Digital trends: talk sense not ‘digitalspeak’

TRENDAFRiCA August 28, 2014

By Lynn Wilson, chief strategy officer, Havas Worldwide Johannesburg

Some digital marketing communication agencies in South Africa have fashioned an aura around the concept of digital marketing communications so as to create a mystique around the entire notion. 

I believe that this mystification, this sense of being part of an exclusive sect of individuals who are ‘in the know’ versus those who are not, has created considerable angst for ‘outsiders’.

The result of which could be summed up in two main observations:

1. We have the digital ‘outsiders’ (digital immigrants) who generally feel that there must be something highly esoteric and therefore difficult to comprehend and master about eMarketing.  This perception has left them apprehensive, wary and somewhat beholden to the digital insiders. In their most ‘shadow’ manifestations, they outright refuse to accept that marketing communications in the 21st ’century has taken on a new complexion. Some go on to spend time and effort on regaling how ‘what once was’ still ‘should be/is’ so as to repudiate the devolution of the art and science of marketing communications.

2. Then, we have the digital ‘insiders’ (digital mavens and natives) who have to some extent relished a sense of control and power and sought to further mystify the realm of eMarketing so as to capitalise on same. They perpetuate the myth that ‘digital’ is indeed a mystical, mysterious craft best practiced by those who are in the know. They have at times cajoled many a trusting client into initiatives with dubious results because the underlying psychology of ‘fear’ was at play.

At the end of the day however such a power play serves no one.

eMarketing and its commensurate channels/platforms constitute an exciting and much welcomed evolution in our marketing communication toolkit. An evolution, which I believe, we should openly relish and subscribe to, as the reconstitution of share of voice finds greater balance between brands and the constituencies they wish to serve.

However, as with any marketing communication practice there will always be room for a thorough, logical argument. There is in my mind, never any just cause, to relinquish one’s own powers of intelligence and decision making to anyone calling themselves an ‘expert’.

Likewise, there is no logical reason why anyone in a marketing role should believe that they absolutely must be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+ etc., simply because other brands are and it seems to be the ‘done thing’.

Reason will illuminate that digital channels/platforms have strengths and weaknesses just as traditional ATL and BTL channels do.  Some digital channels/platforms will suit given marketing communications objectives and some will not. As we progress in our understanding of what works and what does not under different circumstances, the more we learn about channel /platform strengths and weaknesses, the more we learn about threats and moreover, opportunities available to us, the better we become in the practice of our science and our craft.

For instance, Twitter, a platform readily synonymous with the dissemination of the 140 character headline, great for quick, sharp, newsy announcements, also turns out to be a surprisingly effective customer service platform. Hence, the choice of channels/platforms that comprise a digital eco-system ought to be pursued with as much rigour, investigation and inclination to continuous improvement as the choice of ATL or BTL media.

The role of each digital channel/platform within a given digital eco-system ought to be determined with the very same fervour so as to capitalise on, and add value, to the experience of the constituencies we seek to serve. It is also preferable, that the role to be fulfilled by the channel/platform is particular to that channel/platform with as little duplication across the digital eco-system as is possible.

Else, for instance, the role of the website becomes terribly confused with the role of Facebook. In such a situation the question to be asked is why the duplication? Will one not usurp the other in time? If so, which will stand the test of time? Already, there is discourse around the sense that Facebook pages may replace websites in the future. Perhaps this is indeed true. However, the notion holds more credibility for categories in which the expectation of the brand experience is such that Facebook simply adds more value than a website.

The content of the communication in the digi-sphere ought likewise to be interrogated. It is not advisable to pursue straightforward image and message transfers ex ATL campaigns since the communication dynamic on digital channels/platforms is more closely aligned to story building than storytelling. Story building encourages a dialogue as opposed to perpetuating a monologue. Story building encourages engagement of the “share, like, comment” ilk.

Expectations of engagement however need to be peppered with a dose of realism. South Africa is not as advanced in the digi-sphere (except perhaps in certain aspects of mobile) than other developed and developing countries. Digital use and trends are nascent.  Digital numbers, although growing, are still relatively soft. Generally speaking, according to the 1:9:90 principle, the propensity to actively engage with and originate content is limited to a mere 1% of the digital audience, whilst a further 9% are inclined to augment and pass on content originated elsewhere to the remaining 90% who are basically ‘voyeurs’.

Digital agencies ought to be playing a far greater role in demystifying the realm of eMarketing and spend less time trying to exert control which will anyway be short lived as the time in which there is no distinction ‘between the lines’ becomes more and more palpable and new entrants to our industry come versed in all aspects of our game, as we should be.

What it comes down to is this: the sharing of knowledge for the greater good, which undoubtedly is likewise, good for business.


Source: Havas Worldwide Johannesburg. Havas is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, headquartered in Paris, France. It operates in more than 100 countries, including South Africa.


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