Marketing Trends South Africa

[2009 trends] Big challenges facing marketers

Never before, in the history of South Africa, have its marketers faced quite so many daunting challenges and those that will come through the economic downturn successfully will be those who understand that calculated risk is an integral and necessary part of business today.
[2009 trends] Big challenges facing marketers

While the old-fashioned tactic of battening down the hatches and waiting for the storm to pass will result in abject failure.

The first big challenge marketers face will be to decide just when to start taking web-based consumer forums and mobile social networks seriously. By mid-2009 a new undersea cable is expected to make Internet access faster, more accessible and ultimately cheaper for many South Africans. Which in turn will give impetus to the already growing phenomenon of consumers complaining, criticising and generating false perceptions in web-based social networks. My advice would be to start taking this seriously now.

Tell ten others

Not all that long ago, customer service specialists used to warn businesses that every time a customer went away unhappy, that customer would tell 10 other people who would tell another 10 and in no time a couple of hundred consumers would be walking away from a brand.

Nowadays with FaceBook, Twitter and a rapidly growing number of social network forums, that single unhappy person has the capacity to instantly vent his or her frustration via cellphone and within minutes has told not 10 but hundreds of others about the offending product, service, brand or business. And the more instant the less chance anger has of dissipating. This is what makes the phenomenon a brand killer.

And, as Johnson & Johnson found out to its horror in the US late last year, more and more journalists and radio talk show presenters are finding themselves part of myriad social networks, with the result that the mass media picks up the momentum.


Right now, some companies are trying to solve this problem by employing bloggers, but while this offers a solution in principle, unless that blogger is a seasoned marketer as well, this could result in causing more harm than good. I have been involved in several of these new approaches to monitoring and neutralising web and social media-based customer complaint forums and the successful solution is a lot more complex than one can imagine.

The next big challenge marketers face is just how to manage to do a bigger job on less money as marketing budgets are cut back. Most companies will just hack budgets - not only marketing but all then others as well - as they always do when the economy turns down.

What markets need to do is not just cut every aspect of their marketing across the board but to have the courage to do an objective audit on what worked in the past and what didn't and then just cut back on the non-performing elements of their overall marketing. And this is where calculated risk comes in again because, with an almost completely new situation facing us, it is always a gamble to decide whether things that worked in the past will work again in the future.

Getting attention

Then, a challenge that has been with marketers for some years now will intensify in 2009. And that is just how to get the attention of the consumer. It used to be said that advertisers had two seconds to get the consumer's attention. That number has now reduced to less than a second. With consumers having far wider choice these days in terms of mass media and leisure time activities and with information on demand becoming more and more of a reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get someone's attention via the mass media. In terms of the youth market, it is almost impossible because growing numbers simply don't consume mass media in any shape or form anymore. But, the challenge is not only about getting attention, it is also about holding attention and managing it.

Another challenge marketers face is the ratio between brand-building and flogging products or services. It is always tempting during economic downturns to put branding on the back burner and simply put every marketing resources into moving products or service. But, givwn that branding is key to aspiration or to put it more bluntly, consumer trust, one cannot just put it on the back burner.

Mass media

Hopefully, 2009 will be the year in which the mass media realises that advertising is quickly moving beyond just flogging advertisements, radio spots or TV airtime and has already entered the realms of media having to work with advertisers in terms of constructing promotional packages that not only get the attention of consumers but manage that attention as well.

But, the biggest challenge of all for marketers will be to go back to the basics - something that many brand managers, marketing directors, ad agencies, PR companies and the like have forgotten in their obsession with simply coming up with a "big idea".

Real marketing can be pretty boring because, as one of SA's greatest marketers, the late Colin Adcock, once said, "it is nothing more than a checklist" ensuring that every element of the marketing mix is working in unison. Adcock claimed that if this checklist were applied properly and logically, a marketing project will either not get off the ground or if it does, it will succeed. Funnily enough, the kind of logic that accountants seem to understand far better than marketers.

Half of it works

Which creates yet another challenge for 2009 and that is for marketers to insist that on everything they do has an element of measurement built in. The days of "half my advertising works but I don't know which half" are long gone.

Marketing is an expensive exercise and particularly in this day and age, no-one can be cavalier with it to the extent of simply giving something a try to see what happens.

The marketing industry itself, and particularly its advertising component, need to redouble efforts during 2009 to try and elevate marketing to the position of being a reliable business tool and its advertising component to something more than a lot of people perceive it to be - just some sort of trivial pursuit designed to get those who practice it into Porsches.

About Chris Moerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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