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Picture: 123RF/ufabizphoto
Picture: 123RF/ufabizphoto

In the current environment there are myriad opportunities for brands to connect with audiences and potential customers digitally. According to the ChiefMartec platform, there are more than 10,000 technologies available to marketers, while Google Marketing says only 2% of businesses use data-driven marketing to create useful, relevant experiences across the purchase journey for consumers.

As communicators, marketers are not oblivious to the benefits of digital platforms and, now more than ever, they are driving digital marketing transformation (DMT) and demonstrating how essential DMT is for businesses looking to stay competitive and thrive in the fast-paced, ever-changing digitalised consumer realm.

To begin to understand the growing role of DMT within a business — and to better equip leaders with the knowledge of DMT’s importance to the overall business strategy — it’s essential to differentiate DMT from digital transformation. The latter refers to the process whereby companies embed technologies across their businesses to drive fundamental change;  DMT is a subset of digital transformation in which marketers try to transform digitally what they do enabled by data and technology.

The two concepts are inextricably linked — and affected by various external factors. These include the increase in e-commerce that has led to altered consumer behaviour and growth in the appetite for digital retail e-commerce platforms; a heightened awareness of privacy and the protection of personal information and data as well as the introduction of regulations  such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia); and the phasing out of third-party cookies which track users’ activity across sites for retargeting, measurement and more.

Recent trends are the democratisation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools that provide marketers with even the smallest of budgets access to deeper insights into customer behaviour and cost-effective ways to produce marketing assets at scale.

While this is still a nascent space for brands, it is growing exponentially and is set to disrupt traditional models. Consumer behaviour is directing the transformation agenda as we observe digital natives using mobile as their primary screen to interact with brands and newer generations are firmly entrenched in digital technologies, with an estimated two-thirds of the 15-24 and 25-34 age segments on new platforms such as TikTok, according to the “SA Social Media Landscape Study” 2022.

The benefits of DMT to the wider marketing landscape are numerous. The technological innovation allows for personalisation and contextual messaging as well as for a reduction in costs associated with automation and efficiency. DMT furthermore creates the ability for marketers to make quicker, more accurate decisions based on first-party data and enables privacy and the protection of the personal information of customers while allowing faster product development cycles based on anonymised data sets.

DMT also provides for advanced attribution models driven by AI and better media buying through ML capabilities, both of which create opportunities for revenue generation and higher customer retention efforts. This, in turn, offers businesses an advantage over their competitors.

In the South African context, digital marketing transformation can be pinpointed to three aspects: customer centricity, tech enablement and the use of data to make decisions about marketing approaches. While the main objectives of digital enablement are to transform for customers, gain market share and retain a competitive edge, it’s imperative that marketing does an audit upfront to ensure that embarking on a DMT journey makes sense and aligns closely with business objectives.

In addition to enhancing customer experience and driving the business objectives, it also needs to be authentic and resonate with the brand and its values. More specifically, digital transformation and DMT should form part of a business’s long-term brand equity strategy; in some instances, embarking on a transformation journey may not be the correct decision as it could lead to a dilution of the overall brand.

So how to proceed, once your business decides — after a thorough audit and the green light from the C-suite — it is ready to forge ahead with its DMT journey?

According to Kantar client service director Adhil Patel, speaking at an IAB South Africa Brand Council Roundtable in May this year, creative effectiveness in DMT calls for a back-to-basics strategy. This means having a solid creative idea, creating lasting impressions and integrating the brand and customer experience through each digital touchpoint or channel.

It’s also at this stage that new marketing models and strategic concerns may come to light: Is there a need to collect first-party data or augment data partnerships? Should audience segments or personas be created? Do customer journeys need to be revisited? Are you meeting your customers where they are, or do you need to open new communication channels, such as a WhatsApp chatbot or via a TikTok creator? Should you be prioritising mass personalisation via e-mail marketing? Should your DMT efforts be treated as a standalone project or integrated fully into your marketing and communications strategy? What additional investments need to be made? In essence, a complete evaluation of your current communication process, delivery and measurement is required.

There are certainly many questions that remain unanswered,  and there are many challenges that will continue to be faced as marketers forge ahead with their DMT journeys, including a lack of knowledge from leadership, an inability to forecast results through an ongoing process and a limited amount of specialist digital skillsets in South Africa. However, organisations can overcome these challenges by elevating their DMT to a core strategic pillar of their business, supported by buy-in from their leadership and a competent delivery team.

DMT in a broader organisational digital transformation strategy offers the opportunity to not only create value for a brand’s or business’s customer but also to capture value for the organisation, further fostering a culture of innovation and change.

Audrey Naidoo is head of IAB South Africa Brand Council, Jessica van der Westhuizen is a digital & performance marketing manager and Makoma Manyama is a digital marketing and media planner specialist. Van der Westhuizen and Manvama are members of the IAB South Africa Brand Council.

The big take-out:

Digital marketing technology, a subset of digital transformation in which marketers try to transform digitally what they do enabled by data and technology, calls for a back-to-basics strategy as far as marketing effectiveness is concerned.

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