How to Take Advantage of Opportunities
Launching a marketing agency is a dream for many creative visionaries, but the competition is stiff. Buyi Mafoko, MD of Leratadima Marketing, offers advice on gaining a competitive advantage and differentiating your business from your competitors.
PLAYER: Buyi Mafoko
COMPANY: Leratadima Marketing
Buyi Mafoko is not your typical creative. Although she has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Movement Sciences, she has always wanted to run her own business. A stint at Voice of Wits campus radio station, where she had her first taste of marketing and eventing, was followed by a publishing role at Naspers’ Media24.
Then she decided she’d had enough of being in the high pressure media environment; she did not want to be that person who wakes up years later to realise she never fulfilled her dreams.
With just two years of corporate experience under her belt, she joined Leratadima Marketing in 2011, and partnered in the strategic re-brand to grow the business from an outdoor advertising agency into the integrated marketing agency it is today. The business even has its own print studio, which has turned out to be a major differentiator.
THE VALUE OF LEARNING
While there’s a general consensus that entrepreneurs don’t need a university qualification, Buyi followed her Sports Sciences degree with a Postgraduate Management Diploma from Wits Business School and a Digital Marketing qualification from Vega School of Branding.
“I’m an ideas person,” she says, “Ideas come to me effortlessly, and I like to solve problems creatively. Even while I was studying, I was always asking whether there was another way of doing something. I wanted to understand more about organisational structure and I believe it gave me a great start to my career as an entrepreneur.
“It helped me crystallise who I am as a person and gave me a 360-degree view of how businesses are designed. Because I was working at Media24 while I was studying, I had the opportunity to put into practice what I was learning.
“We would read business case studies about things like the redesign of the Mini Cooper and of Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle, and how Capitec was built on the stokvel model, and I would be able to apply those learnings in the workplace.”
MARKETING A NEW BUSINESS
Like the proverbial cobbler’s children who have no shoes, marketing agencies often struggle to market themselves properly. “Part of the issue is that a new business has no marketing budget,” says Buyi. “To overcome that problem, we committed to do good work that would speak for itself.
“We also invested a great deal of time in building a diverse network.” A highlight for Leratadima was the opportunity in 2011 to create and develop a heritage festival for one of the royal families in Botswana.
“Working across borders with a multimillion rand budget taught me what can happen when you are under massive pressure,” she says. “You are compelled to be creative, to deliver and to find ways of doing things — even when it seems impossible because of distance and logistics. The success of that project made me believe even more in what we could do.”
Being consistent is one of the most sure-fire ways to continually grow a successful business.
“Even the best businesses will fail without a dedication to consistency. It’s a long journey to get from where you are to where you want to be, and the only way to do it properly is to never drop the ball."
“Your client should never be made aware of any fluctuation in the level of service you deliver. Consistency means they can count on always having the same experience when they deal with your agency.” She points to Nike as an example. “Nike has aligned its brand with the spirit of sport.
The company continues to do well by remaining consistent with its core brand promise. It has been doing this for decades, and shows that consistency matters. In the creative industry, consistency is a valued currency.”
Many small businesses fail or miss opportunities because they lack the capacity to meet client requirements. “When a business is just starting out, it can be difficult to hire the resources you need to service your customers,” Buyi says.
“We brought in the people we needed on an outsourced basis, which made good sense. From experience, we have learnt that there are creative ways to capacitate your business until you can confidently position yourselves as a seasoned player.”
“Even the best businesses will fail without a dedication to consistency. It’s a long journey to get from where you are to where you want to be, and the only way to do it properly is to never drop the ball.”
Leratadima was founded in 2007 by Chairman, Tumi Mafoko. Buyi joined the company in 2011 to collaborate on the vision to grow it exponentially, shifting its focus from outdoor advertising. Priorities were changing and the agency had to evolve too.
“What clients needed a year ago may not be what they need today,” she says. “One of the biggest lessons we learnt was that a business needs to be malleable and adaptive. You cannot get stuck offering services your clients no longer need.
“To grow, you need to be agile and innovative. We had to transform the business into an integrated marketing agency that is able to service clients as different as South African Breweries, BMW South Africa and Standard Bank.
“We needed to build strategies in a language they understand and with which they can identify. That’s the fun part of what we do because we’re constantly exposed to different industries and organisations. It never gets monotonous.”
Clients today are more demanding than ever. It’s said that the future belongs to brands that can give customers instant gratification. “We have created an ‘always-on’ business culture. We remain in constant communication with our clients, understanding the agility required to collaborate in creating campaigns that are consistently one-minded with their business strategies.”
She makes the analogy that as Leratadima, they are intent on being like an anesthetic in the clients’s process, ensuring that they minimize all the pains that come with achieving success. “Creating value for clients requires more than sitting at your desk and waiting for briefs. You’ve got to go to them and say we’ve come up with a new idea, and this is how it’s going to serve you strategically.”
ACHIEVING OPERATION EXCELLENCE
Operational excellence manifests itself through performance across revenue, cost, and risk. It focuses on meeting customer expectation through the continuous improvement of the operational processes and the culture of the organisation. “We continue to work hard on systems and processes this year,” Buyi says.
“Leratadima is no longer a small business; it has grown into a significant player, which means that problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership are important, as is focusing on customers' needs, keeping employees positive and empowered, and continually improving our activities. That’s what sets us apart from our competitors.”
FINDING A GAME-CHANGER
As Leratadima started acquiring bigger clients, the team found that up to two-thirds of their budget was going towards production that was being outsourced. In addition, few businesses these days can afford to slow down or stop production.
“To become more price competitive, we established our own print shop in 2015. This has been a game-changer for us. In addition to being able to offer more attractive pricing to our clients, we also ensure that our clients’ needs are never last in the queue.
“Because of our always-on culture, we run a 24-hour print shop, which has given us full control of the entire marketing value chain, from conceptualisation to production.” This has set the agency apart, ensuring it’s able to become the custodian of the client's brand.
BUILDING A LEGACY
Leratadima is fully committed to doing their part to help alleviate poverty in South Africa, and she believes every business should be a good corporate citizen. “We are a people-focused company, and that feeds into everything we do.
“That’s why we refuse to engage in box-ticking corporate social investment programmes.” As an agency with a young team, Leratadima is representative of a generation that demands more ethical and accountable business practices.
Buyi stresses that companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together. Social investment must be planned and managed as aspects of core business strategy.
“That’s why we are aiming to build a legacy, something that will impart skills and remain sustainable,” Buyi says. As part of this initiative, the company provides monthly food and personal hygiene essentials for child-headed households.
To that end, it has created the Leratadima Foundation, which currently supports families around Gauteng, with targets to expand the reach nationally. “From the start, your brand should be tied to your core values, which often relate specifically to what you want your business to achieve for your clients, and what you want it to become over time.”
KNOWING YOUR INDUSTRY
As a business owner, you must understand what is going on not just in your own business but also in your entire industry, Buyi maintains. You need to have a thorough understanding of how your sector works and where your business fits in.
Knowing what is harming or helping your clients and determining how your business will respond to those factors may constitute at least some of its competitive advantage. “There’s the textbook answer to these questions, and there’s the experiential answer,” Buyi says.
“I try to find a balance between the two. The world is so dynamic today that you must have an appetite for risk and innovation.” Buyi says it pays to create your own market. “The intuitive entrepreneur almost always ends up in a better strategic position,” she maintains.
“The potential for attaining greatness is in creating new markets, rather than going into those that are well-established.”