Rapid developments in digital media are forcing redefinition of classical marketing

Question:  Have digital media finally become a de facto part of brand communications mix? And have Marketers stopped using the new media only for tactical purposes? Does anybody know?

I hear someone saying – “Despite it being 2011, we  are not there yet in South Africa. There is still lack of full grasp of value of digital marketing by Brand Marketers. However, there is no avoiding the digital tsunami anymore, as it is now effectively on our shores, literally and figuratively”.


I expressed a view in my post “Why are Brand Marketers underutilizing the Internet as a communication medium?“, written 2 years ago, that Brand Marketers put undue focus on the technologies underlying digital media, and this resulted in the levels of underutilization experienced, emanating from technophobia, as IT has always been perceived as belonging to the “chosen” few. I argued at the time that Brand Marketers need not be bothered about the technology that powers digital media (like with TV, radio and print), but should rather concern themselves with how the new media can be leveraged as part of the integrated mix for achieving brand communication objectives.

With the passage of time and increased wisdom, it has become obvious that the future of Brand Marketing will be enhanced by acquiring some knowledge of digital technology (which I refer to as digi-technowledge) that determines the efficacy of the various, ever-growing and constantly evolving digital media options. And equally importantly, digi-technowledge will improve Marketers’ savvy, which will in turn help them keep the geeks in check in line with increasing business requirements relating to the now-favoured adage “more for less”.

In essence, I am saying that Marketers will truly embrace digital communications when they get to acquire some knowledge of underlying
technologies and their benefits.

Given the current the rapid advancements, I worry that Marketers are lagging behind in gaining digi-technowledge. I call this the Digi-Technowledge Gap, and it is depicted in the graph below. The potential end result is that Marketers will be executing ineffective brand communication strategies due to lacking or outdated digital elements.

Digi-Technowledge Graph
Digi-Technowledge Graph

PLEASE NOTE: The Digi-Technowledge Graph reflects my personal view of the digital world. While it is not based on any stats, it is informed by more than 18 years of experience, first in Classical Marketing and later in Digital Marketing.

The key insight with the Digi-Technowledge Graph is that Marketers are racing against time, and facing the prospect of not being able to catch up as the pace of introduction of new and advanced digital technologies is increasing all the time.

Let’s look at examples in the music industry to illustrate how digital technology is changing consumption behaviours:

  •  Music vinyls have been the primary source of recorded music for over 60 years until 1982 when compact discs were introduced. Now music is downloaded, stored and played on computers, flash discs and other portable mobile digital devices (including cellphones) that can store thousands of songs.
  • The club DJ scene has exploded across all music genres, thanks to technological advancements. Increasingly, DJ’s like Armin Van Buuren can play live to huge crowds in several major cities across the world, all at the same time, enabled by video streaming. Armin, a huge proponent of digital technology, is also a successful trance music producer and joc of a 2-hour weekly trance music show that is aired on more than 50 traditional and Internet radio stations and iTunes podcast across the world, with over 10 million listeners. The number of DJ’s who are also successful music producers and record label owners has grown exponentially in the last decade. A convergence of careers in the music world is now mainstream!
  • Lastly, unlike in the past where few people could not afford to be DJ’s because of often costly 12″ vinyls and basic equipment such as a Gemini PS-262 Pro mixer and 2 expensive Technics SL 1200 turntables; lately it takes a mid-priced computer with decent RAM, Internet connection, downloaded music and free track mixing software such as VirtualDJ for aspiring DJ’s to get going. The Internet has made DJ’ing more accessible and affordable.

As we used to say at politically charged South African institutions of higher learning during pre-democracy days: Point made, comrade. Bopha!


During my 11-month brand marketing stint at SAB a decade ago, I was tasked with an unenviable task of  relaunching Lion Lager in the South African market. Consider that the brand had been in existence for more than 100 years, and it  was facing extinction due to its “old man’s beer” image and thus lacked adoption by the new pool of beer consumers.

"New" Lion Lager
“New” Lion Lager – The Year 2000

The main objective at that stage was to reposition Lion Lager as a beer of choice for the young adults, supported by the “new” brand’s relevant attributes for the targeted market – a smoother and sweeter taste, and distinctly modern colours (see insert on the left). Despite concerted experiential marketing efforts backed by a generous brand budget, Lion Lager bit the dust within 4 years of the relaunch.

Some few years down the line I moved to Entyce (then called National Brands), where I was Marketing Manager for a group of coffee and creamer brands. Unlike Marketing Managers  at SAB where brand budgets were bigger, in this company I was accountable for my brands’ bottom line performance! I had to understand their ingredient mix, manufacturing processes, targeted sales channels, sales discount structures and associated costs. My brands’ performance was reviewed every quarter, and it included scrutinising how I was using my marketing budget to achieve the desired return on investment, with the prospect that I could lose some of the budget if it was found that I was not using it effectively. Talk about chicken and egg situation.

