January 5, 2016 admin

Content Marketing’s South African Challenges

With all of the rapid change that is going on across the marketing, media, and advertising worlds, it is no surprise that people are feeling a little confused about the emerging communications landscape! In many cases it is more like A LOT confused. Why is this the case?

Metamorphosis isn’t ever easy and it is definitely confusing

Confusion happens to a significant degree whenever there is a transition between an established way of thinking and doing, and another newer and less defined way. Resistance to change or new thinking leads to limited thinking that will show no adaptation or willingness to participate in change towards anything new. This resistance to change is one of the key barriers in clearing the muddy waters of content marketing and online publishing.

It just so happens that the transitions I am referring to are so fundamentally huge and jarring that they are shaking the very foundations of the traditional methodologies, practices, structures, and processes used by traditionally purposed organisations to perform the marketing and advertising needs of brands in the past. The effects of these changes can be seen and experienced everywhere you look. You don’t need to be an insightful genius to see this either.

Self published stars from Facebook, Youtube, Linkedin, and other social platforms clearly show that if you are focused, dedicated, creative, and able to provide clear value to a target audience you can build a powerful, engaged, and transacting audience base without having to rely on traditional broadcasting or a huge budget. The broadcasting barrier to the public has been heavily eroded by the introduction of social media in South Africa and this trend will continue to devalue traditional television as a credible medium. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though! We need to remember that South Africa is significantly behind the online penetration and prevalence of the first world (USA / EUROPE / ASIA), and South Africa’s brands and a large portion of its population still use traditional mediums to communicate with their consumers.

Because of this dynamic the communications process is more fragmented than integrated in South Africa. Some brands will be easier to satisfy with purist content marketing strategies and practices because these brands’ target audiences are largely part of the upwardly mobile bracket of consumer who is behaving more like a first world consumer in a completely online and multi-device world. Even though this may be the case, it is important to remember that South Africa’s online culture and behaviours are still in its developmental stages. So please remember to set goals that take these locally immature elements of our online marketing culture into account.

Some of these are:

The lack of use of data to drive iterative, relevant content marketing strategies.

The requirement for data science as a skill set is a globally felt need so you can imagine how lacking it must be here in SA. What this means is that while many agencies and brands may be talking about measurement, they probably aren’t doing much of it in reality. And even if they are doing some measurement you can bet your cotton socks most of it doesn’t actually provide the depth of insight and strategic application required to generative significant growth opportunities for brands either. Using technology to assess and measure impact is a key aspect holding many content marketers back in their pursuit for a closed-loop measurement system that can allow for predictive analysis and planning based on credible and owned data sources.

mobile-phone

Low E-commerce adoption and exposure to online engagement.

Just because the first world has an established online culture, it doesn’t mean South Africa does. In fact, we have been very slow to adopt this method of purchasing things. We tend to still want to walk into a shop to buy, or to make a phone call to a sales agent to purchase. This means that our online habits are not yet the primary driver of engagement and sales, which in turn means that the marketing content you will be producing may well not encourage a better user experience for consumers that are online.

A TV ad can’t just be forced online!

It is clear that many agencies are not clear about the significant differences between specific mediums or channels, and this is evident by the prevalence of flashy banner ads, TVCs forced on to Youtube inserts, and not to mention a huge wallop of sick, sweet brand-centric splurge that doesn’t actually talk to the consumer at all.

Are you trying to spend a client’s marketing budget or solve their business needs?

Having spent much time in the consultation space, I understand how important professional and effective consultation is in understanding the client’s needs properly. This skill is largely built up by figuring out which questions you need to ask in order to unpack the business challenge. It is my experience in South Africa that many marketers or agencies do not apply this initial consultation process, which often means that important up-front questions are not asked, which leads to a lack of clarity on why the marketing campaign is actually being done. It is my experience that many marketers are not actually interested in achieving business value because they don’t actually know how to deliver it. We have to start asking these tough questions and keep driving for the answers that will drive a successful content marketing or communications strategy forward in the right direction.

Ignoring the complete content marketing process in favour of tactics

Many organisations convince themselves that they are being guided by a clear strategy or process, but in truth they are stuck in Tacticsville! It is extremely important for South African creative agencies to start lifting the game from tactics to strategy level. Without a core narrative, strategic design and implementation plan you can forget about achieving content marketing success because it is all about strategy and holistic design, not knee jerk reactions based on clients not understanding what to do next.

