Meet Langa Khanyile: Mondelēz International: Marketing Lead Rest of Africa

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What is your current role, and what makes it exciting?

I am the Marketing Lead for ROA (the Rest of Africa). This represents the greater part of Africa in geography and growth potential. My role is exciting because our team is often the first introduction to Mondelēz across the vastness of our continent and the breadth of our snacking portfolio.  We are a lean team, with great ambitions, and the will to achieve them. ROA is roa-ring with possibility and will drive the growth of our business over the long term. I feel privileged to be able to shape our organisation in that way. 

How has your career developed at Mondelez?

This is my second time at Mondelēz. I first joined the company (then Cadbury Schweppes) almost straight out of varsity in 2007 as the Assistant Brand Manager on Moulded Slabs (“Tablets” these days) for South Africa; and then again to lead Equity on Chocolate for the Middle East and Africa in 2017, before being promoted into my current role as Marketing Lead for Rest of Africa at the start of 2022. In the years between my departure and return, I mostly worked on leading global brands in the alcoholic beverage space and always looked back at my days at Cadbury with great fondness. I’m incredibly grateful to be back, for there are few businesses that truly care about people quite as Mondelēz does – it’s in our DNA, our Quaker roots, and you can feel it. Mondelēz has given me the opportunity to work across the marketing disciplines – from innovation to equity, to managing multiple categories and markets, the opportunities to hone my craft and capabilities are encouraged and unconstrained. 

What does it take to be successful as a brand manager or marketer in the industry?

Love your consumers. Love people. Love humanity. Be fascinated by humankind. Have the desire to serve them as best as you possibly can. Love your brands. Know how they came – AND how they come about, from dust to dustbin. Have a deep hunger to find ways to make your brand ever more relevant to your consumers.

Revere your competitors, but never revel in them. Assume they are working on your constant demise and focus all your energies on serving your consumers better than they could ever imagine. 

Partner deeply with your agency humans, they are your superpower, the multipliers of your ideas and impact.

We work and win in teams and no marketer succeeds alone. Invest in your collegial relationships across this business and in every business you work in, you never know where the next great idea might come from. 

Most importantly, love yourself, for the sake of others, and make time for that which nourishes you, be that family, walks, or doing nothing; you cannot pour from an empty cup. 

What kind of project or assignments have you done outside of the traditional career moves that helped you further your career?

I’ve been fortunate to lead or be a part of both brownfield and greenfield investment projects, where the canvas is clean and broad. The typical challenge we face as FMCG marketers is to develop and deliver growth for existing consumers using existing production facilities and brands. When all three are new, it poses an interesting set of challenges and opportunities. Success on such projects has bolstered my confidence, not only as a marketer but as a leader who is able to connect the dots of my decisions across an organisation and more broadly into society at large.

How do you embed diversity in your marketing activities? 

I am a gay black man living in post-Apartheid South Africa, serving consumers who live in some of the most repressive countries in the world. I am thus acutely attuned to the enormous task we face to make the world more humane for more of us.

The commercial dividend of diversity is straightforward: more diverse teams are more reflective of the world we live in and are thus better able to serve it. 

Internally, I help embed diversity in the organisation by actively seeking to recruit and give opportunities to candidates from diverse backgrounds.

I am also concerned that the communication work we do reflects the communities we serve, for example, by casting and showing more representative people and contexts in our TV commercials, using local languages, and working with more diverse creative development teams.

What, in your opinion, are the critical factors for establishing a brand connection with consumers? (In essence, how do you gain a share of consumers’ hearts and minds?)

Empathy is the key to consumers’ hearts. You’ve got to walk in your consumer’s shoes. The way to grow empathy is to spend time with your consumers, listen to their needs, truly understand them, and then shape your offer and business to best address those needs clearly, compellingly, and consistently.

At Mondelez we call this “humaning”, it is our consumer-centric approach to marketing that creates real, human connections rooted in purpose. Indeed, we are no longer marketing to consumers but creating connections with humans.

 Any advice for future marketers?

The world keeps changing at an ever-increasing rate. Just two years ago, the view was that the more creative fields like marketing would be somewhat shielded from advances in artificial intelligence (AI), yet today we have AI that can develop and deliver the basic parts of the work that we do as marketers with reasonable success, and it will only improve with time.

If we couple this with the progress we’ve seen in e-commerce, the internet of things, and energy storage, then even the retort of the irreplaceability of human empathy no longer holds over the long term.

Think about it, your phone probably knows more about you than anyone, possibly including yourself. AI is increasingly able to harness this knowledge more convincingly, and I can imagine a future where it will be able to transform those insights into creative work that successfully changes human behaviour.

There’s a saying that “AI is not going to replace people, but people who use AI will replace those who do not”. I would tend to agree with that for the foreseeable future, so outside of the essentials of liking people and being a person that people like, I’d advise future marketers to stay abreast of advances in technology and to leverage those to drive performance and productivity where they can.

I would remind them too, of the enormous privilege we are afforded to shift human perception, behaviour, and culture, as well as the equally enormous responsibility to use that power responsibly.