In Conversation With Vika Shipalana

With an impressive résumé that extends from SABMiller to Pernod Ricard, Vika Shipalana has built herself into one of the most respected names in African luxury. Currently holding the position of Prestige Channel Director at Pernod Ricard South Africa, Shipalana has the job of growing the company’s prestige account base and developing strategies to drive visibility, engagement and sales of the products. She has been able to master the fine art of building and maintaining key relationships with people whose influence lead to the company’s growth.

We had a conversation with Shipalana to learn about her journey into luxury brand marketing, some of the lessons she has learnt along the way and much more.

Tell us how you ventured into luxury brand marketing as a career.

I’ve always enjoyed sales and marketing (both brand and trade marketing) and most of my career has been spent in that space. I started off at SABMiller in Sales in 2003, and have held numerous roles including Sales Manager, National Promotions Manager, Regional Marketing Manager, Marketing Manager and Acting General Manager to name a few. However, I only fully realized and understood my true passion when I attended an Executive Programme at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science back in 2014. We were tasked with working on our vision boards and going through a series of coaching sessions every week. Each time, it became clearer what it was that I loved and was passionate about. Once I was aware of this, I wanted nothing else but to pursue it fully.

You have had the pleasure of sitting in a number of board meetings stemming from the high-level positions you have occupied in the industry. What are some of the important lessons you have learnt from these meetings?

I’m not sure I’d call them board meetings, but rather meetings where I’d be presenting to or discussing key business issues with some or all of the board members of the organisations that I’ve worked in. I think the key lessons for me through these engagements, that I’d like to share, have been the following:

  • Always come prepared. In fact, over-prepared is better than under-prepared.
  • Learn and understand your audience so that your message is relevant and to the point.
  • Be clear on what outcome you would like at the end of the meeting.
  • It’s okay to not speak if you have nothing valuable to add to the conversation.
  • Believe in your work and in what you’re saying. Don’t be doubtful. These meetings can be extremely intimidating but always remember this: no one understands what you do better than you. That’s why they hired you.

How has the African appetite for luxury grown over the years and what would you attribute this change to?

The appetite for luxury has grown significantly in Africa over the years and I believe that the key driver for this growth has been exposure and connectivity (the internet), and in particular, social media. Exposure is very critical for any human being’s ability to grow and learn. When you know better, you do better. Most Africans haven’t always had the access or the means to travel in the past and, therefore, it wasn’t always easy to know things happening in other parts of the world. Nowadays, all you need is a smartphone with data, and within a split second, you are watching the Fendi Spring/Summer fashion show happening in Milan live on your smartphone. Coupled with this, a lot of international brands are looking to Africa as “the next Asia” and this can be seen from the huge influx of luxury brands coming into the South African and Nigerian markets. One can only imagine what’s to come. Exciting times!                            

Tell us about your role as Prestige Channel Director at Pernod Ricard South Africa.

I joined Pernod Ricard 2 years ago and my role was to create a brand new commercial luxury/prestige team for the South African market whose role would be to gain market share for the Pernod Ricard Prestige Portfolio within the South African luxury champagne and spirits market, thereby driving growth and increasing our collective margin and net sales. We did this by targeting high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals and introducing them to our brands; the ultimate goal being that of creating advocates for the various luxury brands within our prestige portfolio. We focused our attention on 5-star hotels, top-end restaurants and trendy bars and night clubs that our target consumers would frequent. We also created experiences for our clients (usually private but some public) where we would bring our brands to life and allow our consumers to have a holistic experience of each of the respective brands within our luxury portfolio, only focusing on those which are relevant to them. I think we did a pretty good job!


Would you say there is a difference in the way you appeal to a luxury consumer as opposed to a regular consumer? If so, how does the approach differ?

Definitely! Luxury consumers are paying a significant premium for a product that could’ve easily cost a third or far less of the price if they were only looking for the functional benefit of that product. Because they’re looking for so much more, the brand or product has to offer a lot more of the “intangible” benefit, as well as a lot more bells and whistles, and in my case, some sunshine and rainbows as well with that, in order to make the consumer feel good about spending so much money.

Also, with regular consumers, you can have much more of a mass approach where one size could possibly fit a lot more people (not necessarily all). With luxury consumers, customization and personalization is key!


Working within the African luxury market is quite tough. What are some major challenges you face regularly and how do you overcome them?

The biggest challenge we face is around differentiation, but I don’t believe that this problem is unique to the African market. Luxury consumers all around the world are exposed to a multitude of luxury brands and products and our job is to prove to them that our brand/product is best suited to their lifestyle and needs. You cannot really compete on minor details in luxury because every brand and product is made with the highest level of quality, care and precision. The key is around the extrinsic benefit, I believe.

The second challenge is around distribution, particularly in the liquor industry. Once consumers are happy and are willing to consider your brand, it’s important that they are able to find it. And conveniently so. If you’re not able to achieve this, you will lose sales.