Digital marketing trends for 2017 (part3)

Digital Marketing

In part three of my exploration of digital marketing in 2017 (part one and part two), I delve into subjects I haven’t covered yet such as apps, B2B and tracking ROI digital marketing trends, and acquired more insight into other trends. I caught up with Lana Strydom (EHOD – Digital, Content and Social Marketing at Vodacom South Africa), Jeanine Ferreira (Senior Portfolio Manager: Digital Marketing at Vodacom South Africa), Justin Spratt (Head of Business, Sub-Saharan Africa at Uber), Michel Holworthy (Senior Specialist: Online Marketing at Vodacom South Africa and Terence Gomes Rei (Specialist: Digital Marketing at Vodacom South Africa).

How will Digital Marketing ROI Be Measured?

We live in challenging times from a macro-economic perspective, so it’s no surprise that companies are scrutinising marketing ROI more than ever before while digital marketing – which is no different – will be stepped up in 2017.

Here’s an example; Google’s research revealed that about 92% of product-related Google searches on cellphones lead to a product being purchased, and this does makes sense. This subsequent purchase may take place in-store. However, this sale may not have been attributed to the product-related Search Marketing efforts which should have been the case. Digital marketing spend must accurately reflect its offline effect on consumer buyer behaviour.

Jeanine Ferreira believes that 2017 will be the year of attribution: “Attribution modelling will become more sophisticated and more companies will start working on online-to-offline attribution. Google and Facebook are working hard to implement this in South Africa through satellite and beacon technology.”

Can traditional marketing boost digital marketing’s effectiveness?

There is definite symbiosis at play. Traditional marketing such as TV and radio ads play an important role in helping to generate online buzz and often act as an overall catalyst for marketing success. Digital marketers would see this impact in the form of a sudden increase in the number of related Google searches and website visits.

Jeanine shares her thoughts: “TV, and especially radio, will contribute to digital’s success and vice versa. Combining these different marketing channels will add another dimension to marketing in 2017. This, combined with a more robust understanding and implementation of data brings us closer to customized marketing – probably the only reason why consumers will not install ad-blockers on their devices.”

Apps need to provide more value

Most brands want their own apps but is there a proper value proposition for these apps to exist?

Terence shares his perspective: “As the South African market steadily moves towards being mobile-focused, the competition for downloads is on. According to a study conducted by research giant, Nielson, the average smartphone user has 27 apps on their phone and if you want your app to be one of them, then you best be creating value for the end-user.

Undoubtedly, 2017 will see increased innovation in apps through the likes of AI, virtual reality, IoT and wearable technology which provides users with tools they may not even be aware that they need or want just yet. But it’s not enough to have an app that only has cool gimmicks. If it’s not helping the end-user in some way, then it is likely to sit on their phone inactive until one day they realise that they do not use it and inevitably delete it. Go innovative but keep it relevant.”

Content marketing’s prominence will grow

I touched on this slightly in my last article but Lana Strydom gives us deep insight into the subject: “The concept of brand as publisher has been prevalent for the last few years, but we’re now seeing some serious movement in this space. Content marketing plays a significant role at the top and middle of the conversion funnel, driving awareness and engagement while often providing information and education around complex products and services. Data-driven content that enhances the customer experience along the various stages of brand engagement is going to drive a significant change in approach to content production.

“Measurement and attribution models which show the contribution of content marketing to brand and commercial objectives are going to draw significant focus. In line with demand from major brands, we’ve seen some specialised content marketing agencies develop, often straddling hybrid publisher-agency roles.”

What about B2B digital marketing in 2017?

This type of digital marketing is not often in the limelight but it’s intriguing nonetheless. B2B marketers will continue to win with LinkedIn this year. Online content’s importance will continue to expand for B2B marketers.

Justin Spratt has fascinating ideas about where B2B digital marketing will go in 2017: “I think email will see a continued rebirth, specifically in the B2B space. Business buyers increasingly procure through a consumer lens so much of the B2C ideas will extend to this category. This means social signalling, backed by emails with direct calls to action, will work – a simple mechanic but very hard to get right. But get it right, and suddenly that tight marketing budget looks abundant.”

Michel Holworthy said: “B2B content marketers believe that content marketing is one of the most effective lead-generation channels today. Lead generation and website traffic are some of the top goals and metrics in content marketing in 2017.  Most B2B companies are more concerned about getting more potential clients and find tremendous value in personalised touchpoints.”

That’s it for digital marketing trends for 2017. Let’s conquer digital marketing this year knowing that it is full of exciting opportunities and challenges too. Be resilient, be a risk-taker and most of all, be curious!


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Digital marketing trends for 2017 (part 2)

Here’s part two of my trends articles on digital marketing. Thanks to all the contributors for their insightful thoughts.
In part two of my exploration of digital marketing, I decided to find out where other marketers see digital marketing fit into brands’ marketing mixes in 2017. I caught up with: Mzamo Masito, Managing Executive: Brand Marketing & Communications at Vodacom South Africa; Fran Luckin, Chief Creative Officer of Grey Africa; Justin Spratt, Head of Business, Sub-Saharan Africa at Uber; and Tanya Hibbert, Marketing Manager at Vodacom South Africa.
(c) Leung Cho Pan -

(c) Leung Cho Pan –

How will digital marketing fit into the 2017 marketing mix?

