A Marketing Rumble in a Far Away Jungle
My first visit to Zimbabwe was in 1982. About 18 months after independence.
My next visit was early in 1993 -- at the invitation of David Shepherd, whom I had met earlier in South Africa at a Direct Marketing Symposium.
David is Mr. Direct Marketing in Zimbabwe. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Without him, it would not have happened!
This is his story. I asked David for permission to tell his story, and he did such an eloquent job that most of what you are going to read is in his words.
Zimbabwe has only recently emerged from a long period of isolated and restricted marketing.
The Rhodesia years, commencing in 1965, led to an escalating bush war, which culminated in the independence of Zimbabwe in April 1980. Couple this with the emergence of an independent nation with a socialist policy and you have a few reasons for a narrow and limited marketing community.
The early isolation mainly brought about by sanctions had both negative and positive effects. Raw materials dried up, supply lines were severed, and shortages abounded. The immediate reaction was a striking example of resilience and innovation.
Imported product and raw material gaps were quickly replaced by local versions. They were generally inferior, but were better than nothing. Low volumes meant higher, even uneconomic, production runs. The result: High unit costs.
The bottom line was survival
Product shortages, especially in the luxury goods area were accepted as normal. Soon demand in nearly all commodities exceeded supply, with the possible exception of the food industry. Zimbabwe is blessed with a climate in which nearly anything grows.
This was followed by an independent government that traveled an ill-considered economic policy road. The Zimbabwe marketer, by the late 1980s, was generally tough but a little shell-shocked.
In the general sense of the word, there was very little "marketing" conducted. Yet the traditional marketing activities that were in place seemed to keep major brand names and corporate images alive.
As the East European socialist block began to crumble, as South Africa began to reject its restrictive policies, so it seemed to dawn on Zimbabwe that its economic direction had not been to its advantage. No foreign investment, no positive employment statistics, high government spending. These negative market conditions became unacceptable.
A new age dawns
In 1990 Zimbabwe also did an about turn. With World Bank encouragement and generous aid packages from the developed world, Zimbabwe began the enormous task of readjusting its whole policy towards a free market economy.
Whilst this is currently a painful process, it is fully accepted as the only way to unshackle. In the present mixed climate of both complaint and praise, morale and the economy are both improving. Over this seemingly never ending period of hot-cold-hot-cold situations there always existed people who believed that the time would come when the worm would turn.
David Shepherd, a white Zimbabwean, born in the capital city Harare, was one of these.
David has spent his working life in sales, marketing and advertising positions. His career has seen him working for multinational companies such as 3M Company, Chloride, and the local subsidiary of Y & R, Michael Hogg Young & Rubicam Advertising.
In 1984, David began his romance with Direct Marketing. His sales and advertising background were a solid base for his developing interest the field. Add to this a family member and mentor in his cousin, Colin Shepherd, a leading pioneer in the South African Direct Marketing industry, and another pioneer was spawned.
While a Director of Michael Hogg Advertising, David encouraged his fellow directors to enter the Direct Marketing arena. This was done cautiously. A separate company, Target Marketing, was born -- the first Direct Marketing agency in Zimbabwe. Its progress was slow because the DM philosophy was unknown. A few years later, the Young & Rubicam association came about and with it Wunderman Worldwide. The Wunderman link was a very healthy one. It went a long way in confirming the merits of Direct Marketing amongst his erstwhile "advertising" colleagues.
One of the pressures of operating in a pioneering mode was that much of the time was spent in educating potential clients. How could they consider using it if they did not know what it was?
A further frustration was the conflict element. Being tied to a major advertising agency meant that one was tied to its client base. If its bank client was not interested in the concept of DM it was pretty impossible to approach another.
The opportunity to venture out and start an independent DM agency was a step in faith. With a colleague, David started his present Company, Shepherd Marketing.
Direct Marketing is still in its infancy and there are not too many DM skilled people around. Even in somewhat difficult economic times though, more and more companies are looking for more effective marketing options to replace their traditional "in the rut" policies.
