The Reality of Being Online

The Reality of Being Online


Everyone wants to get involved in digital marketing these days. You’re told your brand will cease to exist if it is not online, the endless potential digital marketing has – from building awareness, driving engagement with your brand through to retention, and loyalty – and if done correctly, you’re sure to reap the rewards.

However, fewer explanations have been offered as to what tools are available and – most importantly – how they can be used to improve the way business is done. In this article we take a look at some of the most basic digital tools and how each can be used to meet the various marketing and business objectives.

Advertising has gone through the most fundamental transformation in its history with the emergence of digital marketing and will continue to do so, with the explosion of social media, advancement in technology and the mass adoption of digital engagement by user and consumers alike.

Strategy, strategy and strategy

Like all other advertising media, digital is no different and the first thing brands need to consider is establishing an over-arching digital strategy starting with the following three basic questions:

  • Who is my target market? eg. starting with LSM types, local, international etc.
  • What is my business objective? eg. build awareness, create online  presence, create an online booking system, configure a car during research stage
  • What do I want my prospects/customers to do? eg. contact the call centre, book seats online etc.

From this you have a plan as to why you want to embrace the digital channel. For example, a small flower shop previously only placed ads in local papers, but more and more customers now want to be able to order online via a website and/or mobi site.

So how do brands demystify the digital landscape into a practical digestible plan that meets their digital objective/s? Here are some of the top digital techniques you need to know about:

Creating a virtual business hub online: A place consumers can engage with your brand from browsing through to purchasing your products or services.

Websites: Many businesses underestimate the value of using their company websites as a marketing tool or revenue-generating ecommerce platform. They sometimes see it as a digital brochure or worse, a site where people will just come with no advertising or awareness. Let’s start with the basics – think of your website as your digital headquarters or your virtual showroom/shop front from which you can implement your digital marketing activity across multitude of platforms.

These include social media, email marketing, SMS campaigns – all using your website as the central hub where your customers can interact with, engage with, browse and learn more about your brand and product offerings. Any business that wants to embark in digital marketing must have a port of call, a central hub that can hold and drive any marketing activity. It can be the one central place any type of customer can go to engage with your business, including shareholders investors. It can also be the business itself (eg. an ecommerce business).

A platform like Twitter for instance, only allows 140 characters to get a message across but can be used as a pull to your digital hub where you can finish the conversation.

As part and parcel of building your website, you should invest in SEO (search engine optimisation). Internet marketing or SEO simply means that whenever a consumer uses a search engine for a product or service you offer, you will rank higher than your competitors, which positions you as the stronger brand.

There are various ways of keeping your search engine rankings high, like a regularly updated blog linked to your website. This is a practical way of keeping customers and stakeholders up to date on company news. Insightful content is a must. If you already have an existing website but no SEO, perhaps it’s time to step back and start afresh; it’s never too late to refine your competitive edge.

Mobilising the masses: Putting your brand into nearly 50 million hands covering over 6500 different mobile devices giving anyone a rich and engaging brand experience

MobileThere are more than 55 million mobile phone SIM cards inSouth Africa for a population of nearly 50 million. Approximately 32 million of those SIM cards sit in devices that are capable of access the mobile internet, whilst over 14m currently do. Therefore it is fundamental that a business anywhere – and in particular in Africa/South Africa where more people have access to a mobi site than a website – has a mobi site. There are more people picking up their mobile phone every morning than a newspaper and it’s not only to make calls or send texts – they are reading the latest gossip, checking the weather forecast or booking movie ticket via mobi sites or mobile apps.

Mobi sites can be considered as a compressed version of websites and accessible from most available handsets (if built correctly). They allow you to access all the information that is on the website on your mobile phone. A mobile app is a piece of software specifically developed for smart phones. The user is able to install the software on their device and access information without the browser – unlike mobi sites. Benefits for brands are similar, the key word being “mobile”, which means you are where the consumer is 24/7/365.

No more turning customers away when it’s time to close shop. The latest mobile payment facilities offer today’s users the convenience of making a purchase without having to be in the physical store environment.Mobileoffers seamless one-on-one interaction and engagement while on the move, and can push traffic to your digital headquarters – your website – for a more in-depth experience or engagement.

