When South Africa’s first national lockdown was announced, many businesses were forced to pivot or face permanent closure. According to a recently released report by financial services company Finfind, 76.2% of businesses surveyed experienced a significant decrease in revenue during the first lockdown in South Africa.
Fortunately, there have been many success stories to emerge from this gloomy picture, with local entrepreneurs seizing the moment to innovate and introduce platforms and new business models for a digitally-driven future.
For instance, at StyleID, an African influencer marketing agency, founder Tami Ruschin recognised the opportunity to enhance and re-launch her digital solution to support South African retailers. As an African influencer network, StyleID connects brands to the right influencers to deliver their marketing campaigns and speak authentically with their customers.
The majority of brands in South Africa are all trying to speak to the same audience – the most targeted demographic – the black middle class youth. The struggle that brands face is understanding this audience and to engage and speak with them authentically and effectively. This is where influencers come in, they are real people that are the demographic and have influence over their followers.
“April was projected to be our best month, but due to Covid everything was put on pause,” she explained. “As the pandemic hit, our brands needed to refocus their efforts rapidly.” So, instead of waiting for things to turn around, Ruschin spent this time to her advantage, fine-tuning their digital platform features and adapting to meet retailers’ changing needs.
The transformative power of partnerships
Notably, as part of this strategy, Ruschin connected with Basalt Technology start-up founder, Wayne Zwiers, to design and develop the StyleID platform to meet the needs of a more digitally-dependent user base.
Combining the formidable expertise of Zwiers and Ruschin, the partnership resulted in the development of the Style ID platform, which allows influencers to register for free, create an account and upload their daily content as well as tag the brands they are wearing and using. This provides influencers with a platform to be recognized by brands.
Brands have the ability to register as well, and through the advanced search filter they can seamlessly search and connect with influencers, based on specific criteria related to their brief (primarily to ensure the influencers profile aligns to their brand and product).
The platform further offers brands media placement opportunities, whereby brands are able to upload their branded content onto a unique brand page and see which influencers have tagged their brand. All content on the brands page on Style ID is linked to the brands ecommerce site to ultimately drive online sales for the retailers.
This innovation, coupled with a sound strategy, allowed StyleID to build momentum and resulted in their biggest growth in Q4, 2020.
Within a year, StyleID went from working with 3-5 clients, to running multiple influencer campaigns for over 20 top South African brands – with an influencer base of more than 10 000 registered influencers.
“True entrepreneurs are able to scan the business landscape constantly for changes and opportunities, and then quickly pivot or innovate to solve the challenges of the day,” said Zwiers. “The current environment offers so many of these types of dynamic and exciting opportunities…particularly for those who understand the importance of intuitive and seamless digital platforms that are built for the future.”
Taking a remote-first approach
Importantly, with the shift to distributed work models, successful partnerships and collaborations are increasingly being driven by the ability to take a remote-first approach, and to develop new solutions with speed and agility.
“Aspects such as real-time communication and updates within teams allow us to focus on the critical revenue generating features that typically need to be released first,” said Zwiers. “In the case of StyleID, this meant that within six months we had a working digital business.”
Moreover, transparent and trusting relationships are key to successful pivots – particularly amidst a crisis.
“I was able to leverage off relationships and not lose touch with these relationships, some of which I have had over the last eight years…proving that I am able to work with clients not just as a supplier, but as a partner for the long term,” explained Ruschin.
Knowing your market
According to Ruschin, understanding when to launch and release features is also key to any sustainable venture.
For example, StyleID’s digital platform was launched precisely when retailers had to cancel traditional shoots and campaigns. The start-up was well positioned to quickly pivot, and their influencers were able to shift from street-style shoots to using at home set-ups to deliver impactful campaign results for their clients (with micro-influencers posting on average 30% more content during lockdown).
Looking ahead, it is this ability to adapt and thrive which makes entrepreneurs and start-ups an integral and powerful part of South Africa’s economic recovery and future growth trajectory.
“As a start-up entrepreneur, you are in the building and reinventing stage, and are most equipped to thrive during this type of uncertainty,” said Zwiers.
“By supporting entrepreneurs and collaborating with fellow start-ups, we can help contribute to rebuilding our economy for the long term.”