We all think we know who online users are, but new research reveals we are probably wrong.
Young and rich – this has been the general perception of South African online users among digital advertisers. However, new research suggests that marketers, media planners and buyers may be aiming their digital offerings at the wrong crowd.
“Marketers often complain that digital won’t give them the mass market, the bulk of South Africans,” says Elna Smit of Columinate, a specialist online research group. But a report released in February of research done by Columinate for the Digital Media and Marketing Agency (DMMA) outlines a somewhat different population profile of online South Africans. The ‘SA’s Digital Nation’ report suggests a wider age and LSM range than assumed.
The research draws data from two sources: a panel survey of 1 034 people and a survey distributed to users of various DMMA-affiliated websites, such as News24. The survey reached 2 263 South Africans over the age of 16 and was adjusted to be representative of the general population.
The respondents answered questions about when, where and on which devices they accessed the internet, what browsers they used, how they used social networks and their attitudes towards online shopping. Most respondents were experienced and prolific internet users – 91% said they go online every day.
South Africa’s internet users are mainly from the ‘working middle class’, as opposed to upper LSMs, according to the research. Smit and Gustav Goosen, DMMA head of research and SpaceStation CEO, said this surprised them. “The study indicates that South Africa’s online consumers are not only the very high end of the market, as it is sometimes perceived to be, with internet access being restricted to a select few who have the means to afford devices and connections,” says Goosen.
“The study revealed that 37% of those who are online are LSM 7 or lower. The bulk (66%) are still LSM 8 or higher; however, the increasing trend of lower LSMs and lower income groups gaining access to the internet is encouraging.”
Smit says the age of respondents was another surprise. “Most people think that it’s mainly young people online. But again, 11% were older than 50 and the majority (60%) were 25 to 49. Thirteen percent have a degree, which is high considering that just one percent of South Africans have a degree. And many access the internet from a tertiary education institution. They are an educated bunch.
“But it’s not necessarily a youth market. You are accessing South Africans who work, who have disposable income. It’s targeting the right people (for advertising),” says Smit.
So what should marketers be doing online? Given the low digital penetration in SA – optimistic estimates say 17% – should they even be bothering with online? Smit says that the question of ‘How many people can I reach online?’ is not the right one to ask. “You should be asking: What percentage of the people who spend on your brand are you reaching? As I like to ask: ‘How many BMW drivers are online?’ These internet users are the people with the income to spend on your brand.”
Also, the survey indicated that online consumers are highly responsive to advertising – 82% of respondents said they noticed the ads on the sites they visited and 69% searched for further information on the products they saw advertised. Few were advertising averse, taking steps to avoid commercial messages. Marketers willing to brave the relatively new frontier of the web can reap the benefits of this responsiveness. “There’s a major disconnect between the time these consumers spend digitally connected and the amount of money being spent on digital advertising. This affords marketers a fantastic opportunity to reach these consumers while the environment is still relatively under-traded,” says Goosen.
Smit says advertisers should leverage ‘campaigners’ and ‘eager creators’ more. These are online users who actively, extensively and frequently create content about brands. They engage in several levels of participation, from merely ‘liking’ a brand’s Facebook page to blogging about a brand or making a fan page. Smit says, “These are people with very high social networking affinities. They’ll have all the accounts – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… It’s definitely free advertising, so why aren’t brands utilising these people?” Other consumers are also more likely to trust these users than advertisers themselves – and word-of-mouth is still the most powerful medium, according to Smit.
She adds that advertisers should take cognisance of the fact that most South Africans access the internet at work. This means that ads using noisy, distracting video are not desirable. Respondents preferred graphical ads with images and animation to those with video and sound.
And, as in any medium, advertising needs to be relevant. Says Goosen, “The sample indicated that usefulness and therefore relevance is extremely important to them and that advertisers should plan their digital media buys accordingly and ensure their advertising creative executions talk to these expectations; clearly, one size does not fit all.”