Digital marketing’s influence on consumers is more prominent than ever, of which all marketers need to take advantage.

Mzamo Masito had this to say: “Digital marketing continues to be relevant for brands that want to build ‘brand love’ while increasing shareholder value. Great benefits of digital marketing are that the consumer has power, and our role is to connect people to live a better today and build a better tomorrow.”

Fran Luckin is another expert who believes in the growing importance of digital marketing: “Is it not time to drop the word ‘digital’ from ‘digital marketing’? Digital connectivity is so pervasive that marketing can’t happen without it anymore. ‘Digital’ isn’t a ‘medium’ in the sense of it being a ‘channel’. It’s a medium like water or air. It’s everywhere and most – if not all – of our lives take place in it.”

Tanya Hibbert thinks that marketers need to embrace innovation in the form of digital marketing: “Twitter changed the world with just 140 characters. Embrace innovation – what you pilot could be the next big thing.”

Clearly we must forget our old notions of what a marketing mix should look like. Digital marketers and traditional marketers need to work more closely together for overall success in 2017.

Justin Spratt shares some interesting thoughts: “2017 is the year in which enlightened marketers will stop having conversations that include ‘digital marketing’. The marketing war has already been won. Take a bow, Internet.

He continues: “I’ve used the word ‘Internet’, instead of ‘digital’ because it’s more informative. While the word ‘digital’ is commonly used, it is amorphous enough to have little specific meaning. The Internet talks to the disruptive technology that’s driving changes – not only in marketing, but in the very way in which we live and interact. It is the mechanism that needs to be understood to win. I haven’t used ‘the web’ because this is just one execution of digital and the Internet.”

Will digital marketing replace traditional marketing?

I don’t think so, but I believe there will be an infusion of digital marketing and traditional marketing elements like never before, such as more widespread execution of digital-lead marketing campaigns.

Spratt expands on this in vivid detail: “This doesn’t mean it replaced above the line, below the line, brand marketing or direct marketing. No, it has been suffused into all marketing through subliminal cultural osmosis. So called ‘television commercials’ are now born digital and flighted with higher frequency on the Internet than through broadcast mediums.

“Below the line isn’t really effective these days without a digital activation funnelling customer data into databases in The Cloud for future marketing. Perhaps out-of-home is the last vestige of traditional advertising where big, beautiful print-designed banners can be both visceral and effective – and while digital is coming through tracking and timed-displays, it doesn’t come close yet.

“So, where does this leave digital this year and into the future? I believe the demarcation between digital will fade with more rapidity this year. And it must, for marketers to be successful. Siloed marketing is dysfunctional and costly, and mostly renders ‘tick-the-box’ campaigns. Digital is not a channel, it is part of every channel, so to separate it is to fail at marketing.”

Where will creative ideas come from in 2017?

The Internet is a powerful tool that impacts today’s creative process, which I touched on in my previous article.

Spratt makes a few strong statements on the matter: “Whether people like it or not, every creative idea now has its genesis fuelled by the Internet. It has been a foregone conclusion to many people, for many years. Google and Facebook have built their businesses, now accounting for up to 95% of all digital media money and potentially supplanting over 10% of all advertising budgets this year.

“Naysayers will argue that these are only ‘digital media companies’. Wrong. Google harvests intent to buy, and Facebook fosters and promotes intent through social signalling. The goal of marketers is to promote intent, either indirectly through brand or through direct messaging and placements designed to ignite that ‘first moment of truth’. And furthermore, above-the-line agencies continue to suck up the social media budgets, thereby protecting egos. All of this is not to say other forms of marketing do not work – they do – it’s just that Google and Facebook have shone a light on a much more expeditious path to marketing-led revenue by using the Internet.”

Is 2017 is a watershed moment for the whole industry?

I’ve experienced the dynamic agency life for a few years and it may be in for a shakeup this year.

According to Justin Spratt: “I believe that digital elements will continue to give life to a barely-breathing industry whose procurement wounds are close to mortal. But of course, this puts pressure on everyone, and digital needs to shoulder its responsibility for toils of its new empire.

In many ways, 2017 will be a watershed moment for the entire industry. There is likely no more runway for many embattled small- and medium-sized agencies, so I expect to see consolidation driving talent back into the bigger agencies or driving the talent to contract themselves back to agencies.

I think contracted talent phenomenon has a lot of runway; it solves the need for agencies to manage capacity – often a margin killer – while still using the very best talent. It gives power back to the talent who’ve taken the brunt of the pain with longer hours, no-increases, no-bonuses and increasingly risk-averse, pedestrian work. The only downside is for the brand, ensuring lock-in and exclusivity that was promised to said brand in previous years. The building internal agencies – except for the most very talented brand marketers – is a fad and will die (again) as the pendulum loses momentum.”

So, it’s clear that we are in for quite a year. I believe that the marketers who best adapt to these trends will come out on top. I think that if something doesn’t offer challenges then it isn’t worth pursuing. So, with that logic in mind, clearly digital marketing’s dynamic nature will guarantee quite a winding ride in 2017.

Look out for part three in which I delve into more digital marketing trends, such as more digital platform and B2B developments.

My article first appeared on

Digital marketing trends for 2017 (part1)

(c) rawpixel -

(c) rawpixel – – courtesy of
I especially enjoyed writing this piece on Digital marketing trends for 2017.
I’m more or less a self-taught digital marketer (formally only studied marketing). It’s my curiosity, risk-taking nature and creativity that got me to where I am today. It is this curiosity that led me to ask the question, ‘What should we look out for in 2017 when it comes to digital marketing?’ I share my thoughts on trends and I caught up with many digital marketing experts, like SA‘s digital marketing pioneer Rob Stokes, founder and non-executive chair at Quirk/Mirum Africa and Red & Yellow School to get his thoughts on the year ahead.

What does it take to be a digital marketer in 2017?

To stay ahead in 2017, digital marketers need to be tenacious, risk-takers and hungry for knowledge. Speaking of knowledge, education, training and mentorship will accelerate this year. Simply put, demand will continue to outstrip supply – there is a substantial digital marketing skills shortage in SA now. Educational institutes like Red & Yellow School will play a significant role in fixing this.

Digital marketing in 2017 carries tremendous opportunity for students looking for a career path, as well as marketers of all types. Digital agencies will continue to seek out top talent which blue chip clients demand. Companies are also on the lookout for digital marketing talent to collaborate effectively with their agency counterparts.

According to Stokes, a digital marketer needs to possess a few personal qualities to achieve success, and but above all, genuine curiosity. “Everyone loves to talk this game, but precious few people are actually able to live it. It’s a rare character trait which more humans should strive for if they want to compete in the 21st century. Once you are curious, then you need the ability to apply what you’ve learnt through this hunger for knowledge into value-adding creative thinking, innovation and problem solving.

“The role of the marketer is to know their customer, develop products and services that meet their needs and then build a programme of communications to express the organisation’s purposes.

“I feel that currently the innovation part of this mandate has been pushed aside in favour of extra communication. In my opinion, this is not an effective strategy in the long term.”

Where are we heading in 2017?

Remarkable digital marketing must combine data-driven creative ideas with the relevant, innovative application of technology. Let’s give consumers ‘intuitive brand experiences’ to communicate effectively with them.

Online consumer behaviour can guide the ideation process. Internationally, advertising agencies are taking advantage of crowdsourcing and AI for creative ideas and executions. A new digital creative model has emerged and SA will follow suit. Personalised online content can now be scaled like never before.

We must step up our understanding and ability to harness Google’s and Facebook’s algorithms (the mechanics of how they work) to effectively get our messages across to consumers this year. There is a good chance that Snapchat will become a viable marketing platform, especially with its promising, just-launched ad tech platform in mind.

Stokes shares interesting insights: “Mobile phone sales are now predominately smartphones. This means that on the digital side of the marketing mix, industry professionals now have a market that is – for most of our current planning intents and purposes – using smartphones. This is significant because a smartphone is not just a phone; it’s a connected computer in your pocket that knows who you are, where you are and can communicate with you directly and in an incredibly rich way.

“The opportunities are endless, but they are also different. Porting a tactic from another channel to mobile is unlikely to be a super effective strategy. It’s an incredibly exciting time, but we have to be whip smart to make the most of it.”

What will digital marketing budgets look like in 2017?

Brands’ 2017 marketing budget allocations will compensate more for the year-on-year increase in consumer smartphone usage, as well as an increase in their usage of other digital technologies. I see digital marketing budgets increasing in 2017.

Stokes is optimistic about the likelihood of digital marketing budgets increasing in 2017: “I say yes, purely on the basis that for sound economic reasons, they should. The time consumers are spending on digital channels as a proportion of the time they spend on other channels is far greater than the corresponding marketing budget apportionment. This makes no sense because marketing spend should at least roughly follow consumers’ attention. The gap is still large because most marketers are risk-averse (ironically, given their definitional mandate to innovate) so logically it needs to close even if budget still lags reality for a while.”

I’ll end with one caveat. When it comes to the world of digital marketing, always expect the unexpected coupled with lots of curveballs. I believe it’s best to keep an eye out for shifts in trends and be ready to adapt your craft.


This article of mine first appeared in

SEO – Search Experience Optimisation

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

©Marcel de Grijs via 123RF

SEO – Search Experience Optimisation

So what is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)? SEO is the art of creating an unrivalled website experience that consumers love to explore, as well as providing users with what they are looking for, while simultaneously reaching the brand’s goals. I believe that SEO is an evolving digital art; a means of developing a website, improving its usability, optimising its content and spreading the word on the Internet. When I refer to optimising, it means to create content that offers clarity to the user in a South African and global context.

Google is the Gateway to the Internet

An easy way to understand how Google and SEO work is via a simile: Google is like an extremely vast library, where the books are replaced with websites; when a South African user searches for something on their search engine, Google’s librarian or algorithm will select a range of websites for which it thinks you would find applicable. Google is the entry point to the Internet for many people. SEO revolves around getting your website not only selected by Google’s algorithm via the appropriate words or phrases, but also to feature very prominently in this selection or search results page.
SEO from a South African point of view requires research and testing, not to mention a lot of patience to achieve the desired goals of the brand. When kick-starting an SEO strategy, we ask ourselves: “Does the brand want to drive sales or raise its online awareness? Are the brand’s products or services associated with relevant search words or phrases? Do the brand’s values shine through their website content?”
When it comes to SEO, you will often read or hear about ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Keywords and key phrases are the words or phrases for which you want consumers to find your brand’s website via search engines – your brand would like to be synonymous with these words or phrases. SEO is often misunderstood; good SEO is not about jamming the copy or text on your website full of keywords. Rather, a well-executed SEO strategy revolves around clear website architecture, a well-researched keyword and content strategy and tweaking the website copy, making sure it’s relevant, original and of high quality.

What Can SEO do for your South African Brand?

A high visibility in Google’s search results equates to an increase in brand recognition to a large degree. A high ranking website is most likely seen as a sign of authority and credibility in your brand’s South African marketplace.

Google searches are driven by a goal; South African users use a search engine to find information about a product or service they either want or need. Well-executed SEO will drive relevant traffic to your website, which should significantly increase your website’s conversion rate (the rate at which South African users take a desired action). Such a desired action could be completing a Contact Us form, making a purchase or requesting a quote.

Google provides brands with access to each stage of the consumer’s buying cycle. In brief, consumers will search out information at each stage of the buying cycle. So, by targeting different keywords associated with each stage of the buying cycle, you can effectively access these consumers.

The Mechanics of a Search Engine in South Africa is Google South Africa‘s local search engine which most South African’s use. Google selects the best possible websites to appear in their result pages for their South African users’ queries. To quote Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google: “We believed we could build a better search. We had a simple idea, that not all pages are created equal. Some are more important.”
Your content must match what your target market wants or needs; in other words, your content strategy should be centred on relevance to the South African user and the brand. When your audience is searching via Google for the service or product your brand offers, don’t let a competing brand take that potential lead; effectively executed SEO will significantly reduce the chances of this happening.

Digital-lead Marketing

Brands spend a great deal of money on above-the-line or traditional advertising that often displays the brand’s website address/URL, or just promotes the website, this could be a TV ad, billboard or print ad, which displays a link to the brand’s website. In today’s digital world, I feel brands should be spending more on digital advertising, especially SEO. While the above-the-line advertising can and does help drive organic traffic, the website must be streamlined for the highest potential ROI.

Google allows consumers to ‘pull’ marketing messages, which are usually ‘pushed’ onto consumers via traditional advertising. The marketing message that consumers ‘pull’ from Google should be the same as and effectively synchronised with the above-the-line advertising campaign. Your brand’s content strategy should provide relevant, timely content, which would be indexed by Google and appear in its organic search results.

Track A Tangible ROI

Like any other form of marketing, calculating your brand’s return on investment is crucial. Digital marketing, SEO included, requires a different approach to traditional marketing. Brian Sheehan, the author of ‘Basic Marketing: Online Marketing’, had this to say about digital marketing: “While the traditional purchase funnel is about delivering the right message at the right time, the online purchase funnel is focused on measuring the right data and continually improving numerical results. The online funnel is all about measurement.”

Your digital agency should provide you with in-depth reports on a monthly or ad hoc basis. These track the progress of your brand reaching its relevant goals. An example of a goal could be simply to drive more organic traffic to your website through high organic search ranks.

This is an excerpt from an article I for Ogilvy.

Digital marketing – 2013 perspective is still mostly relevant today

I wrote this article in 2013. Apart from a few stats, Google specs and the mention of MXit, it is largely still relevant today. Perhaps I’m naive to think that digital marketing would have advanced more than it has to date. However, a lot of what is discussed can be seen as fundamental components of digital marketing, which are less likely to change much anytime soon. As corny as it sounds, let’s still try push boundaries each day in the office.

Digital marketing from a 2013 perspective

Digital marketing from a South African perspective
I believe that an effective digital presence is crucial for any brand to truly succeed in today’s digital world and South Africa is no exception. You need to understand the dynamic and evolving digital marketing practices in a South African context.

Digital marketing revolves around the end-user, people who browse the Internet. This means that digital marketing is focused on the user-experience of the consumers who browse the Internet.

Digital marketing is composed of various specialised disciplines: Search Engine Marketing, Display Marketing, Web Development, Mobile Marketing, and Social Media Marketing.

The current South African digital landscape

Fourteen million South African’s or more than 30% of South Africa’s population* is now connected to the Internet. This accounts for 39% of South African adults*. A fascinating truth is that using the Internet is more popular than reading newspapers in South Africa, because 17% of South Africans read a newspaper daily while 22% use the Internet daily**.

Google it

Search Engine Marketing consists of Search Engine Optimisation or SEO and Paid Search.

In reality SEO refers to the new and popular “Google” verb, namely, to “Google” something or someone on the Internet. It is therefore important to have a noteworthy presence in this digital space. Most browsers do not type in a website’s address or URL but instead they Google it. What is the point of having a brilliant website if no one can find it?

