It’s not for nothing that Nomahlubi Simamane was named Businesswoman of the Year twice in 2009 – first at the 2009 Topco National Business Awards and then in the Annual Black Business Quarterly (BBQ) Awards. Since starting Zanusi Brand Solutions in 2001, she’s driven expansion into Kenya and Zambia; signed on an impressive array of clients both locally and in Africa, the United States and Europe; achieved year-on-year double-digit growth figures; and pioneered a niche in branding solutions that has the market sitting up and taking notice. Not bad for someone who says she never thought she could be an entrepreneur.
Seeing the gap
At a time when most branding companies are struggling to stand out in what is a saturated and competitive market, Zanusi makes for an intriguing case study into how true differentiation follows from really seeing what the market needs. It was while running one of the country’s large advertising agencies that Simamane saw the gap. “I realised that many South African companies were focusing on the ‘current source of profit’ – the traditional white market. But I knew that the sheer numbers of the emerging black market was what would give brands a future. I knew they needed to change their positioning to be relevant to this market and make significant inroads into understanding what makes it tick. The old market wasn’t growing, whereas the new market held almost unlimited potential,” she explains. But in 2001 there were still many misconceptions about the emerging market. “I formulated a full list of ‘boardroom myths’ – things people believed about the market that were unfounded and simply not true,” says Simamane. When she drew up a business plan to target this market and presented it to her superiors in London and New York, it was rejected. “I think it was too early and people were afraid to change at that time. They knew their market and were comfortable speaking to it. The new market was still too much of an unknown entity,” she says.
Setting off alone
But her ideas niggled and refused to go away and eventually Simamane resigned her position to set up her own business. She took a month off to hone her business plan and, importantly, clearly define her offering. “Right from the start, Zanusi’s differentiation lay in its proposition of ‘migrating brands for future profit’,” she says. It was a positioning that directly filled the gap Simamane had identified, while cleverly addressing the fear of change that she’d witnessed in the market. “The idea is to navigate a business through the process of modifying or changing so that it can address new opportunity markets, without destroying its current source of profit. “So brands continue doing what they are currently doing, but we give them the tools to look ahead to the future and define a roadmap that will help them become relevant to the emerging market over time. This means they continue to rely on their current source of profit, which is important, while ascertaining where the future source of revenue will come from,” she says. Simamane worked hard at refining a unique offering – the Zanusi Migration Model, a strategic tool to allow companies to achieve these goals.
Carving a niche
It was an appealing offering that made sense to companies. Of the prospective clients Simamane had drawn up in a list for her business plan, Zanusi landed contracts with 60%. “I think it worked because migration seemed less drastic than overnight change. Companies could continue operating in a market they understood, while making strategic plans for the future rele-vance of their brand to the markets of tomorrow.” Being future-focused also allowed the business to carve out a niche in a market where most agencies were focusing on clients’ immediate needs. Doors started opening and today Zanusi lists Zain, Acsa, Gauteng Tourism Authority, Liberty Life, Pick ‘n Pay and Old Mutual among its many impressive clients. It has also won the tender to stage the Public Viewing Area event on behalf of the City of Joburg at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown during the 2010 World Cup.
Although Simamane started the business on her own and is the personal recipient of awards, she’s ever-cognisant of the contribution of her team to Zanusi’s success. “I think one of the most important success factors in being a leader and an entrepreneur is to clearly define what you are setting out to do – and then to sell it to the people you are leading. I also think you need to define a culture for an organisation so people know what kind of business they work for, what it stands for and that they belong. And finally you have to celebrate your wins and share your losses to understand why you didn’t succeed,” she says. Defining the future is something Zanusi does particularly well for its clients, but more recently the company is practising what it preaches internally. “We want to be a worldwide ambassador for brands and branding, particularly in Africa,” Simamane says. It’s a clear goal and if her track record is anything to go by, one that she will have little trouble reaching.
Zanusi Brand Solutions
Contact: +27 11 886 0502