I am a former marketing expert based in South Africa with in-depth knowledge of the industry's latest innovations and technology in branding and marketing merchandise. AMA!

Edward McGuckin
Jul 15, 2017

I am a marketing representative that worked for a reputable organisation based in South Africa. We have access to and offered the latest in branding services, marketing merchandise, and signage solutions both within South Africa as well as in countries all around the continent.

Our biggest clients operated within countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, Gabon, and Sierra Leone. Such a wide range of countries with an even wider range of clients brings with it a massive array of opportunities, and their own challenges to boot.

That being said, allow me to answer your questions to the best of my ability. Ask Me Anything!


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How do you stay up-to-date on the latest developments in marketing?

Jul 14, 10:17PM EDT0

By paying close attention to our competitors, but also constantly conducting our own research so that we can remain at the cutting edge of the industry instead of playing catch-up with everyone else.

Jul 15, 9:48AM EDT0

Are there any projects you worked on that were especially frustrating?

Jul 13, 6:14AM EDT0

Many international projects were especially frustrating. I would say Sierra Leone is the most challenging country to do business in, to the point where myself and other co-workers would have to travel between there and South Africa to oversee every step of a project to ensure it is completed properly.

Sierra Leone has a very underdeveloped infrastructure, with sometimes terrible roads, intermittent telephone lines and cell phone signal, and an unpredictable electricity supply around the country.

One project there, in particular, was a very testing one. This order was for a very large volume of promotional material such as gazebos, various types of banners, and giveaway t-shirts; all of which were to be distributed at various points nationwide for a massive launch. Our client there, a major cell service provider, was not very organised when it came to international dealings. We would often receive differing deadlines on the project, conflicting instructions, and staff from the client's side with no knowledge of the project in any capacity; yet they were also the only people we were able to interface with from the company, and communication had to be done via phone and email, made difficult by their intermittent internet and phone infrastructure. Delay after delay plagued and eventually destroyed our chances of a timely delivery. Lapses in correspondence could go on for days at a time, and the uninformed reps on their side merely compounded this. At the end of it all, we had discovered that the launch was very badly organised on the client's side, to the point where they found out that they had not even decided on a date for their launch a full month after we had finished delivery on our end.

While a genuinely frustrating project, it was also a highly valuable learning experience for myself and the company. From that point, at least one of our staff members, who would be informed of every detail of an order, would be present at every point of delivery, which did wonders for our future dealings.

Jul 13, 11:23AM EDT0

Did you go to school to learn what you do?

Jul 13, 6:02AM EDT0

I didn't have any tertiary qualification, no. I was accepted for a junior level sales position at a company based in Johannesburg, after several successful projects and gaining a considerable client base, I then took a general position that then incorporated several areas of the business -purchasing, administration and finance- while retaining a primary focus on sales. Everything I learned was "on the job" experience.

Jul 13, 12:15PM EDT0

What are the future changes that technology poses for the marketing industry?

Jul 12, 2:01AM EDT0

What's different between marketing merchandise versus a service?

Jul 11, 5:46PM EDT0

What are the current innovations in the marketing industry?

Jul 11, 2:12PM EDT0

In line with product branding, laser engraving is a current innovation which is quicker and more precise than previous methods such as machine engraving. 

It allows for some truly spectacular results when properly used.

Laser Engraving

Jul 15, 12:08PM EDT0

What are some common mistakes you see lesser-experienced marketers making?

Jul 11, 6:57AM EDT0

Not paying attention to detail.

Often, clients want very specific products and even more specific branding that can become quite confusing if you aren't paying attention. For example, when I was new to the company, I quite happily ended a discussion with a client over the phone concerning a query for branded pen sets, only later realising how much information I was missing when discussing the order with one of our purchasing agents. That made for an embarrassing call to the client as I had previously assured him I had all the information I needed.

