Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Digital marketing should extend far beyond the mere creation of an app. In fact, it should be centred on processes, interfaces and, ultimately, on customer experience. This was agreed by a panel of experts at a recent Brand Council SA discussion held in Sandton on business and brand digital transformation.

Most importantly, said Jonathan Houston, head of marketing at HKLM, digital transformation could not be siloed – it had to be a board-led discussion about how digital changed every aspect of the organisation, from operations to marketing. “It boils down to a new way of thinking – a new normal,” he said.

How seriously do SA companies and brands take the concept of digital transformation? According to Scott Gibson, group executive of digital business solutions at Dimension Data, SA companies are ahead of most of the rest of the world in this space, with the exception of Asia and Australia.

SA, he said, was a mature digital player.

Yatish Narsi, chief experience officer at Grid Worldwide, pointed out that while marketers lamented the pressure they were under from consumers for everything to be cheaper and faster, it was a sign that brands should be looking at their processes and asking whether they were efficient enough. Pressure for more efficiency from consumers translated into a request for digital transformation, he said.

The big take-out

Digital transformation – the process of reshaping processes and creating new and better customer experiences – should be driven from the top

Responding to a question on whether digital advertising would eventually replace traditional means of communication, Houston said neither would triumph over the other and integration was what mattered. Offline platforms needed to drive consumers into the digital space in a way that was measurable.

It all came down to understanding which platforms were best at which functions, said Narsi. The advantages and disadvantages of each had to be weighed up.

Artificial intelligence (AI) robotics and the fourth industrial revolution would not diminish employment, said Gibson. Rather, we needed to look at how we were trained for the job market and how school curriculums had to change to adapt to a digital age and enable us to learn new skills that would add value. “We have amazing opportunities in SA, and together with our sense of adventure and spirit of entrepreneurialism, we have what it takes to thrive in a digital age,” he said. Challenges such as the cost of Wi-fi and problems with bandwidth had held the country back, he pointed out, adding that these issues would eventually be addressed.

In a digital age, delivery is a vital aspect. “Digitisation has to be more than putting lipstick on a pig,” said Narsi, adding that digital native brands such as Uber and Airbnb understood the importance of experience. Brands needed to ensure a transformative result and had little choice but to deliver value and make a difference in this competitive environment or risk alienating consumers. 

Digital transformation, agreed the panel, should be driven by the board and CEO, though the entire organisation should be empowered to own it.