How many journalists or media owners can accurately describe the market they serve? More importantly, how many can tell you how this market is changing? We are not talking only demographics – what about the attitudes, values and belief systems they hold? How do you move with this moving market, with new media products to meet its needs or reinvigorate old products?
Media don’t operate in a vacuum. For their audiences, they are very dependent on the social conditions in which they operate. Not only do they need to have an in-depth understanding of the socio-political milieu, but they need to have a strategic view of the future. Markets shift and before you know it, they reach a critical threshold where opportunities can be lost if this change wave is not fully understood.
South Africa is one of the most rapidly changing societies in the world, and it is essential that media have an idea of how the society is evolving – based not on opinion, but on facts. Attitudes precede behaviour, so for editorial, marketing and distribution purposes, it is vital that the significant trends that are shaping our society are intimately understood.
FutureFact is a rigorous survey that has been tracking social trends since 1998 (see box). The trends that are currently being revealed show that South Africa is at a crucial point in its history – potentially at a tipping point on many levels.
There is class mobility to consider, social cohesion and potentially disruptive forces, social capital issues, the new urban geography, changing political and socio-economic perspectives, and more besides. All of these impact on citizen and consumer behaviour with direct relevance for companies’ strategy and marketing for the future.
We are also arguably one of the most class-mobile societies in the world. Whereas in the US it takes approximately four generations for a poor family to reach the average household income of the country, in South Africa this is happening virtually within one generation. When people sense an opportunity for advancement and substantial improvement to their lives, this gives rise to a sense of optimism for the future – if not for themselves, then for their children.
Today we have a bulging middle class, with 41 percent classifying themselves as middle class compared with a middle class of only 31 percent for their parents at the same age as they are now, and an extensive move out of the working class (see chart).
On the class mobility escalator, the move into the middle class tends to happen around LSM 8, and the move into the upper middle and upper classes happens at LSM 10, where it is fairly directly related to educational qualifications. Understanding class mobility is vital, as it points to a market’s values and aspirations, and very often media must direct their offering at these mindsets rather than the current bland market demographics.
Ordinary South Africans see many success stories and have a profound belief that they too can “make it in this world”. The end result is consumer activity that is often way beyond the current LSM level of the market. This is important for advertisers who would do well to understand the sheer numbers of the working class (and even middle classes) who indulge in purchases in the upper ranges of expenditure in order to express who they aspire to be. Brands become identity enhancers – a valuable commodity for any marketer. Pigeon-holing the market in terms of views that don’t include class mobility will severely compromise the advertiser in terms of market reach.
This optimism in an improved future with extended opportunities also allows people to take chances and try out new ventures in order to cement a stronger sense of self-reliance. Thirty-nine percent of those with a matric or postmatric qualification, reflect a desire to start working for themselves in the year ahead – a healthy state of affairs for a society such as ours where the number of unemployed, even among the well-educated, is way above acceptable levels (25 percent of matriculated under 25’s and 17 percent of postmatric under 25’s). But it is also true that many of the “new elite” are under a great deal of stress when it comes to maintaining a standard of living that is recently achieved but which frequently comes at a crippling financial cost. Media can play a key role by providing mentorship opportunities and relevant content for dealing with the demands in an informed way. Not only is this good for society, but the media themselves can entrench their relationship with their audiences and secure their loyalty into the future.
Media have a unique opportunity too, to optimise on the issue of social capital in this country. Social capital refers to connections within and between social networks. The sense of belonging that occurs has been shown to be important for people’s sense of worth and even their physical health. It has been proven that societies with high levels of social capital promote democracy, a sound economy and business environment, consumerism and social welfare. In South Africa we are seeing an increase in membership of groups, even in comparison to other developing nations, though it is true in varying degrees for different sectors of the country. Again, if media understand this phenomenon, they can appeal to the interest sets of these groups, create products, direct content and marketing at them and enhance their value to these markets, to their advertisers and to society as a whole.
Key to media and their distribution strategies (and this is true of electronic as well as print media) is the changing face of our urban geography. With increasing access to amenities and large shopping conurbations, people living in townships are much more likely to live there by choice. The conviviality of township life is hard to find in the traditional suburbs, with the result that growth is happening in more upmarket suburbs within the township environment.
FutureFact believes that in the next decade there will no longer be such a clear distinction between suburbs and townships. The current “tripartite” distinction of informal settlements, townships and suburbs will shift to a “bipartite” structure of informal settlements on the one hand and a blend of townships and suburbia on the other. Clearly, this warrants new approaches to considerations of footprints and targeted consumers as media owners contemplate the way ahead.
In our rapidly evolving society we have found a palpable sense of empowerment coupled with a belief in the future among considerable sectors of the population. This is likely to find expression in innovative solutions to the problems feature media and social trends the country faces. Of course this cannot be said of those still in survival mode. Much depends on the quality of the leadership of the country (and on our media owners and journalists) if we are to ride the wave of change and develop better strategies for the future. If the disruptive forces assaulting the population’s confidence levels at this time are addressed in concert with the cohesive forces, the country and its media have the potential to forge a strong future to the benefit of all.
The FutureFact surveys are a balanced combination of demographics, attitudes, activities, values, fears and ambitions, with a comprehensive media section. Questions are put to a national probability sample of 2,500 (excluding deep rural communities of 500 or less), on a face-to-face
basis by African Response and the data is weighted to population. Some elements of the intensive questionnaire are maintained for tracking purposes, but others are introduced because of their relevance to the current dynamics in the country. FutureFact surveys are funded by subscriptions to the surveys. The 2008 survey will be released shortly. See target=”_blank” href=”http://www.futurefact.co.za/”http://www.futurefact.co.za/!_LT_/a.
Jos Kuper, a research professional with more than 30 years’ experience, heads Kuper research, a consultancy specialising in media, marketing and socio-political analysis. She is one of the independent researchers responsible for the FutureFact survey that for 10 years has been monitoring the significant attitudinal changes in the country. Kuper is an editorial advisory board member of The Media magazine.
- This article first appeared in The Media magazine (November 2008).