#BrandFocus: Bountiful global brands making their mark in South Africa
by Sabrina Forbes. Bounty Brands Apparel is a six-year-old business that distributes some of the world’s most well-known fashion brands, such as Diesel, Vans, Superdry and Jeep. We chatted to brand and marketing executive Zak Venter about his journey at the consumer-brands business, shortly before he announced his departure [no info has been shared as to where he’s moving].
Venter is no stranger to the fashion industry. He co-founded Sergeant Pepper Clothing, which grew organically in New York, Europe, UK and South Africa before he sold it to a major retail group and left. He then became the creative director for Christiano Ronaldo’s denim collection, launching it globally and getting it into big-box stores.
Switch on digitally
According to Venter, local clothing brands need to switch on digitally as a matter of urgency. What we’ve seen locally to date is tiny in comparison to what global brands have been rolling out. That’s the nature of our local industry, he believes. Legacy issues with global headquarters have also provided challenges and Venter recalled having to arm wrestle for local strategies, something he believes is imperative to build local brand cultures.
A frictionless shopping experience for customers is incredibly important for Venter and was a primary focus for him during his tenure. He recently launched Diesel’s ecommerce channel and said that Vans and Superdry are coming soon.
A further challenge faced, when managing his brand teams, was figuring out how to work on the business instead of working in it and giving them the freedom and trust to do what they think is best. Every brand team has its own culture because of their respective audiences and who they’re talking to. Venter worked towards nurturing and protecting his teams’ culture and continuously growing it as the audience increased.
When discussing Superdry, Venter said that the brand needed revitalising as its current marketing hasn’t been adapted to the South African urban market. His strategy here was to show what the brand is, and what it stands for, while working on its pricing model (it’s been commented on as being unattainable).
The brand also plans to launch a larger female line, and visitors to the store will start to see the floor space being used in different ways.
The sportswear line has experienced its own challenges: he was clear that the Superdry communication has been that it’s athleisure and doesn’t promising to deliver the technology that other competitor brands offer.
Cultural juggernaut, Vans, brings its own challenges — its culture lives underground. You can’t control it or stop it but how do you not restrain an organic culture while still pushing a brand message? Venter said the team has been very careful not to overtrade the product while keeping the lifestyle aspiration offered intact. “You don’t want your early adopters to stop wearing them. You must look after the key drivers,” he said.
The Vans communication strategy, then, has been to go after the people who already care deeply about the brand. There’s been a longer-term strategy at play here, with a shift away from short-term performance and sales. Venter said the market has become schizophrenic and is always looking for a dopamine release, and that the strategy aims to mitigate that by looking further into the future. It’s important to look after long term brand health, he said, adding that digital has made this more tricky: “It’s the hardest time in retail in 15 years.” [This interview occurred before the coronavirus pandemic affected South Africa — ed-at-large.]
Diesel’s audience is slightly older and wealthier, and so Venter’s team had adopted a tactile omnichannel approach with WhatsApp at the heart. Loyal customers are the first to find out about new releases and often products will be sold out before they make it to the shelf. This audience wants to have that very personal touch; they almost demand it.
However, the brand continues to look for new markets and does so through its marketing communications, launching highly controversial campaigns intended to make people sit up and take note.
Fighting the old-fashioned perception of the Jeep brand has been something Venter and his brand team worked on tirelessly. The trick here has been to focus on a slow transformation over time vs an overnight evolution, so that the existing customer base hasn’t been scared off by an overnight change in tack. Marketing has to move as slowly as the audience does.
Venter said he saw the future of Jeep as a brand that offers trendy, design aesthetics while still being functional outdoor gear, especially considering the rise in the urban explorer and greater demographics looking for high-quality, fashionable gear that does the job.
A major trend he noticed, which Jeep is starting to play in, has been the move towards more-sustainable fashion. “It has to come into decision-making; the freight train is coming and you have to be ready,” he said, referring to brands such as Everlane and Patagonia that were born out of sustainability and continue to change the market, forcing others to pay attention.
Bounty Brands aims to become more transparent about its production practices because South Africans are becoming more aware; however, commercial implementation is still lagging behind. According to Venter, it’s a brand’s responsibility to educate and change behaviours, to open the curtains and to tell the truth.
“BrandFocus” is a monthly series looking at brand performance and innovation, consumer trends and sector insight through in-depth interviews with senior marketers.
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.