Human-focused Approach Required for S.A Digital Brands to Grow


Digital marketers need to start ‘humanising’ their brands if they want to see renewed business growth. This was a key takeaway from the second annual Outside Insight event, part of Meltwater’s global marketing thought leadership series.

The event was held in Johannesburg and over 250 people gathered to hear leading South African digital heavyweights Brett StClair (Barclays Africa), Jeanine Ferreira (Vodacom), MJ Khan (Sasol) and Jarred Cinman (NATIVE VML) exchange knowledge on how brands and agencies could be more innovative, and more effective, when it comes to online marketing.

South Africa’s top businesses have disrupted outdated industry best-practices by exploring how companies could apply a “growth hacking” mind set towards their marketing strategies. “Growth hacking”, initially a phrase that emerged from a tech start-up community, relies on innovative and inexpensive tactics to drive client acquisition and engagement.

According to MJ Khan, Sasol’s Group Online Manager, content has very little value if it doesn’t address where the audience is right now. The reason a product or service resonates with an audience is because it is right for them at that point in their life.

“Brands need to ask themselves, how can we address the needs of people’s issues right now, instead of the generic ‘spray and pray’ approach,” explains Khan. He emphasises the need for content to be about the audience and not about the brand in the digital age.

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Meltwater’s Johannesburg Managing Director, Matthew Barclay, reiterated the point by touching on how smart media contact database software could allow companies to “growth hack” their digital influence by communicating highly specific messaging to industry relevant influencers and journalists.

Khan also touched on the importance of instant messaging and referenced the popularity of WhatsApp. He used the example of Sasol’s Bursary Programme campaign last year, whereby they dedicated a WhatsApp number and a community manager for the specific channel. They went from 30 000 applications to 52 000 applications just by using the WhatsApp platform alone. “Students just want to ask questions, they don’t want to call or engage face-to-face and we tapped into this,” said Khan.

Brett StClair, Head of Digital Products at Barclays Africa, shared in this sentiment by stressing key partnerships that have relevant platforms for your brand’s audience. His advice is to find the right partner so that you can develop a ‘win-win and win’ – the third win being a happy customer.

How does one “growth-hack”?

StClair shared that growth-hacking starts with really understanding who your customer is; encouraging marketers to embrace failure on the journey to discovering how best to interact with their customers: “You’ve got to try things so that you can fail and then try again. We’ve tried campaigns based on our own assumptions of what our customers wanted and we failed. When growth-hacking, be sure that you are either proving or disproving assumptions so that you have a good understanding of what you are promoting. It’s important to listen to what your audience wants. Growth hacking is about taking advantage of your early adopter, someone who is willing to try your product and give you feedback.”

StClair used the example of ‘dogfooding’ which refers to companies using their own staff to try and test products or services.

Jeanine Ferreira, Digital Marketing Portfolio Manager for Vodacom, showcased the company’s recent NXT LVL campaign as an example of how to secure wide-scale buy-in from the youth market, specifically young women and advised that in order to maximise campaign success, brands should:

  • Make sure campaign instructions are clear and form part of the overall campaign
  • Combine online and offline for maximum effect
  • No brand is an island – enlist the help of subject matter experts to grow reach and engagement
  • Find the balance between love and money – there needs to be a visible link between brand campaigns and sales conversations.
  • Put your money where your mouth is and follow through with your campaign commitments

A panel discussion focused on digital faux pas, transformation and trends.

On the topic of where brands are missing the mark on digital, Meltwater’s EMEA Marketing Director, Heidi Myers, explained that the most common mistake she identified in the digital space concerned a lack of consideration for organisational goals and ROI when committing to marketing activities.

Brett StClair said marketers tended to throw away campaign data. “We think it’s great that our campaign trended, but we don’t delve into the data behind it to understand what went wrong.” This underpinned the necessity of using a media intelligence platform to capture data and analyse conversations that are taking place online.

“A big challenge in the digital industry in South Africa is that we are still untransformed. The marketers in this country are mostly white people who are talking to a market they don’t understand and because of this we are seeing a lot of badly worded content that is completely out of touch with the audience. It all comes down to authenticity, people are looking to make a connection, to feel moved or touched by something, and they will then amplify the message for you,” said Jarred Cinman, NATIVE VML’s Managing Director.

When tasked with identifying future trends across South Africa’s digital landscape, the panellists had forecast:

  • A normalisation of social media in everyday life Increasing focus on instant messaging marketing, e.g. WhatsApp
  • A move toward experiential marketing
  • Mobile operators shifting focus from calls to data
  • Continued development of technology and apps to improve African lives
  • A shift to the chat environment – speaking to the customer through chat and voice chat channels
  • More practical applications for virtual reality and augmented reality technology

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