Low levels of agency and brand education

Educating yourself, your clients, and your colleagues (not to mention consumers) about the changes discussed in this article is crucial if South Africa wants to experience content marketing greatness. While content marketing is important to the future of many brands, it is the process of education and facilitated learning which will raise the bar here for many players in this space. Education should be a key enabler which you can use across the board as your primary communication purpose – to bring others with you on a journey to the other side of the divide.

Content marketing requires failure and testing to work

If you are not willing to test and experiment with content marketing, you will never make it work. Testing and experimentation is core to content marketing having any value at all because it is a discipline born out of experimentation and tweaking based on consumer feedback. It is my experience again that brands are not aware of what this means when it comes to their own marketing efforts. Very few South African brands seem willing to entertain failure or testing as part of the content marketing process, which eliminates one of the primary processes allowing for useful feedback on their chosen user experience journey. It is in these crucial testing phases that your content marketing strategy is optimised to achieve the specific goals outlined in your marketing plan.

Many brands in SA serve consumers who are not engaging at a content marketing level

Other brands that service a lower end, lower choice consumer will still be heavily focused on TV, Radio, and promotions as its primary communication tools. It is true that this lower end consumer segment is also using mobile, social media, and social chat services. Have a look at this executive summary from worldwideworx called SA’s social media landscape, which provides some very clear statistics on how our environment is steadily being replaced by social media. The presence of social media in a traditionally geared marketing system is definitely impacting on the use of these traditional mediums by creating interlinking and interactive aspects of very static and one way mediums. Social media influence has changed the way in which brands are thinking about what they create for traditional platforms, and how these brands can access valuable and two-way dialogue with consumers based on the social engagement inspired or compelled by the new form content designed for TV and radio audiences. Despite these changes, many brands are still working on autopilot and producing mindless and aimless traditional marketing campaigns that show no sign of new thinking or adaptation, and are definitely not creating an improved offering to the consumer.

social

Social media presence and value has trumped traditional media value

It is important to note that here in South Africa the reality is slightly different to the headline statement. Here there is still a huge need for traditional marketing services. Many brand audiences still use TV, radio, and print to consume content, and they will continue to do so for some time to come. But the rise of social media as the omnipotent ‘voice of insight and reason’ has changed everything for brands, even if they are still going to be doing traditional marketing and advertising. Social media has enabled a gradual shift in the nature of traditionally-minded campaigns so that these campaigns also include a variety of additional and interlinking experiences for consumers, each of which should be targeted at driving a specific action or behaviour.

Marketers in SA needs strong leadership and a deep understanding of change, organisational design and facilitation

This may seem like overkill, but it isn’t. If you want your new content marketing plan to be taken seriously, you are going to have to develop strong leaderships skills so that your plans are taken seriously by the senior leaders in your organisation. You are also going to have to understand how an organisation’s strategy and structure determine a lot about the nature of the content marketing solutions you can enable. How organisations are designed have key influences on how these organisations need to be engaged and organised for content marketing to take its place in your organisation. Where your content marketing department is placed in the organisation is crucial, as is the reporting line that is set to enable ease of execution.

Change management is vital

Remember that the changes affecting every aspect of the communication cycle between brands and consumers are big and scary. People are naturally going to reject these changes because people do not like change in any form. so if you are going to be introducing a whole load of new methods, practices, and tools to get your content marketing efforts up and running, remember that you are actually running a change management program. Understanding some of the fundamentals of change management and facilitation will assist you greatly in achieving change in manageable chunks through high levels of engagement with all stakeholder groups involved.

South Africa’s content marketing landscape is still very complex and fragmented. We are moving towards a set of content marketing practices but these are still being defined through trial and error, so expect a fair to high degree of uncertainty when you play in this space. As a content marketing agency, you may well find yourself doing all kinds of content-related jobs on the traditional and non-traditional side of media. Don’t worry about that because it is going to be like this for a while. So long as you are clear about the nature of the project, what it is and isn’t, and specifically what the client is trying to achieve through the project, you should be fine for now.

It is going to take some time before the dust settles around content marketing as an established practice in South Africa. Get ready for uncertainty and complexity.

Are we ready to take the next step together?

By James Lewis

FURTHER READING: Without Strategy, Your Content Is Just Stuff

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