When handling orders for branded merchandise, there are several questions you should have written down somewhere (If not already known by heart) that are essential in knowing exactly what your client is looking for and whether you are able to supply it:

  1. What product are you looking to have branded?
  2. What quantity are you looking to order?
  3. When do you need your order delivered by?
  4. Can you send me the logo(s) or artwork you wish to have branded?
  5. Where on the product are you looking to have the logo placed?
  6. What sort of branding are you looking for? (Whether it be embroidery, engraving, digital print, vinyl sticker, etc.

Asking these questions saved me a lot of time and hassle in future dealings with clients.

Jul 13, 1:57PM EDT0

Which marketing medium was your favorite to use?

Jul 10, 11:36PM EDT0

I worked with promotional merchandise. I enjoyed this aspect of marketing thanks to its straightforwardness relative to other mediums. Orders are much simpler to process when you're primarily worried about placing a logo on a product as compared to, for example, a massive advertisement that needs to fit on a billboard. 

This isn't to say it goes without its own challenges, competitive margins and tight deadlines means you need to be on your toes and be accustomed to a culture of "I want this yesterday", while being able to move between queries for massive corporate giveaways to much smaller ones for a handful of uniforms that need to be made out for a family run corner restaurant.

Jul 13, 2:10PM EDT0

What are the main concerns when deciding how to brand something?

Jul 10, 8:02PM EDT0

When approaching this process, some of the most important things to note are:

  1. What the client's logo or artwork looks like.
  2. What product they want their logo to be branded on.
  3. Deciding which branding method would make their logo look the most attractive on their chosen product. For example, a client may ask for an embossing, but on certain cardboards and plastics, it may lead to a barely visible logo, as in the image below. It would then be a better idea to print or foil the logo instead for better visibility.Blind Emboss
  4. Ensuring the logo can properly fit onto the product without it losing quality or detail. If this is impossible, it would be a good idea to inform the client of this and tell them that it would be a good idea to use a product with a larger branding area that better suits their logo.
  5. Knowing what the client intends to use the item for.
  6. Ensuring you can meet the given deadline. Keep stock availability of your products in mind as well as the time needed to brand that stock. 
Last edited @ Jul 15, 9:46AM EDT.
Jul 13, 2:29PM EDT0

How does the marketing culture differ in South Africa versus other countries?

Jul 10, 4:06PM EDT0

For one, we are less open to comparative advertising.

Where in the US you may find that two competing companies may criticise or compare their product or service directly to a competitor's. An example being a BMW advert which "makes fun" of Jaguar or Mercedes. In South Africa, comparative advertising is heavily restricted.

Personally, I agree with this approach, as advertising is therefore based on its own merits instead of "seeming better" in comparison to a competing product or service. Through this method, marketing here has garnered a culture of honesty in relation to the object advertised.

Marketing is also highly multi-cultural in comparison to many countries. The sheer number of demographics that call South Africa their home make for very varied advertising. To name just a few, there are Zulus, Xhosas, Pedis, English Ancestrals, Dutch Ancestrals, Indian Ancestrals, and Arabic Ancestrals.

Each of these demographics have their own unique needs and defining characteristics, which makes for an interesting marketing landscape.

Jul 14, 12:28PM EDT0

What did you find most interesting about the work you did?

Jul 10, 10:16AM EDT0

The sheer variety of new products emerging all the time and the various ways to brand them.

Compared to twenty or even ten years ago, there are so many ways to promote a brand nowadays than there ever were before. New branding methods are emerging all the time, such as Laser-on-Clothing. This is a sort of laser engraving used on cotton or polyester which gives it an indented texture. This method has several advantages over screen printing in that the logo will last far longer and not peel off as a printed logo will over time.Laser-on-Clothing

Keeping up with new methods like these is a large part of what made marketing a worthwhile career for me.

Last edited @ Jul 13, 12:54PM EDT.
Jul 13, 12:54PM EDT0

Have you come up with any ad campaigns you are really proud of?

