For digital marketers, trying to keep up with the furious pace of change can be a full-time task. New platforms, tech tools and apps fall in and out of fashion within months, and clients demand results but with little appetite for risk-taking. So how are some of South Africa’s leading digital strategists and marketers approaching the digital challenge in 2016?
Brave Work Please!
Mike Sharman, founder of digital agency Retroviral, says that his main goal for 2016 will be helping clients to do “brave work”.
“Last year we had a very safe year in the industry, not just locally but internationally as well,” he explains. “There’s a lot of disruption around the world in different markets – so I think companies are being cautious with spend, and where they allocate marketing budget.”
Given this conservative backdrop, Sharman says his agency is looking to “reignite and re-inject the life back into brands” so that they can start telling more powerful stories and differentiate themselves, and ultimately convert marketing to sales.
“Brave work comes down to the narrative, and to telling stories,” he adds. “We’ve seen a trend (the Superbowl ads, for example) towards an almost ‘theatre of the absurd’…there’s a lot of opportunity for brands to tell stories that tie back to their actual core or essence.”
For brands, it’s therefore important for them to understand what their unique story or essence is.
“Our medium of choice very often is video, because of the incorporation into Facebook timelines, the increase of YouTube spend, etc…these platforms have given us the opportunity to engage with consumers at ‘eyeball level’,” notes Sharman.
Test, Test and Test More
Craig Rodney, MD at communications firm Cerebra, says his main focus will be on testing work, again and again.
“It is critical that we keep testing different ways of doing things,” he explains. “Assuming you know what works is dangerous, so you have to test, learn and evolve your digital marketing approach constantly.”
In addition, Rodney wants to “do less, better”.
“Putting tons of content online doesn’t always work – you need to do fewer things but do them better,” he says. “Your brand doesn’t need to be permanently relevant online – that’s borderline desperate – rather pick key times where your contributions will be most valued, and invest in doing a better job in those moments.”
Finally, he wants to begin playing with new platforms and content types.
“You don’t need to know what you’re doing before starting,” says Rodney. “Often, starting is the only way to learn enough to know what you should be doing.”
Simplify Channel Strategies
Matthew Arnold, head of media and analytics at digital agency NativeVML, says his focus will be to simplify channel strategies and “focus effort on detailed targeting within each platform”.
“So, essentially focusing on depth of execution as opposed to breadth of channels,” he explains. “There is so much that can be done with clever targeting and detailed audience targeting – which provides excellent results as well as innovative media opportunities.”
With regards to actual platforms, he says that most platforms remain relevant in some way for a period of time.
“I guess a big missing platform in today’s mix is MXit,” says Arnold. “After using the platform for many years, it’s strange to not have it as part of our arsenal. Facebook, Twitter and messaging platforms like WhatsApp have totally eclipsed this space.”
His colleague Mike Jones, strategic planning director at NativeVML, says his goal will be to “start with people, then look at technology”.
“Remembering that people are whom we are trying to engage with [is critical]…The technology is nothing without them,” he insists. “To be less cynical, media retargeting and persona development is key in creating a working digital marketing mix.”
Leverage social platforms for business
Farren Roper, CMO lead for Microsoft SA, says his resolution is to “win with some of the ‘new age’ social platforms like Instagram for Business and SnapCha”’.
“Companies that can crack the code here may have the first mover advantage,” he says. “The tools that are no longer relevant are the front end tools that show me vanity metrics like likes and followers. Now I use back end tools to measure engagement and social listening, to give me insights on softer things like feelings, sentiment, etc.”
Roper adds: “The element that is indispensible for me is an always-on mobile and digital component to my strategy. You can’t afford not to do it, not in South Africa -which is a mobile-driven society. Even my in-person events have a Mobile element to them.”
Defining and optimising digital conversions paths
Evan Milton, strategy director at digital agency Hellocomputer, says conversion will be a key mission for 2016.
“‘Conversion here can range from a hard-to-quantify element like brand equity, to a strictly measurable element like buying a product in an online store,” he says. “The 2016 resolution is to truly understand these conversion paths, and all the digital and real-world touch-points along those paths. This encompasses measurement and analytics – which is becoming increasingly powerful and comprehensive across all channels. But it also includes understanding the digitally-connected person that we’re communicating with.”
Another key focus will be borrowing from the continent, as well as learning from markets abroad.
“It is true that the digital economy in South Africa lags behind Europe and the USA, and behind developed Asian markets, in terms of devices, connectivity and bandwidth,” says Milton. “But there are important African continent innovations and approaches that we can – and should –learn from and implement. ‘Mobile’ means something entirely different on African soil as we embrace a growing market whose first ever experience of connected communication is via a mobile screen, and where technology innovation is being led by immediate societal needs.”