Jade Duckitt creative director at augmented reality, animation and gaming company Sea Monster. Image: Supplied.
JOHANNESBURG -  While the Protea cricket team didn’t meet South Africans’ World Cup expectations, in the build up we saw some local brands doing interesting promotional tie-ins that show that they're thinking differently about ways their customers can win. 

Just ahead of the 2019 Cricket World Cup, major South African retailer Pick n Pay launched SuperCards, South Africa’s first customer rewards programme, to blend augmented reality technology, gaming and collectors cards, all in the name of consumer engagement. 

Most shoppers own at least one piece of connected technology, like a smartphone, creating an easy opportunity for brands to engage directly with existing and potential customers. The launch and rollout of SuperCards saw Pick n Pay working with local augmented reality, gaming and animation studio Sea Monster to create an innovative customer-rewards idea that would deliver a branded experience to stimulate, educate and excite consumers through handing out cards free with every R150 spent. Each card shows the face of a Cricket World Cup 2019 SA team member, and are scanned into an easy-to-download app (available on both Android and iOS).

Using the app, cricket fans of all ages can play games, learn about their favourite cricketers and see their heroes come to life in 3D augmented reality. For a South African cricket fan this isn’t something that anyone else offers, and Pick n Pay is giving the experience to them for free.

With its extensive SmartShopper rewards program, and previous roll out of Super Animals, which came with an optional smartphone app, enabling customers to learn about our fauna,  Pick n Pay has become one of the few retailers in the country choosing to blend digitally-based rewards programs with great customer experience.

Technology like augmented reality, virtual reality, animation and gaming can bring concepts, ideas, even sports teams, to life in the consumer’s hands, creating an immersive experience that gives brands an advantage in winning customer hearts and minds. It also allows brands to use pertinent real-world events - like sports - to drive home their brand values, ethos and messages in a way that is seamless to consumers.  And of course sports binds us as a nation like little else, something that even hard core retailers know is important as our country rebuilds its identity.

There is a place for advertising and promotions, but all too often clients and their agencies don’t think beyond the traditional. As economic growth in South Africa remains low, retail brands should focus on brand loyalty and engagement in a way that takes advantage of how social media, technological trends and digital solutions offer a more direct route to grabbing customer attention. 

In addition to higher and more direct engagement, technology also has the advantage of lowering distribution costs, as well as, typically, delivering a lower carbon footprint. For companies looking to scale distribution and reach audiences outside of the main urban centres, a digital environment offers many advantages. 

For the production and placement cost of one 30-second ad, retailers can potentially deliver hours of engaging, educational content that really drives brand value.  And critically this engagement is voluntary, so customers are choosing to engage with your brand which research shows creates a much higher value relationship. 

At a time when parents are struggling for good quality digital experiences, brands should realise how these can be used to drive their own business goals, while at the same time delivering real value to society. Banks, for example, could use games to drive financial education and reward good financial behaviour, like saving for youth bank accounts, thereby empowering customers to make better decisions, while at the same time growing their market share. 

South African food retailers have not received the same response to their online sales offerings when compared to clothing, gadgets and furniture online sales. This only strengthens the case for retailers to employ innovative ways to blend the offline and online experience to gain brand loyalty and increase customer retention at their bricks and mortar stores.

Retailers who work hard to place customer needs first, and see the value in creating digital experiences for consumers, be they in the form of customer rewards or loyalty programmes, will reap the benefits over those opting not to experiment. This thinking should not only apply in a tough economic climate, but even more especially when it comes to retaining and growing their market share. With first quarter retail sales data reflecting a growth of just 0.2 percent year-on-year, South African retailers would do well to get creative with customer engagement strategies and tools.

Jade Duckitt creative director at augmented reality, animation and gaming company Sea Monster

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE