Integrated marketing technology can bridge the service gap for SA companies
Marketing in South Africa has a long way to go before it can begin to rival the experience of US customers, says JARRED CINMAN, director of Cambrient. He adds that there’s no time like the present to begin changing this situation, and integrated marketing technology has the answer.
There’s nothing like international competition to change the landscape. And in our lifetimes, there has never been any competitive force to match the Internet. It has ushered in an era where people can now review local and international organisations and benchmark themselves against the very best.
The big problem is that this has highlighted the lack of service ethic, generally speaking, from South African companies. By and large, South African companies have failed to grasp the fact that marketing and service have become synonymous.
In ultra-competitive markets, such as the US, you cannot get by with offering a product or service through marketing, and then fail to deliver it properly – in essence, breaking the brand promise. However, in South Africa, the service ethic has yet to reach anywhere near this level, and is unlikely to, given the monopolies and cartels which dominate our business landscape.
The disconnect between South African and US service is most apparent when we look at online organisations such as Amazon.com and eBay and compare them with anything we have locally. There is a slickness, a brand promise and delivery in US companies we just do not expect or experience locally.
Yet the opportunity is there for any local executive or marketer to step up to the plate and use new-generation technologies to bridge the gap and move to parity, and remove the current disconnect between marketing and service.
The technology exists; all that’s needed is education, and the will to move ahead. The US service ethic is seeping into this market through prolonged exposure, and local marketers need to adapt.
Online pressure is causing something of a crisis for local marketers, as this pressure is foreign to them. They are being compelled to reconsider the whole customer experience, and they haven’t been there before.
Integrate digital marketing into the mix
The key is integrating digital marketing into the overall mix. However, agencies, which are critical to delivery of the marketing mix, tend not to view digital marketing as part of their world.
The website, as the spearhead of digital marketing, is symptomatic of this. Yet marketing agencies demonstrably have yet to grasp this reality.
It’s understandable, in part. After all, South Africa does not represent a market remotely of the size of the US, and with a far smaller market to go after, with commensurate returns for effort invested, agencies are disinclined to invest in world-class online initiatives.
This is underscored by the experience with websites, which tend to fall between two stools: they are neither the purview of marketing or IT, and so they are underdone.
The website is just another channel for customers, yet marketing ends up running it. Marketing would not be asked for advice about how to run a branch, but it ends up running the website.
The problem is about to start growing exponentially, as the mobile revolution kicks in: millions of new people will soon have a requirement for online delivery to the cellphone, especially as today’s cellular devices, almost without exception, have inherent Web access capability.
Your five-step solution
Unfortunately, agencies continue to abdicate responsibility. They unquestionably must own the experiential part, but not necessarily the technical part, and here’s a five-step solution to help determine the next set of actions:
1 The website is an interactive medium
When you receive an e-mail, do be sure to answer it. This means you need an infrastructure behind the website to deal with an e-mail as seriously as you would a phone call. If anything, you need to provide a better experience than you would through the call centre, and have the ability to access online help or be put through to a consultant.
2 Always be on the lookout for online opportunities
As much as possible, the brains behind traditional marketing should turn to digital marketers to seek new marketing opportunities. And the two should be integrated: all too often, we can see when there are two agencies working on an account: there is a fragmented and unsatisfactory brand experience.
3 Focus on conversion-oriented marketing
It is inconceivable that any marketer today is not looking at digital marketing to turn opportunities to see (impressions, in Webspeak) into potential leads and thence into conversions. The ideal is that traditional advertising should create pull, and the website should accurately reflect the advertising and create an opportunity for interaction and potential conversion. There’s a terrific opportunity here: marketing has tended not to be accountable for results, and having an interaction capability is a good starting point. Finally, always remember: if you break the loop between traditional and digital media, you run the risk of breaking the brand promise.
4 Benchmark yourself against international competitors
When visiting international websites, people simply expect information to be more in-depth and more current than they would experience on local websites. Some will accept that, but others will choose to do business elsewhere. People increasingly are expecting their service experience to be of an international class, and US websites are setting the standard. You are hurting your brand by not keeping up with competitors – even if they are not local.
5 People expect online relationships to be handled differently
Each visit must be viewed as part of an ongoing experience. If they have visited your site, they expect your site to remember that, and you need to factor that in to your overall strategy. Outbound marketing, also, needs to be managed carefully: using e-mail and SMS to reach people is a valid strategy, but you need a competence for shutting down when people have had enough (and the threshold is reached early for some people).
We’re not driving a wedge between digital and traditional marketing, but seeking to bring them closer together. The major growth area, though, is digital marketing, and the opportunity locally is for companies to be more innovative, and use technology to attract customers they don’t have, and look after customers they have already acquired.
This will help ensure that South African companies can translate the promise of marketing into the reality of service.