‘Challenging the obvious and exploring the undiscovered potential of brands-yet-to-be.’ These words could easily be used as a caption to introduce Maraleze Knoetze, one of the bright new executives pioneering the future of some of the most established and renowned brands in the South African wine industry.
Maraleze, an original born-and-bred of the Paarl wine region, heads up the dynamic sales and marketing team of Boland Cellar as one of the country’s oldest and internationally celebrated wineries. Backed by an impressive academical and marketing career, including degrees in Psychology and Business Management and gaining valuable experience in the sales and marketing teams of Naspers and Pep Stores as two of South Africa’s leading publishing and retail giants, Maraleze best describes her decision to enter and be involved with the wine industry: “ It was never a calculated decision … but happened by luck. I suspect that I’ve stayed for as long as I have because of an amazing product that has managed to be re-invented through generations, has staying power and is never without challenge. Best of all is the fact I love wine, whether I work in the industry or not.”
She thrives on the intricate and often unexplored challenges posed by modern-day and purpose-driven brand building. “Boland Cellar, respecting traditional and honest values, has over many generations built-up and earned the brand respect and loyalty of many national and international wine consumers. However, we now also face a completely new and ever-changing set of consumer values and demands … further extrapolated by the growing influence of technology and especially the trend in online consumption, be it in content or product.”
Maraleze believes there are various important wine marketing trends that will strongly emerge in the next few years. “Marketing departments will become more tech savvy and we will see developers forming part of the ‘mix’, rather than just the traditional skills set such as campaign and brand managers. As technology becomes more affordable and data becomes easily available, we will be able to better understand the consumer and be less reliant on the opinions of a select few. This means that we will be able to truly start creating products based on market demand and provide the kind of support that makes life easier for the buyer, be that the consumer or trade partner.” She emphasises that brand champions and winemakers will more and more face the undeniable reality that “… the challenge is of course the discrepancy in timing – grapes take years to grow and reach their full potential, while consumer trends change much quicker. So planning for what might happen 5 years down the line might not be viable 5 years later. Consequently, there will be a huge challenge for grape growers.”
Maraleze further suspects that consumers will look for more choice in future but that they will seek out simpler ways of making those choices. She adds that the latter will substantially change the consumer journey within the retail environment, regardless of whether it is in a physical or online environment. Strong brands will play a pivotal role.
Asked about her fascination for the many aspects surrounding successful brand building in the 21st century where both the needs and aspirations of different generations such as the influential and critical younger millennials and the older loyal baby boomers with their meaningful discretionary spend have to be weighed and considered, Maraleze shares some interesting views. “It has been said many times we need to create an experience for the consumer, but we have to figure out what that really means, because there is no blueprint and it largely depends on the intrinsics of your brand. Execution is key to building successful brands and brands are often able to produce more than what they are able to support. So it is important to find the balance between what you are able to support, while growing your brands.”
Maraleze concludes by observing that there is a tendency by brand builders to over-complicate what they do. “I believe that central to any solution is having a deep understanding and sensitivity to the markets’ needs, desires and requirements whether it is the consumer who picks a product off a retail shelf or a business partner at the board room table. Sometimes the only way to achieve this is to aim narrow, rather than try to reach every possible opportunity. Consumers are clever people, not data points … be honest, be sincere and own who you are and what you stand for.”