Jul 10, 12:00AM EDT0

What is something simple a company can do to improve the public's perception of them?

Jul 9, 12:27PM EDT0


An effective method of improving your public image while boosting your brand awareness would be to host one or several giveaways. Branded merchandise can essentially act as a walking advertisement, and most people love free stuff! T-shirts, gizmos, gift sets, pretty much anything that can be used would be useful towards reaching that objective.

Jul 14, 12:41PM EDT0

Did you have your own style of marketing at which you excelled?

Jul 9, 11:09AM EDT0

The companies we dealt with had generally had a dedicated marketing department of their own. As such, I didn't have much influence over their projects most of the time. As such, there wasn't much opportunity for me to properly develop my own style of marketing.

Last edited @ Jul 14, 12:38PM EDT.
Jul 14, 12:07PM EDT0

How has the industry changed since you got involved in it?

Jul 9, 4:57AM EDT0

The technology has certainly changed considerably. Newer and newer branding machines and manufacturing methods have meant that we are able to attain very high quantities of branded products for clients on ever tighter deadlines.

This also presents its own challenges in trying to keep up. It's not unusual nowadays for clients to make massive demands and expect them done within a very small timeframe (Sometimes the very next day!). We once had a client looking for ten thousand branded plastic pens that he needed to be delivered on the other side of South Africa the very next day. While this was impossible, I could certainly see a deadline like that being comfortable met as technology changes over the next few years.

Jul 14, 12:34PM EDT0

How much of your marketing experience is related to online commerce?

Jul 9, 4:14AM EDT0

Not a great deal. We did have some dealings with a large local e-commerce store known as TakeALot in which we supplied them with promotional T-shirts, but not much more than that.

Jul 15, 10:07AM EDT0

What websites or publications do you read to stay current on all developments?

Jul 9, 4:13AM EDT0

Marketing Mix is an excellent local magazine that deals with marketing in various aspects.

As a company, we often check out our competitors' websites as well as conducting our own research in order to stay up to date with our products and branding methods. Some of our largest competitors include Amrod Corporate (http://amrod.co.za/) and Kevro Solutions (https://www.kevro.co.za/). 

Jul 14, 12:51PM EDT0

What well-known advertising or branding decisions are the worst in your opinion?

Jul 9, 2:49AM EDT0

Any advertising campaign that has a basis in making negative generalisations or sweeping claims on some social aspect is generally the worst in my opinion.

One, in particular, was Wells Fargo & Co.'s series of print adverts made for financial planning for education.Wells Fargo & Co.

The advert really speaks for itself, clearly, it was a big mistake to promote more technical fields by degrading creative ones. All the advert really ended up doing was alienating their target demographic.

Jul 15, 12:32PM EDT0

What do you notice when you watch television advertisements that a layperson may not?

Jul 9, 1:48AM EDT0

How important is maintaining business relationships in your area of work?

Jul 8, 3:56PM EDT0


Marketing is high-stress work. As such, good business relationships are essential in keeping the order process from quotation to delivery as smooth as possible. 

Obviously, we need to maintain good relations with clients in order to secure their business. Keeping a good relationship with our suppliers ensures we receive top notch, sometimes preferential, service from them. And within the company, I strived to keep friendly, professional relationships with co-workers, this kept disagreements and therefore time-wasting to a minimum, contributing to the service we prided ourselves on.

It also helped that my co-workers were all great people to begin with!

Jul 15, 10:18AM EDT0

Hi there Edd, as someone looking at going into marketing in the next couple months I have a couple questions.

  • What challenges did you face communicating with people from such a wide range of Countries?
  • What lessons have you learned during your time in marketing?
  • Do you have any funny stories from your time in marketing?
  • Did you have any previous misconceptions about these various countries that were cleared up after communicating and working with them?
  • How do you feel about web plugins such as ad-block? 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!

