Driving Business with Digital

Driving Business with Digital


Are you still asking why you should get social? South Africa’s top digital gurus make the business case for why you should be using digital platforms to communicate with your customers and business partners.

Digital media and marketing can best be described as a multi-platform communication form spanning everything from web-based platforms like websites and social media to mobile platforms such as cellphones and tablets.

“The important thing about digital is that it’s not about technology, it’s about people and relationships,” says Kate Elphick, MD of Digital Bridges. “The medium is just a way of exposing them to the world around them.”

“It’s communication on steroids and serves the ‘instant gratification generation’ by always being relevant,” says Shelli Nurcombe-Thorne, MD of online publishing company Velocity Media. “Users want access to the latest information as quickly and easily as possible. The digital space is very much controlled by content quality – without great content for web users to consume, your influence and presence in the digital space is nowhere.

“Remember that digital is a form of two-way communication. Instead of just pumping out information, you are providing a platform for customers (or potential customers) to engage with you instantly. This becomes a conversation, and the usual rules apply: listen actively and respond immediately, and with care.”

Digital allows companies to gauge customer response to a product, service or advert, allowing them to evolve with the customer rather than dictate to them. If there’s a special happening in two days, you can immediately Tweet, blog and Facebook about it. Compare that to the turnaround times on print, radio or TV advertising.

“Digital also calls for more transparency than traditional media,” says Nurcombe-Thorne. “Bad reviews, for example, are very common and there’s no way for organisations to counter them, other than simply maintaining a high level of service and quality.

However, many of these sites, like Hellopeter, for example, allow the business to resolve the matter publicly and show how it intends to improve in the future. Companies also need to be very careful how they manage their social media interactions, especially where negative feedback is concerned.”

The mobile revolution

Importantly, digital is also a different way of thinking about business. “It’s the new way society connects and communicates and it signifies a big shift in how people make buying decisions,” says Mike Stopforth, CEO of integrated communication agency Cerebra.

“And if the number of digital marketing conferences designed for the SME market is anything to go by, there is no doubt that there’s a big focus on how to make digital platforms work in the sector.”

Prakash Patel, CEO of mobile solutions and digital brand strategist Prezence Digital, says that just three years ago no one really understood digital. “Now people in all sectors of the market are talking about how to monetise digital strategies.

We’ve seen a big growth in social media marketing, website and mobile site budgets. With the huge growth in mobile, it’s as important now to have a mobile presence as it is to have a regular website. Consumers everywhere are using their smartphones and tablets to look for local services – from plumbers to restaurants to car dealers. If you’re not online, you’re lost.”

Justin Spratt, CEO of digital marketing agency Quirk, agrees. “According to Google, 97% of people are searching for businesses on their mobile phones. Google Places for Business is a free local platform that allows you to add photos, update your address and trading hours, or promote your business with ads.

Places for Business lets you make the most of your listing and shows customers why they want to choose you.”

Being on Google Places for Business helps people find, share, rate, and recommend your business to their friends and people across the web. It also lets you see what people are saying, and respond to customer

“The fact that Google is spending a lot of money on location-based search should give you an idea of how important it is,” adds Spratt.

How SMEs can leverage digital

Because it’s still early days, there are so many opportunities for SMEs that it’s scary, says Michael Balkind of digital strategy agency Content Bar. “If you’re going to build your Facebook page, spend money providing your community with content that interests them.

Brands are spending budgets on ‘likes’ but not much on original content. Paying traditional agencies to produce engaging digital content is like paying a digital agency to craft a TV commercial. Go with the people who have the right skill set.”

Balkind offers this advice to SMEs: “Create a digital strategy that outlines the content offering and communication strategy. This should be workshopped by the content team and the brand managers to identify a content offering that will appeal to the community while also ensuring the brand’s core values are reflected.

By identifying the community needs, brands can offer content that relates to the audience. Use content to promote content. Don’t take ads, but rather let the great content be used to promote your business.

He also notes that it’s important to identify distribution channels for the content. Is Facebook where the content will sit, or will it go on the business’s website or on third-party portals?