Fresh Coffee Beans
Hot Beverages Market

Let’s bring it all together. In the early part of the last decade, SAB was still firmly in the driving seat in the South African beer market with at least 98% market share. The threat of losing 10% of the market share virtually overnight due to the loss of Amstel and Heineken brands to the new outfit called Brandhouse in 2007 was not a consideration. Thus, times were good back then for SAB Brand Marketers as they were not hard-pressed to show tangible return for their marketing spend. On the other hand, Entyce was facing tough competition from Unilever, Nestle and Craft Foods. As can be expected, there was definite pressure on Entyce Marketers to be thrifty with brand budgets.

What is my point, I hear you ask? The key insight from my experience is that market conditions greatly influence expected Marketing skills in the achievement of business objectives.

The current trying economic conditions, coupled with rapidly changing market landscape due in part to advancing digital technologies and increased consumer knowledge that is being enabled by the Internet, have led to increased demand for Marketing budgets to be directly linked with expected brands’ return on investment. Naturally, digital media allow Marketers to measure return on their spend more effectively and as such, there is and will be a growing shift of Marketing budgets in this direction. 


While attending the Thinking Mobile Conference recently, the need for Brand Marketers to have a basic understanding of digital technology and impact on brand communications was reinforced in my mind. In the first workshop session of the conference that was chaired by Toby Shapshak, panelists were debating the subject of executing mobile marketing targeting feature phones vs smartphones, and alternatively using mobisites vs mobile apps. While I do not intend to go into the merits of the points for and against the appropriate mobile devices and platforms in this post, I concluded that answers lay in the stipulation of brand objectives, clearly defined consumer profiles and desired scale of communications. 

There are all sorts of debates raging at various forums about the growing importance of digital marketing, but there is a deafening silence from Brand Marketers, whose (missing) voice is key in shaping the debates. My take on the key reason for the status quo is the lacking digi-technowledge on the part of Brand Marketers, which impacts their confidence to coherently communicate brand strategies that integrate the role of digital communications.

“Twelve years ago, you could reach 50 percent of the American audience with three TV spots, and today, it takes seventy,” says Chuck Porter, a founder of Miami-based advertising powerhouse Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CPB). Media fragmentation has absolutely forced advertisers to rethink the way to build brands.” (Mathieson, R, 2005. Branding Unbound, P. 6)


There are “conflagrating” winds of change that are led by rapid advancements in digital technology, which are conspiring to challenge the current set of marketing competencies. Marketers can turn this challenge into an opportunity by increasing focus on acquiring digi-technowledge, which in the near future is going to become part of basic marketing competency requirements anyway.


Future required competency standards of brand Marketers will be as follows:

  • In the next 6 months: all job adverts for Brand Marketers will include a requirement that they MUST have Skype and LinkedIn accounts. On LinkedIn, their profiles must be up to date, and they MUST be part of at least one relevant online community such as Digital Marketing Group. In addition, Brand Marketers MUST belong to at least one of the main social networks – MXit, Facebook and Twitter. They will be required to have posted on their social network status(es) at least once every week for the last 6 months. Lastly, they will be required to be subscribed to a digital marketing ezine (e.g. pcmag.com), or digital marketing enewsletter (e.g. WebProNews).
  • Within a year: all Brand Marketers applying for jobs will be required to have basic digi-technowledge, including understanding of different digital media, underlying technologies driving them and value to brands. In addition, they will be required to show evidence that they have written or at least commented on a digital marketing blog post in the sat 3 months.
  • In the next 2 years and beyond: the Brand Marketer title will be expanded to reflect incorporation of a skill set relating specifically to digi-technowledge.


Quarterly digital marketing forums, designed specifically to put digital communications on the agenda, provide a good way to increase techknowlegde of Brand Marketing teams. Such forums can start by asking 4 basic questions – (1) What are the latest digital statistics that we must be aware of and what insights do they give us about the digital world? (2) What relevant digital developments (media, programming language, apps, devices, mergers and acquisitions, etc) took place in the last quarter? (3) Have there been any brand campaigns that integrated digital communications, and which we can learn from? (4) What impact does all this have on the way we communicate with our brands’ consumers? These quarterly forums can be run by the Marketing teams, with forum delegates being tasked to research and share information on a rotational basis. In addition, brand communication agencies can be included in the task of searching for and presenting required information in the quarterly forums.


In the article titled “Rivals chomping at Apple’s heels“, published in The Sunday Times of April the 16th, 2011; it is indicated that the iPad, which is credited for finally establishing the tablet market since its launch in January 2010, is facing stiff competition this year. A flurry of new tablets will include Windows 8, HTC Flyer, HP and PlayBook (by manufacturers of BlackBerry). The irony of it all is that Microsoft tried as far back as in 2001 to establish the tablet market and failed as its device back then did not meet market expectations.

Speed of change in the digital world has become part of everyday life.






  • Nuffdotty – where thoughts on the subject of education, mostly relating to South Africa, are shared
  • Diski4Life – a blog about development of South African soccer post World Cup 2010


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