The entries with a white background, in the middle of the page and below the beige “box” are known as “organic” search results. Organic/Natural Search Results are largely seen as more credible than paid search adverts by browsers. The general digital marketing industry consensus is that these organic search results are far more credible than paid for ads, because they are generally perceived as more relevant and are not seen as manipulating the search results.There are two types of possible entries on a Search Result Pages (SERP). There are the paid for adverts (Adwords) in beige “boxes” at the top, and as a vertical list on the right side of the page. These ads can also include images now.

A digital agency should focus most of their efforts on the Google Search Engine, because, in short, is the most visited website in South Africa***. Therefore the vast majority of all Internet or online searches in South Africa are done through SEO is critical for your website to be accessed by more of your target market because most Internet browsers only look at the first few search results on the first page. Google search is the primary entryway to the Internet for consumers, so it makes sense that your brand is very visible in this digital landscape. That is why SEO is crucial for your brand’s long-term online visibility or presence.

While SEO focuses on the long-term visibility of a website in search results, Google’s Adwords ads are ideal for short-term campaigns. Adwords ads can, however complement your long-term online search visibility efforts as well. The most prominent form of Paid Search Marketing is Adwords. By using Adwords to promote your website you will widen your figurative “net” for you to gain prospective customers via the Internet. A well-executed Adwords campaign can be quickly tailored to meet the exact and changing requirements of the above-the-line campaign you are running for your brand. Through Google’s peerless grasp on the demographics of Internet users, you can target the consumers who would be interested in your brand.

Pictures can say a thousand words

Display or banner advertising is the oldest form of digital advertising in South Africa. Display advertising has progressed like every other digital marketing discipline. Google’s Display Network is the largest ‘broker’ or network for placing display adverts on third party websites. Your Google Display Network ads can be videos, interactive, text, or images.

Like Adwords, you can also target consumers who would most likely be interested in your brand. Many in the digital marketing industry believe that display ads are very useful for generating online brand awareness.

Do people really like your brand’s website?

No matter how successful your brand is your website should be user-friendly. Browsers of your website must find it an enjoyable experience. This user-friendly or usability factor coincides with your website’s need to also be Google-friendly. Google wishes to provide browsers with the best possible user-experience through their search result pages.

Lastly, your website should be mobile-device-friendly as well. This is because the majority of consumers access websites via their mobile phones or mobile devices as well as on their PCs. Some consumers access websites only via their mobile phones. I suggest that your brand should have a website with a responsive design. This means it is a desktop website that simply adjusts its appearance for compatibility on mobile devices. A responsive website negates the need for a mobile or mobi site, thereby halving the site maintenance.

Going mobile

South African’s are using their mobile phones and mobile devices to connect to the Internet like never before. Twenty percent of all South African Internet users connect to the Internet via their mobile phones only***. You can target consumers with Google Adwords ads or Display Network ads on their mobile devices, while they browse the Internet. Harnessing this mobile platform has become an integral component of today’s digital marketing.

Digital Applications or Apps for mobile devices are an important mobile digital marketing tool. Engaging consumers on their mobile devices has never been more important. An exciting mobile development is augmented reality, which is applied through ‘AR’ Apps.

Sharing your social life

Social Media is part of the very fabric of modern living; this includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Mxit, Google+, Pinterest, blogs and many more social media platforms.

Whether you use Social Media Marketing for online brand awareness, reputation management, advertising campaigns for launching products or all of the above; there is a great opportunity for your brand to benefit from Social Media Marketing. Facebook, for example is a brilliant digital ‘demand generator’ via word-of-mouth. Many people view Facebook as a digital PR medium only; but Facebook users tolerate adverts because they browse Facebook to be distracted; as a form of escapism. Social media metrics should be focused around relevant interactions with your brand to achieve your goals.

Digital synergy

Digital marketing is evolving at a rapid rate. The above digital disciplines are the major components that make up contemporary digital marketing. Your brand should strive to be at the forefront of this exciting digital world.

Statistics courtesy of:
*University of Witwatersrand, Echo and Word Wide Worx.
**University of Witwatersrand.

My article first appeared in 

Biz Takeouts Radio Interview: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016

On Thursday, 3 March 2016, Biz Takeouts Marketing and Media Radio show host Warren Harding (@bizwazza) chatted to Stephen Sandmann (@stephensandmann), strategy and development specialist at Quirk to look at his take on all things digital, SEO and trends that you should know about for 2016.
[Biz Takeouts Podcast] 164: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016

We spoke to Stephen about digital agency trends to look out for in 2016, search strategy, development and SEO trends. We also looked at innovative digital marketing solutions via search, new tech and other media that marketers should currently be looking at.

Lastly, we look at the importance of creativity in digital today and the role of mobile in Africa.

Click here to listen to my interview (scroll down the page to ‘Episode 164: Digital agency trends, SEO and innovation in 2016′ and click play). This article and radio interview of myself appeared on

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

Our craft, as digital marketers, must evolve with the times. I’m referring to today’s ‘No Interface trend’. Trend Watching, the trend experts, have summed it up well: “people want to feed their growing addictions to digital info and live in the present moment; consumers want new, more natural forms of interaction with technology. Speech, gesture, touch, and sight: truly intuitive technologies are set to transform your customer interactions forever.”

