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The Opportunity In Digital Marketing


Slow internet take-up has left South Africa lagging when it comes to the nuances of online selling, says Nick Cowen. So, now’s the time to get it right.
Image: ©Unsplash Image: ©Unsplash

Online advertising is big business, and it’s growing fast. According to research commissioned by industry body IAB South Africa, spending on online ads almost doubled in 2015 alone. Advertisers spent around a billion rand on display ads, plus a further R2.35-billion on search-based advertising, such as Google ads.

There’s good reason why: digital marketing can be effective at reaching huge numbers of people in a cost-effective manner.

And the industry is crying out for professionals to help it do this.

“The advertising community is pretty small, comparatively speaking,” says Natalie Boyd, freelance digital media consultant, citing one popular Facebook group for marketeers which has less than 1 500 members.

“The skills needed are a combination of things: you need to be good at copywriting, you need to understand the fundamentals of marketing – briefing, art direction, targeted content – and, most importantly, you need to be able to interpret data and work with numbers,” Boyd continues. “Of all the agency roles, you end up coming into contact with clients more than most, so you need good people skills on top of everything else. And you have to keep up on global trends and consume lots of media.”

Digital marketing is something of a rarefied field – so much so that many traditional advertising houses prefer not to have a digital content strategist as part of their employment base.

“Digital marketing is becoming more of a part of advertising campaigns,” says Mathew Rowles, CEO and founder of marketing firm The Neighbourhood. “But in our case, we’d contact our digital partners. We’d never do that in-house.”

Furthermore, while digital marketing has only just started to make its presence felt as an essential part of advertising, it’s rare to find it offered as a formal qualification.

“I didn’t study a degree in digital marketing,” says Boyd. “I studied communications and ended up doing what I do.

“I don’t know if there will be a time when formal training in social media will exist,” she adds. “It was barely in my degree – which was not that long ago, in 2012. There are workshops you can do and in-house mentoring, but that’s it at this stage.”

Beyond the lack of skills and training, the biggest problem facing the growth of digital marketing is that many of the bigger local brands don’t understand this type of marketing and don’t know what sort of campaign they want.

“I think it’s to do with the fact that we’re very behind on trend uptake in South Africa,” says Boyd. “For example, native advertising has been around for years in the West, but it still hasn’t taken off here, because the bigger local brands are very 1990s in their approach. Does everything have a logo on it? Is everything branded to death? You have a lot of people at bigger brands who are still focused on direct marketing as their default approach.”

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