Mike Sharman, owner of digital agency Retroviral, says strategy is always the most important element of a brand’s communication. “It must support business objectives. Only then is it possible to fine-tune the necessary tactics. Facebook isn’t relevant for all brands, nor is Twitter.

It’s important to understand what your customers want from you and to tailor the communication accordingly. Budget considerations as well as target market are very important.

Spending hundreds of thousands on a Facebook app, for example, when you’re talking to a market accessing Facebook from a mobile phone is a waste as these apps are not yet designed for mobile browsing. Marketers are keen to jump on the social media bandwagon but considerations for SMS, email, and search engine optimisation must be made – these are still some of the most successful tactics in a digital marketer’s armoury.

Nurcombe-Thorne says the problem is that businesses that don’t have a lot of experience with digital strategies tend to go for the first thing they recognise, without realising that there are lots of different approaches that can be taken.

“The best strategy is ‘trial and error’. Try something. If that doesn’t work, try something else. With digital, you know immediately whether your customers have responded well. You can measure how many people have seen your ad, and how many people clicked on it. There are also ad serving systems that can track a user to the advertisers’ website and report back on their activity – did they merely show an interest or did they proceed and make a purchase?”

Sharman says that SMEs must develop a digital strategy, but also be open to changing tactical direction if need be. “Constantly assess and redirect. Set benchmarks. Listen to what your customers want. Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing.

The research is out there and it’s free because your competitors are tweeting, Facebooking and blogging it. Use this to your advantage. It’s also important to identify brand ambassadors and influencers relevant to your industry. Find those people and nurture them.”

Stopforth says the beauty of digital is that it allows SMEs to dabble. “You can spend R100 on Google, see the returns and measure them, and then choose to spend R1 000 or R10 000, depending on what works for your business.

The other really cool thing is that from a PR perspective, digital marketing enables you to create a larger than life perception of your brand, even if you’re operating from a garage.”

Because production costs are cheaper, you can punch above your weight, adds Sharman. A great example is dollarshaveclub.com in the US. The company, which sells razor blades for a dollar, produced a transparent, simple message using video. It was so successful that  it went viral and global with over six million views.

Sharman makes the point that the Internet generation is more forgiving of user generated content than its predecessors. “That means home video style content is acceptable. Added to that, the costs of placing your message on a variety of platforms such as social media ads, blog ads, and banner ads is a lot cheaper, so your buck goes much further.”

Dollarshaveclub’s f**king great video

Here’s what makes this video so successful. First company founder, Mike tells us what Dollar Shave Club is and what they do in the first ten seconds. “What is Dollar Shave Club.com? Well, for a dollar a month we’ll send  you high quality razors right to your door.”

Then Mike tells us about his company and what they do; he informs us that his blades are, “F**king Great!”  The YouTube video too is called “DollarShaveClub.com – Our Blades are F**king Great.” It’s a catchy title and one that makes people laugh. “The number one rule in the digital age is don’t be boring. Boring sucks, and it fails. Rather take a risk and be interesting,” says Sharman.

Keeping your message alive

Many businesses seem to think that having one or two social media pages is all they need to be ‘digital’. In fact, every page created needs to be built and managed with a clear focus and with the intention of interacting with consumers.

Creating a Facebook page and never updating it, never commenting, never taking in information from your fans, and never informing consumers of ‘what’s new’ with the brand is worthless to the business. “Don’t give customers a voice if you’re not going to listen,” says Nurcombe-Thorne.

Elphick agrees that a social media presence is not sufficient. “It’s important to be there, but we need to recognise that engagement is critical. It’s incumbent on the people behind the business to entertain their audiences or provide a reason for people to give their attention to the SME. Time is precious. Make sure that you give people value in exchange for their attention.”

Patel says it’s important to go back to the basics of marketing when it comes to the digital space. “What is your brand, product or service? What are the benefits of being on Facebook or Twitter? The point is to reach your target market, recruit them and retain them.

The ‘retain’ part is key, and you can only do that by engaging customers in a conversation. Whatever you do, don’t do it half-heartedly, and make sure you are giving the customer value, such as useful information or a discount voucher that they can redeem in-store or online. There has to be some benefit and value for them or they’ll cease to engage.”

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.