Kristi Maree answers 5 Questions

Equally comfortable with taking very long strolls on the beach or taking very long international flights, Kristi Maree, marketing guru, has been conquering the world with her enthusiasm, passion and the uncanny ability to have you in the palm of her hand in a few minutes.

We have had the honour of asking this doyenne 5 Questions.


You have become synonymous with shopping centre marketing over the last 2 decades.  What do you think are the 3 most prolific current trends in the South African shopping centre milieu and do you think that we are on par with international trends in this arena?

The South African shopping centre industry is experiencing its most challenging phase in many years. We are confronted with three trends that require focus and rapid response from the industry players:

Shopper demands and expectations that have changed drastically and that are continually changing. Shoppers demand attention, an exceptional experience, on-demand communication, an omni-channel shopping experience and excellent service, to name a few. In short, they want tomorrow, today.

South Africa’s e-commerce that is growing by leaps and bounds due to the increase in shopping via social media platforms as well as cross border shopping as consumers are looking for a larger variety of products at a better price. Previously perceived barriers such as delivery, high shipping costs, refunds & returns and the general credibility of online shopping are fading due to successful solutions that are being put in place.

Offering a memorable experience, not only by the retailers, but also by the shopping centre. From the moment the shopper first engages with the shopping centre, be it on a social media platform, website or asking a security guard for directions to the washrooms. We all acknowledge the importance of the 360 degree experience, yet very few shopping malls succeed in getting this right. We simply do not pay enough attention to this and often try to solve the “problem” with short-term, low impact solutions. The winner in the shopping centre race will be the one that truly puts the customer experience first.


Your extensive travels have taken you to many places across the world.  In terms of the African landscape, what are your thoughts on South African expansion into the remainder of the continent?

Wherever I travel in Africa, be it to Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria or Ghana, I come across some of our favorite South African retailers and restaurants. It is wonderful to have a familiar, favorite dish at Ocean Basket in Nairobi! I do, however, believe that these South African retailers are in many instances lacking a connection with the local market by not doing enough to tell their “story”. A popular South African brand has no meaning to a market situated in North Africa where the shopper’s retail inspiration largely comes from Europe.

South African property developers will continue to expand into Africa. A major challenge is to find the right mix of local, South African and international tenants. As mentioned above, our developers should encourage our retailers, and support them, in their marketing and other attempts to connect with the local market.


From being a marketing guru to accomplishing the tremendous feat of bringing the Ripley’s Believe it or Not brand to the continent, first in 2014 as a national shopping mall tour, and now as the marketing executive for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Cape Town – which has been tremendously successful since its launch in October 2016.

What were the main challenges in dealing with an international entertainment brand? 

There is an almost perfect match between the objectives of a shopping mall and those of a brand such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Both want to offer memorable experiences to their visitors that will result in repeat visits and increased sales. This made it easy for me to engage with the wonderful team at Ripley’s.

For nearly 100 years, Ripley’s has been a world leader in providing family entertainment and despite my career of “only” 28 years in the shopping centre marketing industry, I have learned so much from Ripley’s about customer service, protecting the brand, providing an exceptional experience, attention to detail and having fun whilst getting the job done.

Each project comes with its challenges – the Ripley’s attraction at the V&A Waterfront has been opened for 9 months now and yet we still have people visiting us expecting a show, similar to the popular TV hit show! Marketing is also a process of informing people about the brand and suggesting reasons for them to buy or use it. I am reminded of this daily, even when working with a global giant such as Ripley’s!


The current South African retail landscape leads to much contemplation, philosophising and debate.  What is your opinion on fabulous brands like Nine West leaving the country and the closure of Stuttafords, which sold top brands from around the world?  Do you think that the death of the shopping centres is upon us, looming in the future as is happening now in the USA? 

It is always a sad moment when a retailer leaves a market or closes down, for whatever reason. We are living in a rapidly changing world where retail is affected by much more than just the size of a marketing budget. Globally consumers are feeling insecure and confused and no one spends money easily when having these uncomfortable feelings.

Retailers that do not re-invent themselves and are deaf to the consumer’s changing demands and expectations will continue to suffer to the point of closing down.

A shopping mall only exists because of its retailers and therefore it has become critical for landlords to move much closer to the business of their retailers. For too long the approach of “as long as they can pay their rent” has been adopted and acceptable. Now, more than ever, the mall managers need to push retailers to re-invent, adapt to meet market needs, keep abreast with global trends and challenges and support retailer in this process.

Shopping malls will continue to change, they may become smaller than originally planned, new retailers will join the industry and old ones will close down. The reality is that the shopper has the upper hand as alternative shopping options are increasing by the moment.


What would you regard as the 4 most important attributes an excellent marketing expert should possess?

I have been fortunate to have worked with hundreds of marketing professionals in my various companies and projects. I often contemplate “what makes a good marketer a marketing expert or leader?” and think the following attributes are very important:

Revenue ownership and accountability – Modern marketers no longer can claim success with ambiguous metrics like brand value or impressions, they need to show how marketing directly impacts the business and make sure everyone on their team have this focus.

Smart adaptability – As customers change, marketing must change: use of social and mobile, for example, or how millennials behave differently from other generations.

Customer centricity – It’s the role of marketing to champion the voice of the customer and to share market insights that lead the company. No company can be truly customer-centric and market driven unless the marketing leader takes this role seriously. Marketing must lead the fundamental corporate strategy decisions (where to play and how to win) and be the evangelists that help everyone in the company understand market opportunities, customer expectations and how the company adds value to customers.

Team builder – Marketing is more and more complex. Today’s marketing includes social, SEO/SEM, market research, paid ads, pricing, and many more disciplines. It is impossible for a marketing leader to be an expert on all these areas. One of the hardest tasks for a marketing leader is to build a team of specialists that is highly competent, action oriented, customer centric and revenue accountable. The marketing job never ends: there are always more channels, more opportunities and more activities than anyone can do. Focus and leadership are key.



Copyright © 2017 by Natalie du Preez.

This interview was conducted and authored by Natalie du Preez and is original content,  which is property of the author, all rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be copied, shared or reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the owner.

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