By the end of 2014, digital marketing will have taken more giant leaps in the local market. While we digital folk seem to be relentlessly hailing ‘revolutions’ and ‘milestones’, this year is an important one for four main reasons.
1. Certain: Internet population overtakes print
Nowhere is the “lies, damn lies and statistics” saying more apt than in marketing and media research. While online is accurate to the point of information overload, many of the ‘traditional’ media types rely on extensive sampling and extrapolation to find the numbers of readers or viewers.
There is a degree of guesswork involved in the consumption of broadcast media.
The so-called ‘readership’ numbers for print need to be viewed with considerable scepticism. As noted by the media marketing man Peter Langschmidt, print numbers suggest that each copy of the Sunday Times is read by an average of seven people. That’s more than double the average number of household occupants according to the Census.
Effectively, 2014 is the year that internet penetration will outpace print readership. Already in 2013 the internet access number hit around 40% of the adult population. In 2014 this will cross 50%.
For marketers the message is simple: you can now reach upwards of 50% of the total population by using digital. It’s a complex space and may not offer the drama of a double-page advertising spread – but in return you’re getting a responsive, engaging, measurable and flexible medium.
2. Likely: The internet of things
If mobile was the poster child of emerging tech in the past five years, the ‘internet of things’ is stepping up to the podium for the next five.
‘Internet of things’ refers to the connecting of everything other than computers, cellphones and tablets to the internet: fridges, houses, watches, pets, cars – whatever. This has been inevitable for some time but big tech giants like Google and Apple have upped the excitement with some recent major acquisitions.
This matters to everyone in the communications arena because the already crowded media space is about to explode all over again – to say nothing of a flurry of new apps for new devices.
It looks like this year we will start to see some of these new gadgets become commonplace.
3. Hopefully: Affordable broadband in South Africa
While the fundamentals in the regulatory and state enterprise space are unlikely to shift soon, there are many reasons to think we will continue to see the price of internet access prices drop.
For starters, communications costs have become an election issue for the ANC. Yunus Carrim is one of the most determined and progressive individuals ever to have taken the helm at the ministry of communications. It could be that the government is looking for some quick wins ahead of the elections – and this minister is delivering them.
The new broadband policy, published in December, sets some ambitious targets by South African standards, and if achieved, would put us on a par with many developed countries. We can expect the already intense competition between ADSL providers to continue, as well as continued shifts in the mobile data space as networks trade per MB premiums for increased volume. Both depend on state infrastructure and so a dramatic change in underlying costs is necessary before prices drop radically.
But South Africa is reaching a tipping point in terms of internet access. Our lack of competitiveness and the extent to which this is harming the economy is thoroughly understood. Portfolio committees have dealt with communications costs and calculated the damage. And South Africa’s passion for social media is as great as anywhere on earth: something has to give.
When something shifts from being seen as an elite playground to a basic human right, the conversation changes.
For marketers, time to invest in solid online strategies – both advertising and utilities – is running out. Powerful online competitors are emerging in every vertical and, while some are owned by big businesses, many are start-ups that have found the foothold to start winning.
4. With a lot of luck: a true technology revolution
The word revolution is bandied about more now than on the pavement outside Versailles in 1788. I think we ought to confine this word to things that touch hundreds of millions, or billions, of lives. Under that definition, both the internet and the mobile phone count as revolutions of our age. But neither of those revolutions is complete. There are still hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who do not have meaningful access to the internet, and their phones allow little more than SMS.
Many Asian companies, in particular, have seen both of these gaps, and we keep hearing about cheap tablets and smartphones that will introduce a new set of consumers to the digital age. If one or more of these succeed, the internet could really become the most pervasive medium in human history.
For marketers in South Africa, particularly, with immediate access to a continent skipping directly to these new-generation devices, the opportunities are immense. And this could be the year it begins in earnest.
Jarred Cinman is managing director of Native VML and chairman of the IAB.
This story was first published in the March 2014 issue of The Media magazine.