Last edited @ Jul 8, 2:23PM EDT.
Jul 8, 2:20PM EDT0

Hi Shane, thanks for your questions! 

1. There were quite a few challenges here. Most prominent are the language barriers.

While many African countries have a large base of English speakers, others, such as former French colonies, have their fair share of non-English folk. This is certain to change as Africa carries on with its considerable economic growth.

2. Too many to count. I learned how to bend over backwards for demanding clients without stressing excessively through effective time management. I learned how to speak and correspond effectively with clients and suppliers to ensure I was always up to date with projects and rarely if ever missing small but important details. I learned the value of prioritising my workloads. And I learned how valuable a Please and Thank You is to maintaining good working relationships.

3. A co-worker of mine somehow managed to get lost on his way to a client in Nairobi, Kenya. While asking for directions one of the market store merchants offered to buy him. Unfortunately, my co-worker didn't stick around to find out why or for how much he wanted to do so.

4. The only major misconception I had about these countries was believing that almost nobody spoke English, then discovering after speaking to a fair few people that they actually do and quite well.

5. As someone who had nothing to do with internet marketing, ad-block does not particularly bother me.

Jul 13, 1:43PM EDT0

Can you show us some of your best work to give context to your answers?

Jul 8, 12:38PM EDT0

What misconceptions do most people have about your area of work?

Jul 8, 10:43AM EDT0

What are some technological advancements in the area of marketing?

Jul 8, 8:58AM EDT0

Which personal characteristics have made you successful in the marketing arena?

Jul 8, 7:50AM EDT0

How would you define the business objectives you've helped solve?

Jul 8, 6:04AM EDT0

How many different marketing jobs have you had?

Jul 8, 12:07AM EDT0

I had one job working at a company that supplied promotional products and logo branding services, and another as a store manager in which I handled its marketing needs.

Jul 13, 2:36PM EDT0

What marketing campaigns do you think are particularly good?

Jul 7, 10:08PM EDT0

I'm a particularly big fan of the massive dynamic LED display covering the Life Center in the Johannesburg CBD. It is primarily used by Coca-Cola, especially during their marketing campaigns. One of the more interesting ones was their 2014 Rainbow Nation Campaign, celebrating 20 years of democracy in South Africa.Coca Cola - Life Center

Last edited @ Jul 13, 1:03PM EDT.
Jul 13, 1:02PM EDT0

How has technology changed the landscape of marketing?

Jul 7, 9:15PM EDT0

What did you do that gave you expert, in-depth knowledge?

Jul 7, 9:12PM EDT0

Exposure, primarily. As a representative, I worked in multiple departments of my company.

I would interface directly with clients, our own branding department, and with suppliers in order to ensure that I had access to, and was knowledgeable on, the latest merchandise and branding methods available at any given time.

Jul 13, 10:39AM EDT0

What have you done to be so sharp on the latest innovations and technology in branding?

Jul 7, 8:40PM EDT0

Exposure, primarily. As a representative, I worked in multiple departments of my company.

I would interface directly with clients, our own branding department, and with suppliers in order to ensure that I had access to, and was knowledgeable on, the latest merchandise and branding methods available at any given time.

Jul 13, 10:36AM EDT0

What kind of products did you market the most?

Jul 7, 5:57PM EDT0

The marketing merchandise we sold could be very much trend based, and the needs of one client often varied wildly from the next. As such, a large portion of the products we sold would constantly change to meet their individual needs at a given time. Though a large number of our client's needs were also consistent, with many orders over months and years.

Most recently, fidget spinners and power banks were a big hit among our clients; and with the Southern Hemisphere experiencing winter, softshell jackets, sweaters, and sleeveless bodywarmers were also popular.

Some products that were most consistently sold? Signage and clothing. Aluminium gazebos, flying banners, pull-up banners, etc, remain a popular method of marketing as well as uniforms and promotional clothing.

Among our hotel clients, orders for executive gifts such as leather notebooks, folders, watches and pens were commonplace. Though the design and style of these gifts often change.

