Michelle Combrinck is the Owner and Founder of The Zinto Marketing and Brand Activation Group (Pty) Ltd, which was founded in December 2000. They celebrated their 20th birthday last year, which was a very exciting milestone for them to reach.
Simply put, their mandate from their clients is to bring their brands to life, in the hearts and minds of all consumers at various touchpoints throughout South Africa and in Africa using various platforms to do this.
Their core focus is the Main Market – it is a vibrant, busy and ever-changing market – they operate on the ground in kasi hoods e.g at taxi ranks / train stations / bus stations / malls / stokvels / campuses / schools / churches / shopping centres / taverns / beaches / community music concerts/soccer games/wholesalers and spaza stores / hair salons etc.
These activations are brought to life through consumer face-to-face engagements, exciting road shows using actors/dancers/singers and script writers to breathe life into the shopper shows with product knowledge, games and competitions and most importantly, to link their activities to SALES in the stores.
COVID-19 has impacted their activities severely but they are slowly turning a corner and are back in the stores and on the streets.
Outside in the mall car park, Gig Rigs with stages, sound and tech equipment (LED screens) are used to create hype and excitement around the new products / sampling and trial is conducted and consumers are involved in all the fun activities e.g. Pick a Box, Spin and Win, which are all creatively designed to attract attention and get consumers to engage with the brand.
There is a proverb: “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may understand; involve me and I will remember!” This is the underlying principle upon which Brand Activation and Experiential Marketing is built and based.
Michelle says they started the company because they spotted a gap in the Main Market in 2000 to create hype and excitement on the ground to talk up the benefits of brands and what differentiates them from their competitors. The use of talented young South Africans in the Performing Arts gave them a unique angle to doing this – they are another “medium” of advertising and marketing – the difference is they are “live” as opposed to a radio/TV ads. They love brands and want them to perform well which leads to better business for everyone.
Michelle says that they travelled across Africa and realised the full potential of sales activity on the ground as Africa is always bustling on the streets and they spotted the opportunity to do business as it is being done across the continent, with great energy, hard work, innovation and creativity.
They realised that the future lies in the Main Market and with so many folk living in South Africa from across the continent they had a unique opportunity to engage with many different foreign nationals who were driving large parts of South Africa’s economy and adding value to it.
Michelle loves many things about running her business:
Firstly, being surrounded by the youth market every day. She loves young people (having been a High School Xhosa teacher for many years in the Eastern Cape) she learnt from the younger generations and she says that it has been a privilege to lead and mentor young people along the paths of career success, hard work, dedication and passion. Michelle explains that leadership is a scarce human trait so it’s important to spend lots of time on leadership traits as well as up-skilling and self-skilling for a changed world.
Secondly, she enjoys the entrepreneurial challenges and says that they learn as they go along. She believes attitude determines altitude.
Thirdly, their relationships in the business. They have a family-based approach as opposed to a corporate mind-set, so family members treat one another with respect and dignity; they are there to build and support one another and not to trample on one another. She spends lots of time mentoring through their school, Zenzele, on soft skills e.g. self-confidence, listening skills, becoming a people helper, compassion and empathy, people management and how to get the best results from working with colleagues. This yields great results in the company.
Fourthly, working in Kasi. It is vibrant, busy and colourful; nothing like Alex Mall or Tembisa Plaza at month-end; people buying, selling, trading, on the move – the energy is palpable. “I have been working across every township for 24 years and these are a place of major opportunity. Including the stokvel market,” she says.
Amongst the many lessons Michelle feels she has learnt on her business journey, she highlights the following:
- Patience: Do not act in haste – you will repent at leisure.
- Emotional maturity when dealing with various clients and colleagues. She has read a great deal on this topic = IQ vs EQ vs SQ are all important and need to be aligned.
- Humility: She believes that you should never assume that you know more than others and learn to listen and learn from others – arrogance is a trait that repels people and they end up not wanting to co-operate with you.
- Continue to read and learn. Knowledge is power, especially when you share it.
- How to work with your bank. When you need additional funding as an entrepreneur, you need to “play nicely” with your Business Banker and co-operate swiftly, show intent and honesty, so that you get their support.
