Are Brands Tapping Everyday Influencers Successfully?

Photo Cred: Whispers

There is a slight misconception I continue to see with some African brands on the use of local influencers. Influencers seemingly are associated with luxury, exclusive or premium brands. True, these exclusive brands are trying to make their products or services more relatable to a certain audience whilst being aspirational to others. What I tend to find boring about this is that the engagement level of an average consumer is merely that of admiration and “I wish”. Then life carries on.

It is here that I think everyday brands in convenience, food, beverages, household items and the like do not always see the opportunity. A lot of spend is made on above-the-line advertising for consumer goods which is fair. They need to inform a mass audience of their service offering and pricing point to get feet through the door. And it works for the most part.

Since moving back home to Zimbabwe, I have been observing brands and their interactions with consumers. I believe there is great opportunity for consumers brands to engage with their audiences more successfully. In defining influencers, I am drawn to a LinkedIn article I recently read that spoke of the importance of micro-influencers – not necessarily those with a gazillion followers. Everday influencers are “everyday users of a product” and “modern-day shoppers are placing their trust more and more in these smaller voices, ‘real’ users, or brand ambassadors, by seeking out insights from keen advocates of the brand” says Sharyn Smith.

On a global level, there is an increasing shift away from “celebrity influencers” to these everday influencers because they are connected to a brand’s offering and are trusted advisors for their followers. There definitely is a place for celebrity ambassadors, but there is growing room for everyday influencers especially those who:

  • Give tips on how to successfully use a product e.g. a recipe incorporating a brand’s product
  • Answer questions on the benefits of a product in comparison to others
  • Provide objective and unbiased reviews
  • Integrate a product/service into an everyday environment
  • Add real value to a brand
  • Are relatable to their audience – their followers see themselves in the influencer whether it be visually, in their values, thought process and purchasing habits

I would be very interested to see brands such as Bon Marche, OK Mart, PUMA Fuels, Dairibord and the like really make use of this. TM Pick n’ Pay has been forward thinking in creating a ‘Battle of The Chefs‘ show which incorporates their products into a human interest show. This helps create a captivate audience whilst creating brand awareness. Everyday influencers help make such a connection on a more personal and real level. Herein lies an even greater opportunity given the tough economic climate in which we find ourselves.

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Homecoming Part III: Arrival

It resembled a place she once called home. Nostalgic memories flooded her mind on the drive from the airport.

The streets were familiar. She could trace the route home in her sleep. Not much change. Just dilapidation.

Everywhere she looked, the city was painted with struggle, hopelessness. People missioning to and fro for very little. Money was scarce. Needs were many.

Arriving at their destination, the joy of home filled her. How she loved the large garden and warmness of the house. But she was sad too. Sad to see the house standing – no longer in its former glory, but a stagnant replica of what was.

In spite of it all, she was relieved to be home. A place she could call home and be welcomed with open arms.

The heat bore at her. When the rain came, she welcomed the breeze it brought. The hot earth had always been a metaphor of the struggle of her homeland. Scorching, unforgiving, uncomfortable, tiring and in desperate need of a cooling balm.

Mother lightened her spirit. She’d bought all her favourite local foods and made sure she was comfortable. So typically her. Always wanting to make sure others were alright. It felt good to be taken care of.

She was amazed at how quiet she became. Referred to as the ‘loud one’ in the family, she didn’t have much to say. She was an observer. Doing as told. Adhering to cultural norms. Realising she needed to take care of the parents and the home.

Was this what life was going to be? A constant state of wander? She needed to get a game plan in order. And fast.

Homecoming Part II: Courage

She knew what she had to do. Ought to do. She couldn’t continue in wonder without purpose. Far from having it all figured out, she had to dive all in.

Her body screamed at her. Rejecting everything she was to do.

Puzzled and perplexed. The faces that stared back at her when she spoke of her decision. Was she sure this was the right move?

Everything screamed no. But peace whispered a certain “yes”. Something that she found hard to describe.

It took all the courage in her to make this decision without feeling like a failure or that she was moving backwards.

And she was grateful for this courage. She didn’t know how she would make it otherwise. Going against her innate fears.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed. for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Homecoming Part I: Anxiety

The moment she realised her reality. The moment all her fears and anxieties flooded over her. She could barely breathe, fighting for air.

This isn’t the way she’d planned for things to turn out. This was not the plan. She felt disconnected in a world where connections were everything. Ruin was hers.

She’d be going home exactly as she’d left a decade ago. Nothing to show for herself. Nothing to her name except her name.

Was she an utter failure? Was she a disappointment to her parents? Had she let herself down?

As these insecurities gripped her in a choke hold, she had to fight the reality of her existence. She had to come to terms with living under her parents roof again.

Her story was meant to be different. Not this trajectory that was headed for oblivion. She was supposed to be somebody. Do something special. Change the world.

Her greatest fear was that the toxicity of home would corrode the little bit of hope she had left. Eating at her soul. Ridding her of every dream passion, ambition and hope she had. Leaving her listless, numb, void and despondent. Where one day she’d wake up horrified to see whom she’d become.

Anxiety. Choking, groping, kicking, screaming, drowning.

And then she hated herself. Was she so stuck up that she thought those who had stayed behind were failures? Was she so far removed? Her mother quipping “how do you think millions of us have survived all these years?”

No, she wasn’t better than them. At least she didn’t think she was. But she’d been fortunate to receive a ticket out of hustle and poverty. And what had she done with it?

Nothing.

In spite of all this, she knew this was a move she had to make. In spite of her anxiety.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11:1 

The Institutionalisation of Xenophobia

I really wasn’t going to say anything about the most recent xenophobic attacks and anti-foreigner marches taking place in South Africa. But, my palms were itching. I am no journalist or political activist of sorts. I am a human being. One with an opinion and a platform to share this.

My initial thought to not get involved was not due to apathy as some might think. No. The thing is, we keep coming to this point over and over again. Every couple of months, there is an outcry against blatant xenophobic attacks where foreign nationals in South Africa are displaced, undergo irrational and inhumane treatment from their fellow African brothers because “they do not belong”.

There have been many hashtags, Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, articles and the like speaking out against this. Which is all great. But why do we keep coming back to this same place?

Janine Jellars put it so aptly in a string of Tweets where she spoke about this xenophobia, or more precisely, Afrophobia.

She is so accurate about this. These macro and microaggressions seem to only target Africans with a higher dose of melanin as compared to foreign nationals of a fairer skin tone. This is aptly termed ‘Afrophobia’ which “refers to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards black people or people of African descent around the world” according to the RED Network. This is most certainly the case for many black Africans. We feel it. It is inescapable.

In a conversation with my South African friend who’d messaged to find out how my sister in Johannesburg is doing while I’m on a break back home in Zimbabwe, I couldn’t help but spew all my thoughts about this matter to her.

You see, xenophobia runs deeper than those who are rioting and attacking foreign nationals in Mamelodi or Soshanguve. Yes, what they are doing is unacceptable, but the world needs to understand that they are not the only problem.

How many years have these attacks been going on for? Someone documents the attacks, there is public outcry against it and then things hush for a bit – life goes back to normal, it seems. Afrophobia is removed from the spotlight for a little bit. But the truth is, for foreign nationals like myself, it never really ends. Everyday for some, most days for others, you are reminded that you do not belong. Especially because of the colour of your skin and the country you hail from.

This deep dislike of foreigners has also been institutionalised. In being institutionalised, how exactly do we then expect the average man to understand that Afrophobia is not alright?

My brother was accepted into the LLB course at one of the leading universities in South Africa. A few days into the new year, he was invited into the Dean’s office. It was here that he was advised that the university had been given a quota  to adhere to in which a certain number of South African nationals had to be accepted into the LLB course. As a result, he (a foreigner) no longer had a place and was shifted onto another course. What does this signify? Even university admission is no longer a meritocracy, it’s a numbers’ game rooted in institutionalised Afrophobia.

In the working world, I don’t want to tell you how suffocating it can be. Trying to work legally in South Africa has been made nearly impossible, an expensive exercise which leaves many foreigners, myself included, feeling helpless. At the same time, Home Affairs cracks down harshly on undocumented workers. But more people would pursue legal, documented work if there was a fighting chance for that, but can’t afford to do so from a time, cost and productivity perspective. As a result, most resort to bribery or living life on the run.

The argument here is the high levels of unemployment in South Africa and the South African government wanting to look after its own. I used to think that was fair enough. But I still do not feel it warrants the marginalisation and gross ill-treatment of other Africans.

As you can see, it’s not just about the man on the street who is marching against foreign nationals. No. It’s a whole system that’s at play. And one wonders if there will ever be any winning. At the rate we’re going, I highly doubt it.

And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The ones with a decent job who is not forced to live below the minimum wage just to survive. But don’t get me wrong,  I will never forget being asked by South African counterparts “why don’t you go back home and fix your country?” I am aware of the high price we pay as foreigners to try get a car loan or bond on a house, if at all we can afford it. I am acutely aware of being spoken down to because you can’t understand a local language. I know all too deeply how it feels to not belong. I never forget that I have to work twice/thrice as hard to be relevant and indispensable at what I do. And the way things are going, I know that even that will no longer be enough.

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Why Are You Rejecting Me?

I never chose to be made

Or tell father to abandon ship

I never chose to be created

No gun in holster at my hip

Planted in your womb for lack of choice

To you I am nothingness. Null. Void.

