The number of positive Covid-19 cases continues to rise in SA. Picture:
The number of positive Covid-19 cases continues to rise in SA. Picture:

Many brands have traditionally considered digital to be a nice-to-have – a platform for social media content and community management with some tech thrown in. Digital has traditionally been cut when funds are needed for a billboard or an event, based on the assumption that SA doesn’t have a widespread digital market because tech access is limited and data is expensive. Covid-19 has changed all that, forcing brands to focus on technology-led models.

Brands that have been digital averse in the past can use their agencies to help them to communicate and deliver products and services without having to touch their consumers physically. Digital is an indicator of what’s to come and we all need to start thinking of these technologies as critical to our brands and way of life. They’re not gimmicks any more.

There are a number of digital trends which brands should be embracing right now, as this is where future marketing opportunities will lie:

  • Facial recognition: This could be particularly useful in travel and tourism, as well as retail in future. See Alibaba’s “Smile to Pay” for some inspiration.
  • Voice recognition: Amazon Echo and Google Home are ideal for assisting the disabled – think about opening doors with just one word.
  • Drone tech: This has great application in the retail and medical fields.
  • Robotics: Great for taking care of incoming patients to minimise infection, for assisting the disabled, for bringing patients into hospitals and for fetching and delivering supplies.
  • Virtual reality: Not only is it an awe-inspiring technology, it has huge potential during lockdown for the travel and tourism sector to introduce consumers to virtual travel and plant the seeds for future travel ideas.
  • Augmented reality: Great for the fashion and beauty industry, AR has allowed brands to help consumers have fun, not only on Snapchat and now Instagram filters, but trying actual products. Dulux was ahead of its time allowing people to test colours, while Sephora used AR very effectively to enable make-up testing.
  • Voice notes: Particularly useful in the faith sector where congregations may not have the ability to live stream or access sermons. Can even be cross-pollinated to radio.
  • Video conferencing: I am waiting for a brand to create the first television commercial shot via Zoom, or the other trending app of the lockdown season, House Party. This is a great way to bring the emotion of your brand to life.
  • Chat bots: Particularly important in the financial sector while consumers are scared and need immediate responses.
  • eSports: The sporting world has come to an abrupt end with many keenly awaited events postponed or cancelled. To keep audiences engaged, UK premier league football club Manchester City has temporarily dropped its subscription model to allow fans to watch past games online, and Formula 1 has taken to virtual races. Imagine giving South Africans the opportunity to watch Bafana playing Brazil in Fifa tournaments that could be broadcast through the online streaming service Twitch.

Now is the time to activate influencers online. This is the test for true talent that connects with the DNA of the brand and helps companies bring their corporate social investment and emotional connections to life.

  • Dono White is senior strategic lead, VMLY&R South Africa.


The big take-out:

Digital activations should be the focus for brands during this time as more and more consumers turn to online platforms for shopping, information and entertainment.

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