stand out from the rest. This means creating market-relevant experience strategies, demonstrating deep understanding of South African users/customers, recognising cultural nuances in design, and utilising data to drive continuous experience improvement.