Driving traffic with a call to action: Market your customer base electronically with targeted, relevant and personalised communications

Email and mobile marketing: If you have an email database you have a group of people who want to hear from you. Email communication allows for immediate action such as direct inquiries, which go far in terms of strengthening relationships, and creating awareness of special promotions and limited offers. It is also a great pull to the businesses website. A trend most businesses have adopted is to send a mass email from a “no-reply” email address, which takes away the convenience of hitting the reply button.

Sending customers on a wild search for the correct email address could cost you the relationship. It’s all about convenience. Make it easy for the consumer to interact with you. Remember that every email communication you send out generates a heap of actionable data you can use to refine your approach and messages. The mobile version of this is the use of SMS or MMS – again an opportunity to market to your customer base using SMS/MMS in a cost effective and efficient way. It has been proven to be more responsive than any other medium.


Where virtual and real worlds collide

Quick response codes: Increasingly being adopted by mainstream businesses, QR codes are two-dimensional codes that can be read by a dedicated barcode reader installed on your smart phone. You can encode text or URL information which, when scanned, will instruct the device to perform a specific action ranging from opening a mobile or web page to redeeming a special offer voucher.

Considering the mobile penetration in South Africa, QR codes can be used as a call-to-action or interactive engagement such as free downloads, or to prompt the user to want to find out more about a specific product. But be aware this still hasn’t reached mainstream adoption and/or know how as to how it is used in South Africa vs the rest of the world like Japan (where it originated) or America/Europe. An alternative is simply driving people to a web address and/or mobi site, which can be more seamless and memorable but without the novelty factors lots of brands/agencies are driving.


Augmented Reality: Augmented reality is a live view of the physical, real-world environment whose elements are amplified by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, and graphics. It can be loosely translated as to where the “real world and virtual world meet”.  Using a practical example, if you aim your smart phone or tablet at something in your physical presence (like a can of baked beans) you will see the embedded images on the packaging come to life.

Augmented reality gives a multi-dimensional effect to what the naked eye would typically view as one dimension. It is still in its infancy stage here but leading brands with higher LSM reach are investing in it as a way to extend the engagement between a brand and its target market.

Social Media

When you hear the words social media, the first thing most people think about is Facebook or Twitter. But social media isn’t just about Facebook or Twitter; it is about bringing together people with common causes and interests. Mobile + Social media = uncontrolled connectivity and mobilisation of the masses. Social media is like a global 24/7 community of dialogues, conversations and engagements, where you can either start a dialogue (e.g. by simply blogging, tweeting), control (by hashtags, register etc.) or just simple partake as an observer, editor or creator.

It has been said that consumers are starting to change their views about traditional advertising as being trustworthy and now look to social influencers (friends, family and other consumers), as more trusted sources. We have entered new ground where the consumer is now shaping (not controlling) the brands we market and businesses cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this.

Social media is helping us catapult the importance of digital within the marketing mix at a level that wouldn’t have been possible before. But let’s not forget that digital isn’t the new holy grail of marketing mix and social media isn’t the holy grail of digital marketing. It just presents a number of opportunities that could become your secret weapon if done correctly.


Consumers are ready to speak out.

A final word of advice to any business that wants to succeed is to remember that, whether or not you choose to engage in digital platforms, the consumer is already there. You need to have a plan in plan in place for when someone tweets about the bad experience they had with your customer. What’s the plan of action?

Just as in real life when a customer walks away from your company with an opinion they’re likely to share with friends and family, the increasing digitisation of South Africa now means they’re also likely to share that opinion on their web forums – making it crucial for businesses to have an online reputation management (ORM) strategy in place. ORM protects your business’s reputation online.

While a real life complaint is likely to be a one-on-one exchange with the customer, a dissatisfied client on social media can tarnish your business’s name to a wider audience much faster. Traditional “word of mouth” has been replaced with “word of click”.

Prakash Patel
Prakash Patel, chief executive officer for Prezence Digital, has more than 18 years of international integrated marketing experience and in particular over a decade of digital experience that includes Strategic Planning, Integrated (online and offline) CRM/eCRM, Website and Database Design & Build, as well as Data Planning and Analysis. @PrakashPatel_1