Be More Innovative

Be More Innovative


All too often we hear local marketers express their desire for business to be more innovative. So much so that now almost every marketer, regardless of the industry they operate in, wants ‘innovation’ to be in their brand’s essence or DNA.

When most people think about the concept of ‘innovation’, it usually conjures up images of R&D labs, people in pristine white coats, copious amounts of coding; and of course shiny hi-tech gadgets. All of this science and technology does not only mystify and bewilder, but also the sheer amount of investment needed to create and sustain such a business orientation is frightening.

So innovation has become an enigma. It’s revered, yet feared by all. Something we all wish we could do and brag about. Something we believe requires a mass of moolah and that takes a generous amount of guts.

Yet there is an opportunity for local marketers on their quest for innovation and perhaps this ‘sacred cow’ should not only be left to the Asian Tigers or Americans. Let’s take a moment to think about some local companies and brands that are getting innovation right…

FNB: Inspiring and living innovation from the inside out

FNB has transformed a boring banking category into one that people are talking about, thanks to their CEO, Michael Jordaan who has inspired and created a culture of innovation that is unprecedented. By introducing an internal ‘Innovators’ competition where any staff member / team can develop and implement an innovative idea to win over R1 million, innovation truly reverberates through the company.

Not only are these small, yet significant innovations tempting customers to switch to FNB, but in October 2012, FNB was awarded the prize for the most innovative bank in the world!

SAB: Understanding the market and truly applying customer insight

After losing the lucrative distribution rights for Amstel, SAB needed to fill the gap in their portfolio and focus marketing efforts on a new brand. Castle Lite marketers knew that competing on packaging or taste alone against the likes of Heineken, would be tricky.

Instead, they opted to focus on the insight that consumers respond to their thirst for beer as a “need for a cold one”. Castle Lite is therefore the only local beer served at -4 degrees and it is marketed as cool and refreshing. Even the packaging has been tweaked to include blue liners that seal in the fresh taste and a ‘Snow Castle’ icon that lets the consumer know when their Castle Lite is at the perfect drinking temperature.

Tapping into this consumer insight has resulted in Castle Lite becoming the biggest and fastest-growing premium beer brand in South Africa.

Woolworths: Constantly keeping it fresh

Although Woolworths has been in South Africa for over 80 years, it still continues to excite and capture consumers’ attention. With a brand centred on ‘quality’ it is forced to constantly innovate and excuse the pun, keep things fresh.

Not only does Woolworths continue to bring out new lines, variants and ranges but they keep their finger on the pulse of international trends and innovations. For instance, they have pioneered the practice of ‘sell by’ and ‘best before’ dates on consumables in South Africa and were the first to introduce organic clothing locally.

Knowing that there is always going to be something new and interesting on the racks and shelves; Woolies keep customers constantly coming back for more.

Bringing innovation to your business

It’s evident that successful innovation in South Africa is critical to business success. With this in mind, think about the shifts that you as a marketer need to make to ensure that your brand is ‘innovative’:

  • Focus on true customer needs and base your brand on real market insight and a brand truth that you can actually deliver.
  • It’s not necessarily about making ‘innovation’ a brand value or marketing pillar – the concept of innovation is intimidating in the boardroom and therefore runs the risk of being shot down. Rather embed the principle of innovative thinking and true market understanding in everything you do.
  • Remember that ideas can come from anywhere and therefore encourage, involve and reward any staff member for a great idea – think about the creation of internal platforms to do this. For example a quarterly forum, a website to submit ideas or a competition,
  • Look beyond your industry for inspiration – imagine if a financial services company modelled itself on the brand principles and learnings from the likes of Google, Zappos or even McDonalds?
  • Identify what the category norms and stereotypes are; and break them – sometimes it’s re-invention through complete innovation, but often it only requires a tweak in process to make a difference.

Innovation in the local market requires you to be inspired to think about doing things in new ways. As the late Steve Jobs once said: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Nicole Zetler
Nicole Zetler is a senior strategist at Yellowwood. She is both formally trained and experienced in the fields of business, brand and marketing strategy, with work experience covering both the client and supplier/agency environments. For more information, contact Yellowwood on +27 (0)11 268 5210 or +27 (0)21 425 0344 or visit
  • It’s tempting to assume that innovation needs capital investment or major market research, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Innovation can also be a small adjustment in approach or a new focus on an existing offering, whether it be service or product.

  • Innovation is as mentioned by Nicole – “intimidating in the boardroom.” Many budding and actually profitable ideas are shot down in the boardroom.

    Nevertheless, innovation keeps us ahead of the fold. The Market/Consumer desperately awaits and require new products and innovative services on a daily basis – are we as business keeping up to meet their needs?

    Every niche industry has it in them to become and live out innovation – it’s just finding that right platform to launch from.