Branding in the digital age: Interview with Nestle’s Zumi Njongwe

During this year’s Social Media Week (SMW) in Nairobi, Kenya, Zumi Njongwe, Consumer Communications and Marketing Excellence Director, Nestle East and Southern Africa Region presented a talk on the ‘Power of Voice’ as it pertains to product launches on November 17.

The 4-day conference, which will continue till November 19, is discussing the role of Digital and Technology as it related to brands, content, consumers, data and enterprise.

This year’s theme for SMW 2021 is Reinvention: Reimagining Digital and Technology for a Better Tomorrow. The SMW audience is made up of mid-senior level decision makers representing brands, agencies, publishers, platforms and technology providers.

We had an opportunity to ask her some questions around branding in the digital age.

1. Zumi, you have 20 years of branding and marketing experience, and a proven track record in East and Southern Africa. What are your views on how branding on social media has changed over the years, and how strategies have had to adapt?

There has been a fundamental shift that the Internet has driven in marketing over the last three decades. And it continues to change at a faster pace than ever before, so marketing and branding formulas must stay up to speed. Social media is two-way street – where not only are companies using it for branding and marketing, but consumers are using it to make their preferences known. Some examples include the growth of social network users in Nigeria from 2017 to 2026. In 2021, there are around 43 million social network users in Nigeria, and this figure is projected to grow to 103 million users in 2026.

In Kenya, mobile devices are the main means of access to news and information. There are around 11 million social media users in Kenya. While this number may appear low, it jumped by 25% between 2020 and 2021 There were 43 million internet users by June 2019, comprising 83% of the population and around 7 million active Facebook users by the end of 2018, with media organisations, politicians, activists, influencers and brands dominating the digital space. And digitalization is a crucial driver of Nestlé’s continued evolution. It covers all aspects of our business and helps create new platforms for growth, enhances agility and generates efficiencies. Over 47% of our total media spend is on digital media. Just two years ago, we adopted our Workplace by Facebook as our global internal communication tool, to connect our workforce and better serve consumers.

2. Why is audience engagement critical for Nestle?

Consumers are at the heart of Nestle’s business case of creating shared value. This is about sustainably delivering on shareholder expectations while helping to address global societal challenges and striving to create the best products for consumers. But you have to listen properly to empower your voice and receive feedback from your audience. One way that Nestlé’s brand Nescafé is looking to improve its customer experiences, while also engaging them in a more meaningful way, is with the launch of Project Uno this year. It is being run through Nestlé’s Hatcher initiative. This project is specifically for the East and Southern Africa region. Its purpose, which is ultimately a challenge, is to identify start-ups or innovators that have developed a solution that can help Nescafé better engage its consumers. Startups can submit ideas in one or more (or all if you’re so inclined) of the following categories:

  • Loyalty/Rewards Programme: Creating a subscription service offering that enables special offers, linking to eRetailers, a reward programme, or a community.
  • Emerging Technologies: Offer a different in-store and out-of-store experience by engaging users using various emerging technologies; AI, VR, AR, IoT, and/or 3D Printing with the objective of educating them or improving their customer experience.
  • Improve Accessibility: Developing entrepreneurs to bring the Nescafé coffee experience even closer to the customer at Universities, Colleges, Office Parks, small town and townships.
  • Beyond Product Digital Solutions: In case Nescafé missed an opportunity to better its customer experience, let it know.

3. How else is Nestle’s shared value approach ensuring that it’s not just about sales numbers? Is the company involved in any community-based projects on the continent?

While Nestle has always considered community outreach and assistance as critical, it is even more important now because of the Covid-19 pandemic that has quite frankly stress- tested governments, economies, brands and humans. In October 2020, Nestlé’s global programme, Nestlé for Healthier Kids, launched in South Africa to help support parents and caregivers on their journey to raise healthier children.

In Kenya, The Nestlé for Healthier Kids program was launched in June 2012, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and has since involved over 700,000 learners from 890 schools, spanning 8 counties. The program covers the cost of printing and distributing creative educational material for grades 1 – 4, and trains teachers on how to integrate the material into classroom lessons. The material, developed in partnership with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), is compliant with the CBC (competency-based curriculum) and aims to foster practical agricultural training and encourage learners to adopt nutritious diets.

Nestlé is partnering with parents to add more goodness into kids’ meals, and to guide better nutritional choices. The big goal? To reach 50m children by 2030. And just the year before, Nestlé and its regional partners joined forces to launch the Regional Alliance for Youth in sub-Saharan Africa to promote employability for young people. The alliance focuses on creating and implementing employability programmes, mentorship and training initiatives designed to equip young people with essential workplace skills.

Here in Kenya under the My Own Business (MYOBU) project, the company recruits and trains youth to start NESCAFÉ coffee selling businesses in busy market areas. Under the NESCAFÉ Plan, more than 50,000 local farmers, including over 8,000 women, have received training on good agricultural practices and financial literacy.

In South Africa Nestle partnered with the non-profit organisation, South African- Mathematics Foundation (SAMF) to launch the annual NESTLÉ NESPRAY South African Mathematics Challenge. Its aim is to empower pupils to become independent, creative and critical thinkers who will be able to interpret and critically analyse everyday situations that will allow them to solve problems. It promotes teamwork, enthusiasm and helps develop future leaders and influencers in science, engineering, and marketing sciences across all walks of life.

4. You are a marketing guru and has coached many people on building teams that excel in marketing. What is your advice to newbies?

Work for the smartest coach/leader you can, you grow faster that way. Make sure you pay attention and be demanding of them to coach you as often as possible. Money will come if you get this right.

5. How is Nestlé incorporating influencers with marketing its brand and products?

We know word of mouth and recommendations are highly influential when it comes to people selecting products, so it makes sense to be a component in our marketing plans. We have seen how influencers can add value when launching a product or help regenerate an existing one. We have successful influencer campaigns such as the recent Breka ya Breka breakfast campaign all anchored by influencer marketing.
In South Africa, NESCAFE Ricoffy 50 th Birthday Celebration and the MILO “The Grit you learn in sport you keep for life” have seen us collaborate with influential voices in your campaigns. Moving out of the continent, a strong example is in Malaysia, where we have the Nestle Youth Influencer Programme. It is a one-year ambassadorship where a university student gets to be a company ambassador and bridge the gap between Nestle products and other students. And the best part is that is at the end of the year, the company offers you an internship or another posting at Nestle.

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