Many South African companies starting to come to grips with the realities of online and the opportunities it has to offer. The challenge is understanding the value that it can deliver for their businesses and how they can capitalise on the opportunities available.
The greatest challenge is putting in place the right online strategy, that will deliver value and enhance your business. It's all about the most fundamental of principles: reaching out to your customers and convincing them to buy goods and services from your organisation.
This doesn't apply only to the buying decisions they make in the online world, but also to the decisions they make when they are buying through traditional offline channels. Consumers today live in an interconnected media world where their experiences online shape their behaviour in offline channels such as physical stores and vice versa.
Consider the buying cycle of many consumers in the mid to upper LSM segments. An accountant who lives in Johannesburg's northern suburbs might decide that his five-year old BMW needs to be replaced.
One of the first things he'll do is start researching options on the Internet to see what is available, what the prices are and which dealers offer the best deals. He'll review brands, prices and features for all the makes within his price range. Online he has the advantage of side by side comparisons and reviews, including customer reviews.
Armed with the information from a couple of hours spent on the Internet, he may start visiting car dealers to do test drives and get quotes. Any motor dealer that doesn't have a strong presence on the Internet runs the risk of losing out on a prospect who might be interested in driving away one of the vehicles on its showroom floor.
The goal of your online strategy, therefore, is to match consumers with information from your company that they may be interested in to increase their awareness of your offerings and to drive their purchase intentions. The tools that you can use to achieve these goals are numerous, range from email marketing, social media and banner advertisements through to search engine optimisation and search advertising.
What makes these tools different from offline marketing and advertising channels is that they offer you a high level of measurability. You have the ability to see how many people are interacting with your message, which in turn helps you to understand whether your campaigns are driving sales for your business. You can attribute a return on investment to each channel and understand which channels deliver the best value and where they fit in to the broader value chain.
You can gather data that helps you to better segment your market so that you can target the right message to the right consumers. For example, you can understand which advertising environments generate the best responses for your organisation. Over time, you can improve and optimise your online strategy to better meet your business goals.
Digital strategy isn't something that exists as an add-on to your business strategy. It goes right to the heart of converting customers - the very goals of every successful commercial enterprise.