In our work, helping small and medium businesses grow, we’ve made some interesting observations that I thought you might find interesting and that could possibly help you with making choices for your branding and marketing efforts in 2018.
By Thembe Khumalo
The first and most obvious thing has been the growth of social media.
Without a doubt the most powerful tool for communicating with audiences, advertisers in Zimbabwe and across the continent have embraced this as a primary channel rather than an optional extra.
Many believe Facebook is the key, but looking ahead, I predict that it will be overtaken by Instagram, but more on that another time.
The challenge for many businesses in Zimbabwe has been in understanding the “social” aspect of social media.
Appreciating the importance of engagement is the key to success with interactive platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It almost seems as if we have been stuck so long in a space where we push information out to consumers via TV, radio, outdoor and newspapers and then wait for the cash register to ring, that we have forgotten the art of making conversations with our customers or with those we would like to have as customers.
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Simply pumping out posts on social media is not enough.
Nor is it adequate to have high numbers of followers or likes (we all know these can be bought for a price).
What you really need is engagement, because that tells you that the information you are putting out is useful and valued by your audience.
I started my career in advertising 20 years ago as an assistant in the direct marketing division of Michael Hogg Young and Rubicam.
In those days, direct marketing was something of a poor relation compared to above the line work.
It was cheaper for clients, which meant lower billings for agencies, it often involved a lot of unskilled grunt work like data capture and product sampling.
I dreamt of moving upstairs to the “big boys club” that ran exciting television and print campaigns, and eventually I did.
I’m glad though that I got that foundation in direct marketing because it is a trend that is making a come back, and a strong one.
What we used to call database marketing is now known as big data, but I am amazed at the number of large corporates that have failed to tap into this as a golden nugget in their marketing arsenal.
If you think about the number of times you have entered you name, email address and telephone number into some type of form or list, you will soon see what an amazing resource the information that businesses gather is.
More than contact details, businesses have information on their customers’ preferences and interests in line with the goods or services they sell.
This knowledge is gold, as it allows you to develop customised communications and at a minimum should guarantee you repeat purchases from every single one of those customers.
At best, it means legions of loyal brand ambassadors for life!
If you are running a small business, you would do well to develop a habit of collecting analysing and using this information now, while your business is still small.
The larger and more complex it becomes, the less you will feel inclined to engage with the masses of information at your disposal.
Even when you come to purchasing a customer relationship management (CRM) system, you will find it easier to make decision and evaluate the usefulness of one against another if you have a basic method of interacting with them already.
One of the most powerful uses of database marketing is email.
If you are not yet sold on email marketing, maybe this simple statistic will help sway you: For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect a return of $38.
Yes, those statistics come from the developed world, but technology is closing a lot of the gaps that we have used as excuses not to push ourselves further, and even if the return on investment was half of this number it would be more than worth it.
To add to this, data shows that personalised emails receive transaction rates that are six times higher than others.
According to Forrester, a leading market research company that provides advice on existing and potential impact of technology, to its clients and the public, people are twice as likely to sign up for your email list as they are to interact with you on Facebook.
So does this mean that you can just start blasting your customers with random emails every week and make piles of money from it?
Its a science, and you need a professional, at least to get you started on designing an appropriate sales funnel, identifying your customers and prospects and ensuring you don’t become just one more “send to junk mail” statistic.
Finally, I believe in 2018 we are going to see a lot more use of new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing — yes, even in Zimbabwe.
It’s early days yet, but these technologies are becoming more affordable, and the younger breed of consumers have an appetite for them.
When you combine these with direct marketing and social media, there’s no telling where your brands can go in 2018.
I certainly am looking forward to supporting some of our customers along on that ride.
Thembe Khumalo is a brand builder, storyteller and certified life coach