A colleague came into my office to brief me on a client’s campaign, and a familiar scenario played out. Her strategy, she said, consisted of television and radio primarily, but that client had also requested a digital component. “Not just banners and crap,” she went on to explain, “but also social media and interactive stuff.”
As a digital marketer, a sentence like that bothers me for obvious reasons, but it always strikes me as odd that marketers who know relatively little about digital planning are always so keen to do the more complex “social media and interactive stuff”, while completely disregarding the basic elements that make up the foundation of solid digital strategy.
In today’s evolving world, digital is an important component in almost all marketing campaigns and all the platforms have a part to play. Depending on the campaign, basic digital can often drive far better value than social media.
Consider that in South Africa broadband and smartphone penetration is still very low so basic digital becomes an important reach mechanism. We have between 6.5 million and 7.5 million online users and approximately 49 million active cell phone accounts. That’s a significant audience both in numbers and in pure purchasing power.
Not too long ago, South African consumers’ online activity was described as ‘BOBO’. That’s a nifty little acronym that stands for Browse Online, Buy Offline. Today e-commerce in South Africa is growing rapidly.
According to a recent report from Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx, retail spend online surpassed the R2-billion mark in 2010. The report attributes this extraordinary surge in online retail to the “constant rise in the volume of knowledgeable internet users in South Africa”.
Not only are these users becoming more web and digital savvy, but they are turning to the web as a first resource when they have intent to purchase. We are now emerging from the recession and consumers have changed their purchasing habits. Local users have become especially careful in terms of what they purchase and how much they pay.
While BOBO may still be the prevalent scenario, (digital retail accounts for less than half a percent of total SA retail) online research and price comparisons made prior to a final decision are in fact driving transactions both online and in brick and mortar establishments.
The bottom line is that a web/mobisite, and by extension, digital marketing, is any business’s store front because that’s where the journey for many consumers begins, even if it doesn’t end there.
Still, I completely understand the allure of social media and how tempting it can be to embark on a digital strategy with flashy creative. But even social media has its limits.
Social media can be an exceptionally powerful tool for creating loyal customers and brand ambassadors, or as an ongoing customer communication tool that’s cheap (or free) and very effective. But is it really as good as driving brand awareness, brand perception, purchase intent and search at the moment of relevance? Research suggests not.
When a marketer hands over their brand to their consumers, as they do through social media, there is no proven formula for success. There are educated guesses and case studies to work with, but to some extent, social media is a gamble.
When a company begins to embrace new technology, I would advise that it starts with something basic and controllable. It’s far easier to tweak a search strategy or some digital creative when the results are sub standard than it is to correct a social media campaign that has gone awry.
Like everything else, digital marketing requires education and experience and even digital experts need to fine tune campaigns in order to achieve the desired results.
To be clear, I am not advocating traditional digital because social media is inherently more risky. I truly believe that all digital marketing platforms available have a place in the mix. But there is overwhelming reason to consider basic digital media for marketing even if it manages to bore my colleagues in traditional halfway to death.
So while both social media and long term digital projects are generally advisable for companies that are only beginning their digital marketing now, it may be sensible to start with the basics: Display, Search, Email and Mobile. Within the digital media mix, there are a variety of tools and platforms that will address most marketing requirements.
As long as objectives are defined and the correct metrics are identified, digital media will almost always exceed expectations.
Moti Grauman is digital media manager at The Media Shop