The cellular providers we dealt with most often ordered mobile kiosks, out of which they would sell airtime, SIM cards, cellular contracts, and a variety of other services.

Jul 8, 1:53PM EDT0

Are you familiar with marketing in other countries as well as South Africa?

Jul 7, 5:50PM EDT0

My knowledge outside of Africa is limited. However, within certain African countries (Especially ones that are more developing), marketing is still a burgeoning industry very heavily influenced by other, more developed countries.

Jul 13, 10:29AM EDT0

How long did you work in marketing? Are you retired?

Jul 7, 3:51PM EDT0

I worked in marketing directly for 2 years and dealt with the industry indirectly for 1 year. While not retired in the sense that I've stopped working at all, I no longer work in that industry.

I would, however, be happy to enter the industry again. It's a fast-paced, team-oriented career in which creativity and flexibility reign supreme.

Last edited @ Jul 8, 1:22PM EDT.
Jul 8, 12:09PM EDT0

Have you seen companies struggle because of their inability to adapt to technological changes?

Jul 7, 2:43PM EDT0

Over the time I spent in the industry, we saw many competitors and suppliers close down due to an inability to keep up with the shifting changes in the marketing industry. Some contributing factors, in particular, are an inability to meet ever tightening deadlines, increasingly specific client demands, improper correspondence, and an unwillingness to invest in newer, more efficient manufacturing and branding equipment.

One of our overseas suppliers, in particular, fell victim to these factors. We ordered 10 000 business card holders with a client's logo to be engraved on them; all of which needed to arrive at the client within a week and a half. We never ended up receiving the card holders from that supplier.

While the supplier had received the proper quantities, artwork and deadline within which the merchandise needed to arrive at our offices for inspection, they were not even halfway done by the time they were supposed to arrive. At best, it was a struggle to maintain email and phone contact with them. And these were the only methods with which we could even attempt to get in touch with them. We could not even receive a partial order from them as they had not adhered to the layouts we had sent through for the logo to be engraved on the card holders. This resulted in an incorrectly sized logo being printed on them. We also eventually found out that the supplier used outdated, poorly maintained machine engravers, which ended up giving us a logo that was barely recognisable and nowhere close to the professional standard we prided ourselves on. This, specifically, was a technological failure on their part, refusing to keep up to date with the branding equipment we make use of today. Branding companies have largely switched over to laser engraving (And if not, they do at least use up to date machine engravers) thanks to their precision and speed.

Another large part of what affected their failure to meet our deadline was an apparent power surge at their offices that saw them lose a large part of the details of our order. This made it evident that they did not have backup facilities of any kind, and did not use any kind of cloud software -essential for any business today-  either to prevent the loss of data.

We only managed to save some face by referring to a trusted local supplier who did use contemporary and well-maintained branding equipment. This in itself was still a problem as the client had to accept a different business card holder design to what they were expecting, and we were forced to take a big hit to our bottom line due to higher local prices.

This was a huge lesson learned for our own company. From that point, we made periodic inspections of supplier facilities to ensure they could meet both the clients' and our demands and specifications, and ensure they maintain proper communication throughout the order process. This alongside making sure that they use relevant equipment (Nowadays, the vast majority of engraving is done by laser, as opposed to machining.)

As an aside, yes, we did find out that that supplier eventually ended up closing down months after we concluded our dealings with them.

Last edited @ Jul 8, 12:56PM EDT.
Jul 8, 11:53AM EDT0

How long have you been in the business?

Jul 7, 12:00PM EDT0

I worked in marketing for about two years, it was an environment in which I quickly became accustomed to tight deadlines, abrupt changes on big projects, and being as flexible as possible when it came to working hours (This was especially true for international clients). Completing a project from the approval of the quote to getting the entire order through to the client makes the effort all the more worth it.

Jul 7, 1:45PM EDT0
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