Change can be slow and gradual, like a glacier. Or it can be like a tsunami, devastating all in its path. Sometimes, it takes the middle road, steering a course that changes so subtly and imperceptibly, you don't notice the change happening all around you. That's the way it's been with online marketing.
Major inroads were made with online marketing, and it would be fair to say 2007 was the year the Web came to be accepted as a marketing tool in South Africa: it was the year the Web became pivotal in organisations' marketing mix. There were five major indicators to validate this, and they point the way to the future:
Facebook and social networking: Facebook has been valued at $15 billion, through Microsoft's $240 million investment in the company. It is a marketing tour de force, with more than 80 million active users representing a magnetically attractive market. Microsoft gets to control Facebook banner ads outside of the US, and will sell banner ads globally for the next four years. The world's leading software company now ays Facebook represents one of the greatest marketing opportunities. But it's not just Facebook... there are so many social sites that no one can track them all. Wikipedia has done some of the work, and 20 of them have more than 10 million members. Together, these social networks represent aggregated collections of people sharing interests, and in most cases volunteering their personal information to complete strangers. From Bebo to Orkut, from Friends Reunited to MySpace, from Tagged.com to Xanga, social networks represent viral marketing at its most powerful. So social networking will really take off in 2008.
A huge increase in bandwidth and drop in costs led to a situation where online users have never had as much choice at such low price points. The availability of online top-up cards at Engen garages and Pick 'n Pay is an indicator that bandwidth is now becoming a commodity. And as Telkom's grip on telecoms is increasingly relaxed, it's going to become increasingly available, and affordable.
Media sites are working well, and online companies are turning in good profits. In this regard, there was a pivotal event in October 2007, when the New York Times and International Herald Tribune reversed a three-year-old decision to charge readers for their most desired, or Premium content, as it was branded. People, it has been shown repeatedly, will not pay for content on the Web, no matter how desirable it is deemed to be.
The blog space is maturing, and in many ways became mainstream. Nowhere was this better evinced than by the Sunday Times's David Bullard stirring a hornet's nest in the local blogosphere by belittling it (he since closed his blog, or Bullog). For the first time, a mainstream newspaper was dovetailing with a blog, with the lines between the content less clearly defined than they had been. Then there was the Simon Grindrod issue, where the ID former mayoral candidate was accused in a local blog of having an affair with a male prostitute. For the first time, millions of people heard about blogs. The use of blog aggregators, such as Bloglines, also came to the fore as people needed a way to keep track of all their content. Locally, Mark Keohane leads the way in the blogosphere, with his rugby-centred keo.co.za having made him a relatively wealthy man. The lesson for marketers in all of this was that blogs represent a way to get closer to communities of interest; and they need to consider the impact of blogs on reputation management. In time, there will be ways of using blogs for marketing.
The blurring of lines in South Africa between traditional and digital agencies as several of the former acquired the latter. Wunderman acquired Aqua Online; and Isobar acquired Trigger. These signal that the two kinds of agency are aligning, and that traditional agencies on the one hand can't build their own digital competence, and on the other hand cannot go forward without it. And, most importantly, when bidding for business, they need to keep the money in the agency.
Lessons for 2008: It's too late to be behind the curve and think you can catch up. There's real money in the market, and you need to be a player. There is major bidding for serious accounts. If you are a player in this space or want to be, you need to be the real deal. Online has got serious, and anyone involved in this space had better get serious too.
About Cambrient Cambrient is a leading content management company in South Africa. Offering both services and software products, Cambrient is the most experienced local team in the industry, with almost 10 years' experience in the field. The company has an extensive and excellent track record in servicing many small and large companies in the country - as well as some significant international customers. Cambrient owns and manages its own software intellectual property, and has put in place a suite of products over the past five years which are regarded as world-class. Its product suite includes a powerful content management system for large and medium organisations, as well as a business process management system, on which most of its large projects are based. Services include a full spectrum of consulting services, project management, and website and Intranet development. Cambrient believes in making a difference to the lives of end users, and its systems are designed with this in mind. Whether it's the software the company develops, or the advice it offers, Cambrient understands user needs when it comes to content management. The business is 100% privately held, and is based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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