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Time for bold digital innovation in South Africa

Silicon Valley’s innovators are creating ever more personalised and exciting ways to engage with their customers. Are South African marketers falling behind the curve?

The digital marketing world is moving forward at a rapid pace and South Africa risks falling behind if we don’t focus more on user-centric innovation. Last year, 25AM attended the Google All Stars Summit in San Fransisco. During the presentations and workshops, Google spoke often about what it is doing to amaze its users. The bar is set high these days, and it’s getting harder to impress people with new digital offerings. But across a number of areas, Google is finding ways to create services that are ever more personalised, engaging and exciting.

25AM team at the Google All Stars Summit last year

Here are a few of the topics discussed, and our take on what they mean for South African marketers.


Mobile phones have radically changed people’s behaviour, allowing individuals to resolve their needs moment to moment on a device that is immediate and personal.  This means that marketers today have unprecedented opportunities to speak to people in these micro-moments. By understanding a user’s intent and their context, marketers can deliver services and messages that address their immediate needs. Some 65% of smartphone users agree that when conducting a search on their smartphones, they look for the most relevant information regardless of the company providing the it.

Implication for South Africa

Many brands need to work harder at optimizing their sites for mobile. Some South African brands are missing valuable opportunities to drive conversions because their sites aren’t built with a responsive design, and because they’re pushing out generic marketing messages to mobile users. Marketers need to use behavioural, contextual and location data to offer customers more relevant and compelling content and services.

Customers for life

Online marketing has been too obsessed with short-term metrics such as impressions and clickthrough rates, without taking into account the history of a customer’s behaviour or their lifetime value to your business. Brands need to look more closely at allocating value to a new set of metrics – ones that point to engagement, attribution, social media advocacy and time spent consuming information across devices, platforms and apps. It makes sense to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your customers’ life-time journey and life-time value. Building customer loyalty by allocating value to other conversion points is essential.

Implication for South Africa

Many South African marketers are focused on immediate ROI in terms of clickthroughs and conversions. But since we live in a relationship-based society, SA marketers need to embrace a longer-term view by tracking user behaviour holistically and determining insights beyond the click. Personalisation is crucial.

Brave new world of video

According to a survey, US teenagers are more enamored with YouTube stars than they are with the biggest celebrities in film, TV and music.  This is the new world of the social media celebrity. People are looking for content that they can connect with, and they’re enthusiastic about other people who share their passions. Professionally produced content from traditional agencies and publishers needs to have that same human touch to succeed.

Implication for South Africa

The same trends are unfolding here, with YouTube stars like Suzelle’s DIY videos reaching growing audiences. Marketers need to look at what sort of content is popular with their target audiences and be creative in their video strategies. YouTube is a lean-in environment, where users choose to engage with your brand and are therefore more likely to absorb brand messages better. In this context, creativity and authenticity are paramount, and content needs to offer value. Costly productions are not necessary – on YouTube, the heart and soul matters more than the production value.

 A toothpaste test for mobile apps

Google highlighted just how competitive the mobile app space is becoming. However, more than 9 out of 10 downloaded apps end up abandoned on the average users’ phone; some barely get downloaded at all. It’s easier to build apps than to get them noticed.

That’s why brands need in-app tracking, which will provide them with the insights required to optimise. Most successful apps have passed the toothpaste test, which poses the following questions: Will I use this more than once or twice a day and will it change my life? One example of such an app is the indispensable Waze.

Implication for South Africa

Apps are on many brands’ roadmaps, but marketers who want a good ROI must focus on how these apps can make customers’ lives better. There are very low odds of someone discovering your app unless you’re driving a strategic campaign to get them there, using Google’s Universal App Campaigns or other relevant networks. Further to this, in-app tracking will help brands understand their customer’s behaviour within the application, allowing them to optimise accordingly.

Closing words

Like Google and other Silicon Valley disruptors, South African marketers need to consider how they can be more innovative in their approach to an increasingly connected and demanding customer. We need to look at the entire customer journey and think about imaginative ways of talking to people at every touch point.  It is time to break out of traditional processes and thinking so that we can conceive new ideas that engage and serve our customers. That means empowering employees to be creative, really listening to our customers, and adapting to new trends as they unfold.

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