The industry matures
The cut and thrust of real competition is now rearing its head in Zimbabwe. Believe it or not, overstocked shelves and warehouses are a new challenge in the lives of many marketing executives. The "don't worry, they have to come to me" attitude is quickly disappearing. It is being replaced by the need to develop a marketing led philosophy.
Being part of a concerned core of marketing people that felt that Zimbabwe's marketing skills had also fallen well behind the international norm David has been instrumental in creating a better marketing environment. And, a platform for young marketing persons to develop and maintain an interest in marketing.
Because of foreign currency restrictions and a weak Zimbabwe dollar, it is expensive to travel to outside marketing and direct marketing conferences. That had led to the establishment of Marketing 2000, a multi-discipline marketing symposium in Zimbabwe. Marketing, Advertising, Public Relations, and Direct Marketing tracks are addressed by local and international speakers. The program has attracted large audiences.
In 1992, the "new boy on the block", Direct Marketing, drew well over 60% of the attending delegates. In 1993, at the second conference, the same level of interest was shown. The key speakers each year were Ian Kennedy and Ray Jutkins, respectively. They can both take great credit for firmly establishing Direct Marketing in Zimbabwe.
There is a growing band of enthusiastic direct marketers, and an urgent need to lobby for improved services and facilities for direct marketers. So it was not too difficult to attract support for the Zimbabwe Direct Marketing Association (ZIMDIRECT) inaugurated in February, 1992, where Ray Jutkins was the first speaker. David is its founding President.
Some of the things taken for granted in the world's major markets are problems, even nightmares, in Zimbabwe. Average income levels are relatively low, leaving a target universe that is small.
Direct mail campaigns are carried out in volumes that are smaller than a minimum test mailing in major markets. A mailing does not often exceed 50-60,000. The consequence of this is high unit costs. What does compensate for this is the higher response and conversion rates.
Surprisingly, the mail system is good with a low non-delivered percentage. Zimbabwe does not suffer from mail clutter. Recipients read all their mail. In fact, one does not have to do too much on the envelope to get the reader inside. Simplicity is king.
Zimbabwe has no bulk mail discount, although average postal rates for local mail are reasonable, Zim 25 cents (US 4 cents). As yet no postal code has been developed. Only in recent years has the credit card been introduced and is starting to play a useful role in boosting response.
The telephone system is currently abysmal and limited telemarketing is carried out as a result. Having said that, the Post and Telecommunications Corporation are presently installing the latest fiber optic and digital technology. This will be progressively introduced over the next few years. If Zimbabwe is to have a progressive telemarketing future marketers need to start preparing for it now.
One of the advantages of being behind the times is that we can come in on the back of all the experience gained world wide.
Zimbabwe can avoid the costly mistakes and a lot of trial and error. The Zimbabwe experience is showing that our consumers are no different from any other. They react to and are influenced by the same motivations as worldwide cousins. Its exciting going by the book, trying something for the first time, and finding it actually works as they said it would.
Reflecting on some of the early campaigns, it can be quite humbling to see some of the unsophisticated approaches that worked. Because of the restricted economy, the selection of paper and card stock is ridiculous. The printing industry is currently upgrading and better standards are emerging.
Zimbabwe is an exciting market. The changes, problems and opportunities are basically no different from those in any other country. After all, that's what marketing is all about. In this marketing climate, David lives by three mottoes:
David and his wife Jean have a grown up family. His eldest daughter is married and lives in Cape Town, South Africa. His second married daughter, married son, and youngest unmarried daughter all live in Zimbabwe. To look at them, you would not believe that he and Jean have six lovely grandchildren.
David is a Rotarian and has been active in sports administration, rugby in particular, which was the sport of his lesser years. If he gets into his workshop and his hobby carpentry, he can forget about Direct Marketing for awhile.
David is keen to see Direct Marketing develop in Zimbabwe and if he knows that any direct marketer is visiting, or even thinking of passing close by, David will want to wrap a workshop or short seminar around their area of skill. So, if you are travelling anywhere near Zimbabwe drop in -- you can help. The trouble is, you'll have such a great time you'll want to stay longer.
David can be reached at:
by ROCKINGHAM*JUTKINS*marketing, all rights reserved.