HomeOpinion & AnalysisStrength behind vernacular branding in Zim’s financial services sector

Strength behind vernacular branding in Zim’s financial services sector


By Tinevimbo C Santu

THE array of financial service products available to consumers has increased phenomenally in recent years.

The shelf life for these products has also become very limited as they are constantly being replaced by new and improved versions of themselves.

Continuous innovation is necessary for the survival and sustained relevance of service providers and creating an identity in such a market has given a new meaning to the concept of brand building.

For financial service providers to survive in this era of fast-paced innovation, the creation of a unique selling proposition cannot be overemphasised.

The digital marketing age on the other hand has made marketing more interactive and in the process giving language a pivotal role. There is a clear market shift towards vernacular content marketing and it is important to just take note of how far the financial services sector has embraced this interesting phenomenon and also the extent to which the branding of financial services has been influenced by this shift.

Brand building is not a new concept, but the process has become increasingly sophisticated because of significant changes in the operating environment. In recent years, there has been a wealth of research examining the relevance of culture to consumer behaviour.

This angle of research has been narrowed by some marketing researchers to follow an interesting strand drawn from this larger body of research such as the unique relevance of language to consumer behaviour. The basic argument is that a given culture’s language can play a vital role in determining consumer perceptions, evaluations, and decisions.

It would appear that in Zimbabwe, vernacular language is increasingly penetrating the world of marketing. Opening up of media space via the internet (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and many more) has played a huge role in blowing up of social media marketing and corporates have simply decided to leverage on the huge following that ordinary Zimbabwean comedians have amassed on social media.

The fluidity that social media has given to marketing has allowed vernacular to break certain barriers and vernacular branding in particular just seems to have a certain vitality to it when it comes to communicating marketing content.

In some forms of social media marketing especially influences marketing, Shona seems to be the language of choice aided in some cases by the use of English subtitles to make sure the message is conveyed to all.

In a country where the official language is English, the alternative use of vernacular for branding, is noteworthy since it is a slight departure from the norm. English being the official language, it naturally follows that the recognised business language is also English. Vernacular has in the past penetrated specific markets such as the market for opaque beer with the popular “Chibuku, hari yemadzisahwira” from Delta Beverages, but the financial services sector had for the most part remained associated with branding material that was largely in English.

In the history of the Zimbabwean financial services sector, not one bank for instance, has been branded with a vernacular name. That could have in part been because the original players in that particular sector of the financial services industry were dominated by international brands such as Barclays Bank now First Capital Bank and Standard Chartered Bank.

However, even when a number of domestic players came into the fold, they took on such names as Trust Bank, Kingdom Bank, Time Bank, Barbican Bank to name but a few. To date, the sector does not have a single vernacular branded bank. These banks, however, have started to package some of their products with vernacular names such as Kashagi personal loan and Kwenga POS machine by Steward bank.

The marketing environment in Zimbabwe saw the first popular vernacular branded financial services company with the coming in of Nyaradzo Group back in 2002.

Since then there has been other popular brands in different economic sectors, popular examples being Vaka Africa, Simbisa brands (Innscor family), Padenga holdings formerly Niloticus Division, Masimba Holdings formerly Murray and Roberts etc. Towards the end of 2017, the market saw the coming in of KWESE TV, a subsidiary of Econet Wireless, which operated briefly and closed shop within a few months.

In the financial services sector, the aforementioned Nyaradzo Group has built its whole brand almost entirely in vernacular and through their main payoff line they have branded themselves the people’s “Sahwira mukuru” meaning “great friend” or loosely, more than just a friend.

Nyaradzo has become to the life assurance market in Zimbabwe what for example, pampers product line is in the disposable diaper market and what google is in the world of search engines.

Over time, consumers have started referring to a funeral policy interchangeably with a Nyaradzo policy. Such has been the success of a vernacular branded company operating in the same industry as long-established brands such as Doves Funeral Services.

ZB Bank, through its agency banking arm, has a product branded ZB Pauri /ZB Khonapo which can be loosely translated, ZB where you are, where they are promoting the concept of taking banking to the people. In 2012, FBC launched Pfimbi/Isiphala a savings account. Virl Rural and Social Financial services has Dura, an agricultural loan, and Rugare an asset finance loan.

All these vernacular names share one thing in common, they have the ability to capture local nuances in a way that brings the products literally to life. Dura (silo) with reference to an agricultural loan, Pfimbi (food stored away for future consumption) to refer to a savings account, Nyaradzo directly speaks to comforting the bereaved, a concept very central to the Zimbabwean culture. What a better way to communicate to a market other than using the people’s every-day language.

The trend that the market is witnessing regarding vernacular branding is indeed an interesting one. The explosion in social media marketing has provided a fertile ground for use of vernacular language. Social media marketing has meant the removal of formality in conveying marketing messages even for financial service products which in themselves are generally deemed to be formal and somewhat complex.

The use of skits by comedian brand ambassadors such as the popularly known Madam Boss (Tyra Chikocho Munetsiwa) to promote Nyaradzo products for example has seen the use of vernacular language at the centre of these promotions. The skits done in English would probably lose their original flavour so to speak. Financial service providers such as Banc ABC, Nedbank, Steward Bank, Nyaradzo to name but a few have had to appreciate what is happening in social media streets and draw from the pool of comedians and other influencers to promote their brands.

In Zimbabwe, social media and vernacular language together have produced a powerful concoction that has catapulted advertising in particular, to heights never witnessed before.

While it is true that in Zimbabwe English proficiency and English as a language is generally associated with sophistication and affluence, there seems to be an increased appreciation of vernacular language and the street lingo that comes with it, even within business circles.

One might say that in Zimbabwe right now we are seeing a huge shift in self-love which is manifesting through love for our local languages. Think of the names for new-born babies, a majority of the names are local.

As Zimbabweans, our thinking seems to be mutating from our 80s, 90s thinking where “foreign was lekker” to proudly Zimbabwean. Language is a very powerful tool especially in the field of marketing where everything revolves around communication.

It is interesting to witness how far financial services providers in Zimbabwe are being transformed by something as seemingly simple as choice of language when conveying their brands to the market.

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