Consumers are overwhelmed and are becoming extremists, self-orientated, demanding and tech-savvy.

The way that consumers interact and engage with brands is fundamentally different from five years ago. Consumers now traverse the physical and digital worlds and live in a fluid world. They are used to switching between these dual realities and there is an increased tendency to switch between brands.

Consumers are extending their brand repertoires and there is less solus usage (where consumers use only one brand within a product category). There are, however, certain brands that South Africans across the board continue to love and stick to.

Over time, most of these brands have consistently managed churn effectively and remained in South African consumers' repertoire of usage. Defy is a newcomer in the top rankings this year.

Ask Afrika's Icon Brands is about local relevance and brands that almost all South Africans always or mostly use — the survey measures solus usage, and also looks at current consumer behaviour and usage. This method is what differentiates it from other brand surveys.

The 2019/20 Ask Afrika Icon Brands winners

The top brands were announced at The Venue in Melrose Arch on Thursday, 29 August. The Icon Brands survey is useful for brand owners as it measures brands that consumers buy and use on a regular basis. This is the most difficult to achieve, compared to brand footprint, affinity or brands that consumers claim to love.

Achieving Icon Brand status is the highest accolade — the Target Group Index database that is used in the survey measures 8 000 brands, and only 50 receive the status. Considering brand loyalty levels have been on a downward trajectory for the past 11 years.

Brand loyalty levels are declining

Product category boundaries are blurring. Consumers expect the best from one category to apply across their brand repertoire. This means that brands are competing within and across numerous categories.

Marketers have to start asking different questions to understand how to get the consumer to choose a brand over and over again. This requires:
  • significant investment in the right type of data and technology
  • more sophisticated marketing campaigns, brand strategies and architecture
  • a complete rethink of measurements we apply
Data is easily accessible, but data volume doesn't always enable granular understanding. If we are measuring everything, it means that we are not using data strategically. We need to ask tough questions about where the consumer fits into the business. The future belongs to agile brands — those that can reinvent. It's about creativity and relevance in a world we don't yet know.

Through this annual benchmark research, we have the ability to provide strategic insight into the role that mass social consciousness trends play in shaping the expectations of consumers during their purchase decisions. These insights inform advertising and marketing campaigns to focus on key brand personality traits that consumers connect with.

Topline trends from the Ask Afrika Icon Brands survey

The relevance of loyalty

Consumer behaviour cannot be understood in isolation and needs to be contextualised within the landscape of global and local realities and lifestyle trends. Loyalty levels are declining in all spheres of life and brand owners need to question whether it is realistic to continue expecting consumers to remain loyal to their brand when they are not loyal to anything else — including religion, politics, work and relationships.

The impact of technology on an overwhelmed society

Brands are widening their scope to gain market share and it seems that every brand is targeting almost every consumer. This leads to consumers feeling overwhelmed and like they're targets.

The extreme brand personalities stand out. There is an increased awareness among consumers of manipulative brand strategies, even though they endorse or are complicit in co-creating this cycle of manipulation.

The line between enticement and addiction is blurred. Society has become addicted to an efficiency-driven lifestyle, which transcends instant gratification. Society expects everything to be frictionless: experiences should mesh into our lifestyles and everything that we consume ?— from food to technology and apps ?— to allow us to dedicate more time to our professional and social lives.

Technology has a huge impact on consumers and South Africans spend a significant portion of their time online. We have a compulsion to share everything on digital media.

In essence, this has resulted in 'jumping jack engagement', where we jump from one exciting or dramatic discourse to the next, from one fad to another. It creates a breeding ground for dysfunctional behaviour and extremist behaviour in an extremist society.

There is an endless need for more, and there is a sense of crave-ability or stickiness that makes it hard to exit the 'happy kingdom' of consumerism. This will be the year that consumers seek to find balance in a world that is rapidly tilting out of control.

Obsession with self and the rise of individualism

The general consumer sentiment is, "Everything and everyone wants more from me and I want more from them. I know more, I expect more and I judge more. I'm significantly more informed. I desire authenticity on my own terms. It is supposed to be all about me."
This obsession with self is reflected by a shift in the types of brands and products that are now securing Icon Brand status and the ones that are falling off this list. Consumers are increasingly spending money on themselves.

There is a trend towards the collapse of collectivism and the rise of individualism, which implies that successful brands will be those that relate to consumers on a granular level. Brands that move beyond transactional engagement to experiential retailing, and truly engage with consumers on a psychological and emotional level, will stand the test of time.

What is happening in the world today is no ordinary disruption. We have developed complicated relationships with retailers, brands and loyalty programmes, and this has resulted in layered fragmentation.

Consumers are price-sensitive

Nonetheless, the price remains a driving factor in consumer choice. Promotions, loyalty programmes and benefits from a variety of retailers come into play. Consumers are price-sensitive and this has become a key influencer in an environment where they have a wealth of choice. Young people are no longer absolute luxury shoppers; they mix and match the high with the low to express their personal style.

Sustainability and a regenerative reality

Another trend this year, driven by younger generations, is an increased focus on sustainability. The loyal consumer market has a high percentage of engaged green consumers. These consumers are willing to make changes in their personal lifestyles but expect the same from the brands they use. They are breaking away from stereotypes into a more fluid sense of identity.

We are moving towards a regenerative reality in which people are taking action to improve the world in which we live. Social capital is an important factor in driving consumer behaviour:
  • 87% of consumers surveyed said that they'd purchase a product because a company was advocating for an issue they cared about
  • 75% would refuse to purchase a product if they found out a company supported an issue contrary to their beliefs
  • 86% of consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues
There has been a trend to support local brands for some years and this continues in 2019.

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