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Eat, drink, be merry in SA, but communication not hot

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A recent survey has found that despite the challenging economic climate, South Africans still like to eat, drink, travel and be with friends, however the communications industry has seen a steady drop from 2013 until 2015.

The top three industries out of 19 industry sectors according to loyal usage by South African consumers as ranked in the Ask Afrika Icon Brands survey are Drinks, Restaurants and Fast Food, and Foods. This is followed by Travel and Leisure, Pets or Pet Food, and DIY and Gardening. Consumers have to tighten their belts in tough economic times that show no sign abating in the near future and spending is less frequent, their focus is on satisfying basic needs, but also on enjoying leisure time with friends and family.

Communications has fallen steadily, from being one of the top categories in 2013, to being an also-ran in 2015.

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Drinks which include both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with the non-alcoholic drinks scoring the highest were the leading industry category this year. A factor which influenced the higher Ask Afrika Icon Brands score for the drinks industry, is a slight increase in loyalty score across all demographic groups for non-alcoholic beverages.

This may be good news for those in the FMCG sector, yet even brands within this industry sector will require a carefully crafted brand strategy to retain consumer loyalty. This is due to economic and lifestyle pressures which decrease the frequency of spend, and also because consumers are more willing to experiment and try new products.

According to a recent article by Jakkie Cilliers from the Institute for Security Studies on Moneyweb,   “The gross domestic product (GDP) growth dropped from 2.2% in 2013 to an ailing 1.5% in 2014, and electricity constraints will continue to restrict growth for several years. And without a near revolution in policy coherence and government efficiency, there is little chance of average GDP growth levels reaching 5% over the medium to long term.”

Despite this, certain brands get it right and understand how to retain customer loyalty in this challenging environment. Ask Afrika recently conducted their Icon Brands™ nationally representative survey that revealed 28 brands out of thousands measured achieved iconic status, these are brands that are used loyally across the South African demographic, irrespective of income, education, culture, race, and even personal style. Sixteen of these 28 Ask Afrika Icon Brands were local brands. In addition, the top five brands in each of the 164 product categories within the 19 industry sectors were ranked.

The scope of the survey is partly quantitative, but largely qualitative providing insight into South African consumer mind-set and behaviour. These insights can help companies place themselves within the context of their product category and industry sector and provide invaluable, current psychographic understanding of their target market.

“Brand loyalty is not as simple as repurchasing, it is multidimensional and it is determined by several distinct psychological processes. True brand loyalty exists when customers have a high relative attitude towards the brand, which dramatically affects profitability. Consumers demand a continuing pattern of change to keep up with their fluctuations in taste, lifestyle and circumstance, even for brand leaders,” says Sarina de Beer, MD of Ask Afrika.

The Ask Afrika Icon Brands survey uses a nationally representative random sample, 15,690 consumers were surveyed, representing over 23.3 million adult South African consumers. An enumerated area sampling design was employed and the universe includes all communities with more than 8,000 inhabitants 15 years old and above. The data was weighted using the Statistics South Africa’s population mid-year estimates and audited by respected independent experts BDO and Dr Ariana Neethling.

Detailed Ask Afrika Icon Brands reports can be ordered which demonstrate a brand’s relevance across the evolving consumer spectrum to enable brand owners to increase their performance, either to maintain winning status or to improve future performance. The report includes customised trended category and brand scores to understand performance. Competitor analysis and a loyalty matrix that unpacks cross brand usage. Ask Afrika will identify market opportunities for the brand.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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