When people think of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), they usually think of the traditional type of SEO, based on desktop and mobile Google search. As an SEO strategist, I’ve always been striving to apply this digital marketing discipline in new, innovative ways. Part of me has always wanted to be a creative.

Just Google it

Google recently got the digital marketer inside me intrigued with their “OK Google” advertising campaign, which the 72andSunny advertising agency produced for Google and rolled out in New York. Google integrated voice search calls-to-action beautifully into outdoor media, even on bowling balls. This campaign was rolled out roughly six months ago, to promote its “OK Google” voice search app. So, the advertising world had yet to catch on to this technology and such a campaign concept.

Digital marketing innovation with Google Voice Search

©Marcel de Grijs via 123RF

Google Now on Tap

It was recently announced that the revamped Google Now called Google Now on Tap, will become incredibly intuitive and take the No Interface trend to new heights. Google’s future Android M will play host to Google Now on Tap. Watch Google’s video here and be amazed.

According to PC Advisor, the new Nexus will make use of Android M. They also state that major Android brands should also utilise Android M in late 2015/early 2016.

A South African perspective

I’m currently involved in such a campaign. The above-mentioned voice search idea worked well for me because it brought together three key parts:

      • a mobile-centric, high-income target market (campaign-specific);
      • consumers use Google to answer questions that needed asking; and lastly,
    • an innovative, creative concept required to break through clutter.

That being said, with innovation, always comes new challenges. There were inherent risks involved; for instance, there was no local voice search-related data to support the concept’s plausibility. The voice search technology had to be tested extensively to see if it, in fact, could be used within the campaign.

The overall technical aspect of the voice search technology of the campaign was developed and tested from scratch, with no previous campaign to benchmark directly against. We did not partner with Google for this campaign, but they kindly allowed us to make use of their voice search technology.

Try it out for yourself, and ask the below question via voice search to reveal a specific, local fast food brand’s website (links to this page) in the search result page:

    • “Are your milkshakes really made from potatoes?”

This voice search SEO concept is being fully integrating into traditional advertising, via point-of-sale collateral, packaging, billboards etc., which will incorporate campaign-related voice search questions. This through-the-line campaign is the first of its kind for a brand in South Africa, and to the best of my knowledge globally speaking too (I know that Nestle UK announced a voice search campaign a few days after our campaign launched).

Be brave and curious

So, I humbly implore all South African digital marketers to be brave and curious by pitching fresh ideas that are both imaginative and ROI driven.

My article appeared on here 

Tips to win at digital marketing – Paid search and SEO

Digital marketing’s search engine marketing (SEM) can be summed up as a means to harness Google search for your business, as part of your business’ marketing mix to increase product sales and/or brand awareness.
SEM consists of search engine optimisation (SEO) and paid search (Google’s AdWords) ads. Often businesses either invest in SEO or paid search ads but not both, or most likely not adequately investing in both. However, businesses should invest in SEM as a whole for various reasons.

Paid Search can break through clutter via innovation

Dunkin Donut’s executed paid search in an innovative and powerful way. Be inspired by watching this video.

SEO can piggyback off the latest tech to cut through clutter

McDonald’s harnessed “OK Google” voice search through SEO. This video explains it all.

Keyword research

Organic search and paid search keyword conversion data should be shared freely amongst both the SEO and paid search teams. For example, a well-executed paid search campaign will reveal insightful keyword-related data. This is the case because, for example, such a paid search campaign will show which keywords are resulting in the highest conversions, which, in turn, can then be focused on by the SEO team. In this way, SEO and paid search ROI can be maximised through focusing on the keywords that matter.

Alignment makes SEM cost-effective

This is quite obvious in highly competitive search categories, such as the financial industry. This is the case because paid search ads that target highly competitive keywords can be exorbitant. These expensive keywords would usually be popular non-brand-related search queries, keyword ‘z’ for argument’s sake. Keyword ‘z’ costs many hundreds of rands per click, resulting in a massive monthly bill. Naturally, this source of business leads would also dry up as soon as you stopped paying for your ads, while SEO is ongoing and not as ‘payment sensitive.’

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With SEO (assuming your website ranks #1 for keyword ‘z’) you will get a large amount of website traffic via keyword ‘z’, but you will only have to pay for SEO. What can end up happening is that paid search cost per conversions for keyword ‘z’ are much higher than SEO’s cost per conversion for keyword ‘z’. So, in this case, the paid search campaign was focused on brand-related keywords (less demand for them so they are affordable to target), where competitors’ ads could potentially detract from the company’s brand-related organic search listings.

These keywords perform better in terms paid search cost per conversion, while SEO focuses on the expensive keywords (in terms of paid search). Both SEO and paid search serve their purpose in a cost effective way.

‘Owning’ more of Google search

However, when budgets allow for it, paid search and SEO should always work in unison. When a company’s website ranks #1 in organic search, and #1 as an AdWords ad (for the same search query), there is often a boost in the number of people clicking through to your website via both the respective ad and organic search website listings. This is due to your company ‘owning’ more SERP ‘real estate’, i.e. the bigger the surface area in Google search that your company occupies the more attention your website will receive, like a massive billboard versus a small one. Mediative’s independent research showed that the top performing ad gets roughly 10% of clicks for any given search query, while the #1 ranking organic search listing gets about 30% of clicks.

