Before joining Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Luthuli honed her marketing skill whilst working for Vodacom. During this time she was responsible for ensuring brand synergies were enhanced with retail partners like Game, Makro, Pep, Edgars, Clicks and Woolworths to name but a few. She also gained experience in running monthly joint marketing campaigns in her role as a National Retail Marketing Co-ordinator and formed part of the team which launched the iconic Vodaworld in Midrand.
“During the years I fulfilled a specialist role. It helped establish a good grounding for my career,” notes Luthuli. During this time she also started gaining an appreciation for the value that quality targeted marketing can add to an organisation.
Her view is that: “Marketing is often seen as an expense and that not enough companies consider the role marketing can play in helping a company achieve its business objectives. In companies like Coca-Cola or McDonalds marketing is central to their strategic thinking and they are conscious of the role it can play in helping them reach their objectives.”
Business, is of course, about the bottom line and return on marketing investment has become a very important yardstick against which any advertising spend is measured. The need for quick wins in the business world often overrides the reality that building a brand is a long-term investment and that companies need to be willing to stay the course.
In this respect Luthuli’s marketing experience and business nous has been thoroughly tested during her time at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Constituted under the KZN Nature Conservation Management Act of 1999, it manages 110 protected areas across the province and is seen as a leader in sustainable biodiversity management.
Boasting custodianship of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has potent draw cards, yet Luthuli spent much of her early years with the conservation manager building brand equity.
“Whilst the natural splendour we have to offer competes with the best in the world, the reality is that we have had to work very hard at building brand equity,” says Luthuli. “It takes time to become an ‘automatic’ choice for people and the market for leisure activities has expanded to such an extent that we are competing locally and globally against a multitude of offerings.”
This necessitates an approach that is based upon making a compelling value proposition to the market. On the local front this for instance means offering appealing alternatives to the emerging black middle class and on the international front capitalising on Durban’s ability to host world-class conferences in close proximity to scenic breakaways for conference goers.
“When you are faced with the challenge of building brand equity and you have to use your budget sparingly, the question of tactics becomes important,” shares Luthuli. “You need to make sure you are positioning your brand in the right channels. For instance the COP17 summit Durban hosted in 2011, presented us with an ideal opportunity to leverage off the synergies that exist between the focus on climate change as highlighted by the summit and our own efforts at promoting biodiversity conservation. If you get that balance right, your brand resonates with your market and you can start to capitalise on opportunities that your offerings present.”
The value of partnerships is also an important element that needs to be capitalised upon to ensure effective penetration and brand building in a market. The right partner can take a brand into spaces it has not previously been able to advance into.
In her view partnerships can provide very important spin offs: “It harnesses the power of collaboration and has the potential to bring one closer to your stakeholders in ways that existing channels might not provide for.”
Looking ahead Luthuli is aware of the fact that one needs to constantly innovate if you expect to remain relevant to your market. In this regard she has already seen an opportunity to harness the rich traditions and history of the Zulu nation in the province as an opportunity to continue building the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife brand.
“We have a very rich history to capitalise upon, not only for the benefit of South Africans, so that we stay in touch with our roots. It is also important for global audiences to know the story of our forefathers and the role they played in our great nation.”
With Siphelele’s penchant for tackling challenges head on, there is little doubt that that the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife brand will continue to grow from strength to strength.
According to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Siphelele Luthuli, any challenge you confront in your professional career can be surmounted. If you approach it with the right mind set it can be an opportunity for you to strengthen your skills.
In fact, this philosophy has taken Luthuli from relatively humble beginnings in the advertising industry to her current role as Marketing and Sales Manager Commercial Services at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
“When you are tapping into a new space, particularly one that has been male dominated for a long time, it is a tremendous benefit to your own self-esteem if you view it as an exciting challenge,” she reveals. Not only does she believe this approach will help keep your energy levels up, it will also help keep you focused, ensuring that the contributions you make add value to the enterprise’s overall goals.
by Valdi Pereira