Where else was I to grow?

In pursuit to be perfect me

A million others I had to fight

Just to be conceived

Now your blood boils

Survival has become toil

You pump me into obesity with wrong

Malnourish me with no right

You have rejected me

I tried hard to reach full term

But full term feels an eternity

When you’ve never belonged

Why have you rejected me?

I do but I don’t understand

Where shall I go and how will I survive

If you won’t lend a helping hand?

So I will fight, must fight to get to light

And will raise myself like no other

I may be premature, but I’ll be alright

‘Til I find a new home to call mother

The King Behind Queen of Katwe

Photo credit: Walt Disney Company

Former finance professional, Tendo Nagenda is one of the key players who brought Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe’ to life and in such a beautiful way.

I have always had a strong fascination with the people behind the scenes that are instrumental to creating works of art that we enjoy today. For me, it’s about the minds behind the brilliant concepts and ideas that the world loves, and the kind of qualities these masterminds possess in order to accomplish what the world is truly inspired by. That is my inspiration.

About Tendo

Born to first-generation immigrants, Tendo is the first son of an Ugandan father and Belizean mother. He was raised for a while in Los Angeles and at age 12, spent two years living in Kampala, Uganda where he got exposed to his African roots.

Professionally, he obtained a degree in economics and politics which led to him becoming a finance consultant at Deloitte & Touche. He then chose to pursue a different career path altogether.

Tendo Nagenda: A Career Trajectory Many Africans Can Relate To

In reading his story, a lot elements resonated deeply with me. Having been raised across different countries and travelled to several regions myself, I too have developed a strong love and desire for my continent. Here are a number of reasons why I connected so deeply to Tendo Nagenda’s story:

  • Similar to him, I am the by-product of an inter-cultural marriage thanks to my Ndebele father and Shona mother.
  • He initially studied and pursued a career path that would provide him with a secure future. As Africans, a lot of us understand that job and financial security are at the top of our parents’ priority lists for their children. In so doing, there are often restrictions and pressures to study for certain degrees (think accounting, law, medicine, commerce). This often leads to being unfulfilled as Tendo was and the subsequent quest for purpose and meaning tends to happen once we are established in said ‘approved’ profession.
  • As a result, we often have to juggle our reality and our dreams. Tendo took classes at the New York Film Academy & then UCLA in order to bridge the gap between his current position and desired career path.
  • Our success tends to happen against all odds. Africans are often deemed to be at the bottom of the food chain and in a lot of ways, few hold influential positions in key industries that shape perceptions and the world. Tendo had to fight against these restrictions.
  • We often have to work for a lower pay and sometimes discriminatory conditions because we are foreign. Tendo articulated this so well in his interview with Face 2 Face Africa:

“Another challenge – and I expect it would be for a lot of people, in particular first generation children of working-class immigrants – is that when you’re first starting out in the entertainment industry, you are very poorly paid and it’s hard to make a living. You have college debt or family obligations; you want to help your family out and not be still dependent on them.”

In a lot of ways I can resonate with this. As an immigrant or someone living in the diaspora, you do whatever it takes to build a career for yourself and sometimes it means being taken advantage of. This goes beyond just the entertainment industry.

  • You have to prove yourself ten times harder than most. Even though he stumbled across Tim Crother’s article of Phiona Mutesi’s story in 2011, the world only got to see his vision come to life in 2016. In order to make it happen, he had to first prove himself with Disney success films ‘Saving Mr Banks’ and ‘Cinderella’ before his dream project came to life. I have always felt that we have to work much harder as Africans to prove ourselves to the world especially as young, black African women.
HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: (L-R) Executive Vice President of Production, The Walt Disney Studios, Tendo Nagenda, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, Sean Bailey, chaperone Mark Mugwana, Chess Coach and Director of Sports Outreach in Uganda, Robert Katende, Ugandan national chess champion Phiona Mutesi, Director Mira Nair, actors Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong'o, Martin Kabanza and David Oyelowo, screenwriter William Wheeler and composer Alex Heffes arrive at the U.S. premiere of Disney’s “Queen of Katwe” at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The film, starring David Oyelowo, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Madina Nalwanga, is directed by Mira Nair and opens in U.S. theaters in limited release on September 23, expanding wide September 30, 2016. On September 20, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney) *** Local Caption *** Tendo Nagenda; Mark Mugwana; Madina Nalwanga; Lupita Nyong'o; David Oyelowo; Sean Bailey; Robert Katende; Phiona Mutesi; Mira Nair; Martin Kabanza; William Wheeler; Alex Heffes

Photo credit: Moms n Charge

All of this is such an incredible inspiration especially for me as a young, black African. So moved. * Queue Donny Hathaway’s “To Be Young, Gifted & Black”.*