Fifteen years ago, a small activation company called the Zinto Marketing Group (Zinto) was established by ex-educator, Michelle Combrinck. Its vision was straightforward: to change the way consumers interact with brands by creating meaningful conversations and interchangeable relationships, thereby becoming an indispensable part of their thinking and thus their lifestyles.
Zinto has achieved this by channelling its efforts through brand activation, entertainment and events platforms that create consumer experiences and bring brands 'to life'.
Since inception, it has been driving a series of consumer engagement and immersion tours where it has consistently defined itself by investing time and effort to understand the nuances of grassroots communities across Mzansi.
During this time, Zinto has racked up an impressive tally of 260,000 hours at the coalface laying down foundations while driving the industry forward.
Over the last 15 years it has acquired the insights, means, infrastructure, people and platforms in which to make direct contact with rural consumers and to find a way to close the communication gap.
"Brand encounters create useful spaces to position a brand positively across the major touch points where consumers can get involved, exchange relevant information and broaden their understanding of the product offerings and benefits. This helps buyers to make informed purchasing decisions and is a powerful tool in winning brand loyalty," says Zinto CEO, Combrinck.
On the ground, the agency is in a position to engage and 'listen' to consumers and incorporate their feedback thereby improving the clients' brand positioning.
"By continually understanding how audiences think and intersecting their existing behaviour with compelling messaging we create experiences that invite a communal sense of 'belonging' and that underpin lasting brand impressions," adds Combrinck.
One of the areas in which Zinto is able to create a point of difference is through its field workers and highly experienced road show artists who have first-hand knowledge of rural communities.
She continues, "In an industry that is constantly evolving, transforming and developing, the greatest task of any organisation is to find the right people who have the ability to connect on a deeper level with consumers and build experiences that develop brand loyalty and affinity."
Zinto's roving ability enables the agency to transcend barriers and overcome the challenges of time, location, and intention which lends a massive opportunity to marketers to go direct to market.
"Because our staff understand that South Africa's economies are extremely diverse, this heterogeneity is taken into account on every brand execution, and a concerted effort is made to recognise a very different set of risks. In a similar vein, Zinto is aware that language and cultural issues are complex and need to be handled with sensitivity and the underlying social and business norms are different," says Combrinck.
With an enlarged market of 11 official languages and approximately 52 million people, the South African market highlights a unique example of what can be achieved in other parts of Africa.
In light of this, Zinto has announced its expansion plans into Africa and will be driving its service offerings into new key target markets across the continent.
Combrinck comments, "Africa is a business development and growth driver for us as an agency as well as for the brands we represent. The emerging market and the growing middle class are eyed as ideal markets for FMCG and telecommunications brands. The under-served population of these countries provide new sources of revenue for both our industry and our clients."
While the agency has successfully executed work in Swaziland, Lesotho, Nambia and Botswana; plans are underway to offer services further afield in the Republic of Congo, Zambia, Uganda and Nigeria.
According to Combrinck, Africa, being the destination for great development in future, has provided an opportunity to replicate standard practices in South Africa through skills importation and adapting brand activations to these emerging markets.
Zinto does this by working with local brand ambassadors within these regions to help brands tap into the burgeoning communities; "Zinto has not just been bringing brands to consumers but it has also assisted in dismantling barriers and opening doors to the youth through its development and upliftment projects," she adds.
An initiative aptly titled 'You are the Job' strives towards the commercial application of the Performing Arts to the business of branded entertainment. The commitment was made in 2000 to create work for unskilled but talented individuals who have few opportunities.
A Nigerian firm, 24-7 Communications Limited, has aligned itself with Zinto's Lagos headquarters in Ikeja, and the business partnership is aimed at empowering Nigerian youths with entrepreneurial skills.
Because Zinto creates brand excitement via the arts it recruits promising youngsters who want to acquire skills, and gives them an opportunity to grow and develop sales and marketing skills while being a part of an activation team.
Staff members receive the educational skills and expertise to execute successful campaigns as well as the professional support and mentorship needed to engage with brands and consumers successfully.
To date, Zinto has created thousands of part-time jobs, employs 160 permanent staff, and invested in entrepreneurial projects to the tune of R10-million.
"The intention is to emulate the concept of corporate social responsibility that engages the youth on profitable jobs as it was practised at Zinto in South Africa, ensuring significant opportunities for our clients' brands and the youth alike," says Combrinck.
This is Zinto's greatest asset and its unique selling proposition which enables it to stand out from its competitors. The agency believes in putting people first and retaining talent by uplifting and empowering its staff through ongoing study.
The company aims to reduce unemployment in the country by offering young South Africans an opportunity to enrol at the Zinto Training Academy, which is free to the public.
The academy aims to expose school-leavers, students, and unskilled but talented youngsters to the marketing and promotional industry by offering valuable training on brand activity and to enhance the promotions industry.
"No matter how much money is directed at below-the-line campaigns, without dedicated and focused promoter training, a product's benefits are lost somewhere between the promoter's pitch and the consumer's disinterest in listening to an uninformed and demotivated 'brand' representative," says Combrinck.
The practical experience offered at the academy will include six modules addressing the basic fundamentals of sales and marketing, consumer purchase and consumption behaviour, the essentials of promotional in-store activity, a business case to examine the return on investment for a brand, and professional conduct of a trained Brand Ambassador.
She adds, "A valuable brand ambassador is one who engages consumers, moves product off-shelf and gives an edge to the brands that they symbolise. It is therefore vital to provide brand ambassadors with the tools and knowledge needed to facilitate the transition to an excellent and experienced brand representative. In line with this, Zinto will release its 'Brand Activation Workbook' in the near future to further enhance this process."
Once they qualify, Zinto will help to find employment opportunities for them within similar below-the-line agencies and FMCGs who require skilled and trained promoters for their internal and external communication and marketing campaigns.
Zinto's partnerships with long standing clients include MTN, Tiger Brands, Procter and Gamble, Nestlé, Patleys, BIC, Henkel, AMKA and Proudly South African, all of which are serviced from its head office in Linbro Park, Johannesburg.
For more information contact Michelle Combrinck of Zinto on 011 553 1000 or visit www.zinto.co.za