- How to work with different types of people in my business, from differing age groups/religions/races/genders/political affiliations/countries. Michelle employs close to 100 people so she needs to understand everyone’s needs are different. Some need more attention and others are very independent. She has also become very aware of office politics and pockets of perceptions of unhappiness, and deals with them quickly so that it does not “fester”.
- Conflict resolution. Learn how to deal with conflicts through HR channels as quickly as possible.
- Staff Motivation. This is very important – staff want to be recognised, acknowledged and affirmed for work well done! Where staff are struggling – step in, train and motivate them to continue to strive to become better and attain new skills through in-house training.
Michelle says she does what she does because it adds value to people and to the economy. She is passionate about job creation, entrepreneurship and helping young people start up their own businesses.
She says that tough times are everywhere all the time. She has learnt to “train her brain” over the years to remain calm during times when things just go wrong, because that’s life.
She explains that there is nothing tougher than financial burdens when there is no business coming in and you have to maintain your company and your staff. For Michelle, this has been the biggest challenge she has had to face as it impacts one’s health severely. She says that all entrepreneurs have their own unique stories to tell about how to manage during downturn times, but if she had not read books to motivate herself and tried to emulate their responses, she may have reacted very differently and not persevered. Michelle says it is lonely at the “top” when she needs to make decisions which impact people’s lives, so she tends to ruminate on challenges, think of solutions and 99% of the time, it works. She has made peace with imperfection and continues to drive forward as her staff depend on her to provide direction and security – the stress is heavy and ongoing.
Michelle believes that small and medium sized businesses/entrepreneurs are the future of Africa and indeed many parts of the world. With growing populations – it is a numbers game and many large corporates simply cannot employ millions of people coming onto the grid. The small number of highly qualified, highly skilled people especially with scarce skills will be headhunted to fulfil key roles but the average person will be over-looked hence the need to establish their own skills/talents and use these to create opportunities for themselves and for others. For example, “a hawker in Alex selling veggies and fruit and airtime and sweets etc. should not only stick to one spot in Alex but create other spots and place people there to sell as well so as to create an ecosystem of various selling touch-points thus increasing jobs and footprint.”
Michelle says we run the risk of social unrest in South Africa and in Africa (Uganda in particular now with high youth unemployment) if we do not create and support small businesses, so that people can earn an income and retain their dignity. She says that unemployment strips you of your dignity hence the high levels of crime in South Africa – a hungry man is a desperate man.
Open air markets where people can display their wares and sell directly to the public are crucial. This is big in Africa (e.g. Nakasero Market in Kampala just off Entebbe Road – one of the biggest) and creates thousands of jobs to support local small scale farmers and local informal traders.
It is in everyone’s best interest to support and buy local as Proudly South African = this creates more job opportunities. Michelle explains that we need to produce more goods for export rather than to consume goods which we import from outside. Excess consumerism is dangerous for any economy.
She goes on to say that our mindset in South Africa needs to change rapidly from one of “I must find a job” to “I am the job” = I + my talents and skills and passion = THE JOB (I become my own job!).
Schools need to tweak the curricula to focus on entrepreneurship as a Matric subject in order to be taken seriously. Families need to nurture their children and teach them to become entrepreneurs and equip them for a changed future.
Michelle thinks that if each community supports their local food-tainer owner / Coffee / Pancakes / Curry and Rice / Biltong / Dog Food / Shoes etc. which park on street corners, then this could be one way to driving local inclusive economies and support small – medium businesses in South Africa.
Michelle concludes by saying that if South Africa and big business supports small business, small business will support them in return. It can be mutually beneficial and reciprocal. “You support me, I support you = together we grow and try to create a better balance among the ‘have-lots, the haves and the have-nots’ “. South Africa just needs to have a plan and the political and business “will” to put this into practice.
When asked about her experience as a Member of the NSBC, Michelle states,”It has been a really pleasant relationship with the NSBC for many reasons: As a medium sized business and entrepreneur, we have been through a rough patch with many millions of small business in the same storm. We have been encouraged and motivated to remain focussed and positive because it is so easy to sink to the depths of despair. The NSBC has given hope and advice to companies like ours on all the various platforms and we love the authenticity and real empathy that we sense from Mike Anderson (NSBC Founder & CEO) and his team. Internal motivation and continuous hunting for business keeps our hopes alive as we employ close to 120 full-time and 300 agents – so giving up is not an option.”