So your brand will ‘own’ approximately 40% of the search result page’s clicks. One website I worked on showed an overall increase in click-through rate of over 35%, when its ad ranked first together with its number 1 ranking organic search listing. The reverse is true as well – your website could lose out on traffic if you don’t have an ad above your number one ranking organic search listing. A competitor may syphon off clicks by ranking first as an ad, even if your website ranks first organically.

Ads can indirectly increase organic search traffic via the principle of attribution

I have also observed paid search behave as a stimulus for organic search traffic. In other words, paid search ads can indirectly encourage people to click on organic search listings because of an increase in relevant brand awareness. I observed ads, which focused on keyword ‘x’, result in a monthly increase of over 100% in organic search-derived visits via keyword ‘x’ over the same period.

Targeting the purchase funnel via organic search and paid search ads

According to leading independent research by Razorfish, “our research showed at least half (53%) of conversions and revenue happening through paid search are preceded by organic search visits within the previous seven days.” So, in this case organic search acted as an awareness tool, while paid search ‘closed the deal’ at the end of the purchase funnel.

That being said, the reverse is also true – by targeting specific keywords along the purchase funnel, organic search can be used to engage effectively with consumers at any stage of the purchase funnel. Regarding the pre-purchase and awareness part of the purchase funnel, broad, category-based keywords (and related words) would be the focus. The decision-making part of the purchase funnel would focus on product-specific keywords. I’ve observed a blue chip, financial services company’s website receive over 80% of their leads via organic search (with an amazing overall conversion rate of 20%). This also led to the highest number of long-term clients too, eclipsing all other sources of website traffic (including paid search). This company’s paid search campaign was limited.

So, depending on your budget and other variables like time, an ideal mix of organic search and paid search ads can be harnessed to achieve excellent business results.

Quality score

Another factor to consider is Google’s Quality Score, which is an important element to consider when it comes to paid search. A Quality Score is a metric that is scored out of ten, which Google allocates to your prospective ad. A high Quality Score points out that your landing page (website page that your ad directs people to) is relevant to your paid search ad. Relevance refers to the contents of a landing page, which is where the strength of SEO lies.

I’ve seen high Quality Scores result in a lower cost per click (a cost metric relating to a company paying for each time a person clicks on its AdWords ad) and lower cost per conversion (the cost metric associated with receiving a specific business lead via the ad). Well-executed SEO on a landing page will result in a high Quality Score. Basically, the search phrases (what people Google search) you target with your ads should match the website’s SEO-focused keywords. For example: A paid search campaign that targets keyword ‘x’ should be driven to a landing page which has been optimised for keyword ‘x’ too.

What should your digital agency do?

All of your brand’s SEM efforts should be aligned by briefing the SEO and PPC teams at the same time regarding future marketing campaigns. The SEO team can create optimised landing pages and / or optimise existing pages to improve paid search campaign performance (indirectly via attribution and as direct landing pages). The SEO team should share SEO-related data (keywords with best CTRs and impressions etc.) with the paid search team and vice versa. Ensure paid search keywords are driven to optimised destination URLs (landing pages).

Googling things is more popular than ever

The future of SEM is bright. The consumer-related popularity of Google search within each of our client’s industries is growing substantially by the day, across: mobile, tablet and desktop Google searches (in that order of significance).

There is therefore a solid business case to not only invest in SEM, as part of your company’s marketing mix but also to ensure that you get it right.

My article appeared in here.

Africa is the mobile advertising world’s sleeping giant

Africans have innovated in the realm of mobile before, in mobile banking, for which we are globally renowned. To paraphrase David Sable, Global CEO of leading advertising agency Y&R, the Western world can learn a lot from Africa’s mobile application of the latest technology in banking. I believe Africa’s innovative spirit has largely been the result of necessity, to make up for a lack of traditional infrastructure amongst its consumers.
That being said, we need to find that sense of necessity for the general mobile advertising industry in Africa. When it comes to mobile advertising, Africa has arguably lagged behind its Western counterparts. This has largely been the result of a combination of factors, namely: A ‘device technology gap’ legacy that is still lingering (low-income individuals with ‘basic’ feature phones and the rich with ‘advanced’ smartphones), advertising industry complacency and the fact that many mobile phone users have been incorrectly bunched together as a single market (on the assumption that all Africans have feature phones with limited features).

Advertising agencies and their clients have been conservative and complacent when it comes to pushing what mobile tech they can apply to their campaigns. I argue that Africa has even more to offer the world in the form of forward-thinking mobile advertising.

Mobile – An underutilised marketing channel

In terms of capabilities, mobile phones have progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. So today’s SMS and USSD mechanics of current mobile campaigns can be seen as primitive in the context of some African markets.

A few years ago most feature phones in Africa lacked online browsers and related features. Well Opera Mini-powered feature phones and ‘budget’ smartphones have changed all of that. For example, feature phones have had Google search capabilities for some time now. Opera Mini’s low mobile data usage and feature phone compatibility have resulted in its widespread use in Africa.

