If there’s one thing South Africans can all relate to, it’s our brands. Whether you grew up in decades gone by, or you’re one of the original ama-2000s, there’s a good chance that you’ll all have interacted with many of the same brands in our country. Some brands have managed to achieve timeless longevity and they’re as much a staple in our homes today as they were in our parents and grandparents’ days.
This kind of longevity is by design, rather than by accident, and a brand’s long-lasting impact usually has something to do with having the right people spearheading the thinking and discharging intelligent tactics to entrench the memory bank of some of our best loved products and brands. Today’s cover star is exactly one such individual.
Thembi Sehloho dons the cover of our latest Piece and she’s a woman who needs little introduction in the world of marketing. Having won awards for marketing and strategy in her personal career, and also pioneered some of South Africa’s most loved heritage products and brands over the last decade and a half, Thembi is a certified and acclaimed marketeer and she’s helped keep some of SA’s best loved brands top of mind through creative and innovative ways.
From collaborations that saw Tastic on the runway of Fashion Week in South Africa and New York, Thembi has played her part in extending the heritage of SA’s most beloved brands such as KOO, All Gold, Crosse and black, Beacon, Fattis and Monis and Bakers.
In our latest cover feature, she explains her career journey and what led her to lead some of South Africa’s most loved brands.
Mastering the Market: Thembi Sehloho
Welcome to Moziak Magazine Thembi. For the readers who might not be entirely familiar with your work, please introduce yourself to the Moziak faithful:
I’m a mom, a wife, and I love dogs! As for my career I began in finance funnily enough and began my career as an intern at Unilever. At Unilever we went through a graduate business appreciation programme where you learn about every area of the company. At that point something hit me that maybe I could be a better marketer than a finance manager.
The thing is, as a marketer you’re still a commercial head. Our job as marketers outside of doing amazing TV ads is to drive business profitability. So it worked out that I was able to bring some commercial expertise to the role and I absolutely fell in love with the work that I would go on to do.
We know a lot of your career from your time at Tiger Brands where you have made a definitive impact on the market in a number of ways. How did your journey with the FMCG giants begin?
So shortly after making this switch to marketing I found myself with an opportunity to start a new journey at Tiger Brands. I left them for a bit to work at AVI, but now I’m back at Tiger Brands.
What kinds of brands have you been drawn to in your journey?
Funnily enough I have always worked on heritage brands. Even at AVI I worked on Bakers, which is of course a massive heritage brand in South Africa. While here at Tiger Brands I worked on Beacon Sweets, and then went on to Koo where we built it to be the number one brand in the country. We’ve also done some incredible work for Tastic over the past few years where we’ve even had the opportunity to collaborate with some South African iconic personalities/brands like Easter Mahlangu, David Tlale and Laduma Ngxokolo.
You seem to have a knack for working with Heritage brands. What is it about them that brings out the fire in you?
I really love heritage brands, they come with a lot of memories and expectations from people who have known these brands for all their lives. They are massive brands and it’s really interesting how you get to make them relevant and then take them up a notch. The real challenge in managing such big brands is “How do you keep at #1?” and how do you keep these brands fresh, and winning with consumers.
Does managing some of South Africa’s biggest brands come with a lot of pressure?
In your bid to try and modernise these giants we must always remember what made these brands powerful for so many years by preserving The brand DNA whilst communicating with people in fresh and inventive ways. That’s really been the challenge for me but it’s one that I’ve relished. We get to do amazing work whilst growing brands for businesses, after all brands are one of the biggest assets that they own. I mean, who would have ever thought that you’d see rice at Fashion Week?
The inventiveness that you and your team have shown definitely deserves a lot of praise. You’ve received a lot of accolades and attention globally and locally. How does it feel to see the marketing world recognising your efforts?
For me the starting point is: are you doing what you love? If the answer is yes, then the second thing is you are staying true to the strategy within and around the brand. We only get the praise and accolades because we stayed true to the brand. So when you go on a journey where you touch the hearts and lives of consumers, then you’re already on the right path.
What are some tips you can offer to young marketers who want to be able to replicate the kind of success you’ve enjoyed with brands?
When it comes to marketing your product, functional benefits are basically what makes people use your product. You drink a certain beverage because you want it to quench your thirst. But your competition will be able to replicate that. So like with rice, many other South African rice brands can do the same thing Tastic does. So how do you become the brand for the people? If who you are really connects with the consumers, competitors can take that away from you. Our job as marketers is to ensure that through the work that we do, brand remain engrained in consumers hearts and minds.
The Tastic story is a very interesting one because the brand has evolved in a number of exciting ways, and has recently been nominated as the top brand in recent consumer surveys. How did you find the intersection of food and fashion with Tastic?
Our recent marriage with the fashion world began in 2017 with Gogo Esther Mahlangu where we collaborated with her, then we got to work with David Tlale and then most recently with Maxhosa by Laduma. It was really a marriage of celebrating heritage by bringing together great South Africa Icons with loved heritage brand, Tastic. It’s been an exciting chapter in our story, and we have found a lot of willing collaborators who have brought their exciting artistic identities to our brand. The reason I think we are able to make these kinds of strides comes down to my core philosophy. I believe in leaving brands better than when I found them.
The wisdom we’ve enjoyed in this conversation has been eye-opening. If you could leave young marketers with one last piece of advice, what would it be?
It might not just apply to marketers but hopefully any professional who reads this can take something away from this. The truth is that I am fuelled by a desire to be excellent. Everything I do in life is just to be excellent and I think if you strive for excellence, then the results that you yield will always make you proud.
So if you can be nothing else, be excellent!