A study undertaken at the University of Stellenbosch Business School investigated the Carvela brand to uncover the reasons for its success and to find out whether Carvela can expand its product range. This brand image was independently shaped by loyal township consumers who patronised the brand. This places Carvela in a unique situation relative to its competitors.
Introduced in the 1980s, Carvela displays all the hallmarks of an iconic brand. It has become embedded in township culture as the quintessential embodiment of style and class. Carvela is mostly worn by consumers who can hardly afford it. However, the strong appeal of the brand makes it a must-have item. Carvela is intimately associated with identity among individuals, subcultures and class groups.
It is extraordinary that the brand achieved iconic status without applying any conventional advertising or marketing methods. Brands with comparable prestige often only achieve this status by investing considerable financial and human resources in marketing and communication.
What were the research objectives?
The primary objective was to explore the factors that led to the popularity and commercial success of the Carvela brand since no money was invested in conventional marketing methods until 2010. The secondary objectives were to:
- Understand the brand's current image
- Gain insight into the brand characteristics which are essential for future brand development or communication
- Examine to what extent Carvela's brand equity can be leveraged for extensions
- Investigate the role that word of mouth marketing played in the success of the brand.
The overriding research approach for this study was inductive, that is, theory was only developed once the data was analysed. Six focus group sessions were conducted by a specialist qualitative research company. The population included users, non-rejecters and rejecters of Carvela. Demographically, the respondents were from the LSM 5-8 group who resided in Johannesburg, Gauteng. The transcripts from the discussions were analysed and interpreted, identifying common themes in the response patterns. The final output was a formal written report detailing the aggregated findings.
What did the research find?
First, the six discussion groups were profiled and findings on aspects such as identity formation, the role of clothing in social interaction, acceptance in the community and competitor brands were explained. Next, findings on the Carvela brand were explained – including recognition, popularity, use, quality and the Italian origin of the shoes.
Based on the analysis, a highly consistent brand image emerged for Carvela among all respondents. The study found that it was possible to build a strong, enduring brand by focusing on overlooked elements like distribution, product innovation and quality. Perhaps the biggest lesson from the study is that Carvela brand owners do not have to control every single element of the brand. Brands can be co-created if consumers are viewed as partners in the process.
This is a summary of a study conducted by Owen L. Mbundu as an MBA research project at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), supervised by Prof Frikkie Herbst, head: MBA programme, USB. The research assignment titled Investigating the success of the Carvela brand in the South African market: challenging conventional branding approaches was presented to Stellenbosch University in March 2013.