Africa is the mobile advertising world's sleeping giant

African mobile users are more digital savvy than many think. For example, Google search is incredibly popular in many parts of Africa, together with sites like Facebook. With the right stimulus, a popular, reality TV show like Big Brother Africa for example, can result in a massive growth in Nigerian, Kenyan, Ghanaian and South African viewers interacting with the show’s website throughout the series to find out the latest news. These viewers would access this website mostly via many millions of Google searches – Google is truly the primary gateway to the internet. These consumers are not ‘backward’ but more advanced in their mobile habits than generally thought to be.

The potential is truly massive

In 2015, with the growth in usage of smartphones and more advanced feature phones we have exceptional opportunities to be creative with mobile advertising. I’ve elaborated on Opera Mini as a mobile game changer but I should share more of my thoughts on another key player. I’m referring to harnessing a powerful phenomenon, Google and its technologies, in a creative and effective way. Google is a major innovator in mobile phone technology. This is not only due to their technological prowess but also to their unrivalled global footprint.

Earlier I referred to ‘budget’ smartphones – Tech Crunch shared some details about the ‘sub-$50’ (‘basic’) Android-based MTN Steppa smartphone, which doesn’t require a contract, are major catalysts for smartphone penetration in Africa. Google’s Android mobile platform is the world’s largest (Android has 1.4 billion ’30 day active’ devices in the world” according to Google) and with it come Google’s technologies such as mobile Google search and “OK Google” voice search to an audience of an unprecedented size.

Google’s Android One smartphone (Infiniti Hot 2 mobile device) retails in Africa for around $88 and has the latest Android software (read latest and greatest Android technology). This Android One-powered smartphone is available in Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Morocco as reported by PC World. This opens up massive potential for the exciting application of mobile technologies in mobile campaigns like never before. I’m explicitly not referring to mobile advertising media such as mobile banner ads and Facebook ads because I’m trying to make a point that we have moved beyond that now (not to take anything away from them and their continued success, creative potential and relevance).

On Device Research, the research company, has done some interesting African mobile research, which revealed promising results. They found that mobile penetration in South Africa is at 133%, which means that most South Africans have more than one mobile phone. South African smartphone penetration is at 47%. While Kenya’s mobile penetration is 70% and their smartphone penetration is 31%. While Nigeria’s mobile penetration is at 22%, with smartphone penetration at 29%.

Last but certainly not least, mobile data, which is of vital importance when it comes to mobile development, is becoming more affordable as time goes by, as discovered by On Device Research.

Mobile campaigns need not break the bank

It need not be expensive to execute such advancements in mobile advertising either. The clever usage of Google’s technology in a campaign can be done cost-effectively. This is especially the case when you focus on using Google’s mobile, organic search results as the backbone of your campaign. This type of Google search listings is free to make use of a marketing channel, unlike Google ads.

A recent African example of what I’m rambling on about

A South African mobile advertising campaign springs to mind, which I think ticked the effective and forward-thinking ‘boxes’ well. I’m referring to the use of Google’s “OK Google” voice search technology in a mobile advertising campaign. It made use of mobile organic search (voice search makes use of mobile search) which resulted in a relatively low cost per lead for users to make use of voice search to access a website. Cost per click paid digital media (website banner ads, paid search ads and YouTube ads) is not a prerequisite for such a campaign to function properly. Watch this video for more information about this example of African mobile advertising.

This mobile campaign has performed exceptionally well and has been recognised for it locally too in 2015. The South African Assegai Awards is well-respected in South Africa, as a hat tip for agency work that is creative and effective. Award entries are scrutinized by their judges who are leading industry figures. The campaign I refer to was entered into these awards while it was in its infancy, having run for only two months. Regardless of that fact, it won a silver Assegai Award in its category.

Be inspired by Cannes and be brave too

African advertising agencies need to reflect on what exactly is creative mobile advertising, work that has well-executed elements of novelty and effectiveness. Client return on investment demands value, which are all the product of well-executed mobile campaigns.

Cannes and top, local advertising awards should inspire African agencies to create work that can compete at the highest global standard, and not just leave Western countries to compete amongst themselves. The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is arguably the world’s most important source of advertising inspiration and the yardstick for advertising excellence. Memac Ogilvy Label Tunisia agency winning five Silver and two Bronze Lions in 2013 for their ‘Mobilizing the 12th Man‘ campaign is testament to this principle. This Tunisian-based agency’s work is truly inspiring. Clearly some African advertising agencies excel at groundbreaking work, which is a result of a robust, creative corporate culture and by the collaboration of cross-discipline individuals who don’t put limits on their thinking. Calculated risk-taking, I feel is critical too, playing it safe results in SMS campaign after SMS campaign and nothing original.

David Sable also once noted that he loved the energy, motivation and innovation associated with Africa. We as Africans should live up to these truths about us. So, I humbly implore all African digital marketers to be brave by pitching fresh mobile ideas that are imaginative, scary and ROI driven. Let’s fully wake up the sleeping giant that is Africa.

My article appeared in here.