One word making top executives in organizations increasingly uncomfortable is the word ‘digital’. Many marketing and senior executives in leading organizations are still wondering why the word digital must pop up in meetings. What is the fuss over digital, really? Can I sell cement on Facebook?!

As some leading brands grapple with understanding digital marketing, the world is already shifting to more technical terms. Brands that are operating in the online space are now moving to acquire digital currency and consistently looking for ways and means to stay wining in a digital economy.

The truth of the matter is that we are no longer doing digital marketing but marketing in a digital world. Digital media and especially the growth of smart phones has provided ease of convergence of both media and commerce. A report by the Communication Authority of Kenya reveals that 90% of Kenyans now own mobile phones, and 44% of these are smartphones. More people in Kenya have access to mobile phones than they have to water. It would be safe therefore to recommend that mobile connectivity and the need for Wi-Fi be added to Marslow’s hierarchy of needs – for Kenyans!

The best thing about digital currency is that the return on investment on digital platforms is instant. If you put up a post of Facebook for example, with a link that leads people to purchase, you are able to see how much traffic you receive off your Facebook post to the online shopping cart, or how many enquiries you receive on phone, email etc, which you can translate directly to income.

Walter Landor was right about the fact that products are created in the factory, brands are created in the mind. Brands live in the minds and hearts of people. People are passionate about brands they love and brands they trust. People believe stories they hear from trusted sources and better still from channels they consume media from. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing and referrals. All these things happen on social media and more swiftly when strategically planned. The output that marketing efforts offer is the sum total of what people think and feel about a brand.

Thanks to the growth of online commerce, making purchases is now more convenient than ever. Even Mark Zuckerberg thought it would be a good idea to acquire and integrate Mpesa to boost Facebook commerce. In July this year, Unilever acquired an upstart that has been selling men’s shaving products online. The owners of the business were a team of young barbers who started the Dollar Shave Club selling mens’ shaving blades online at a dollar and making door to door deliveries. This price was one tenth of the cost of a brand name blade. Increasingly, they started to package shaving cream, wipes, cleansers, hair food and moisturizer out of demand. Obviously, for you to have a good shave, you need a blade and shaving cream!

To get their customers hooked on their already cheap products, they started a loyalty programme for clients who bought both blades and shaving cream and signed up for delivery for the whole year. They gave these clients free blades for one month and a free branded storage box that can hold the blades and shaving cream. Joining the loyalty club required no fees and no commitment. This simple initiative was enough to kick Unilever out of business in that area.

These young barbers had no money for large flashy models and photo shoots. They had no money for intriguing TV commercials and radio campaigns. They never even imagined buying ad space on billboards along low traffic roads, let alone high traffic areas. They shot a low quality video ad, which looks much like a joke using the camera they could access. This video was shot in their warehouse and with their staff. They spent money on good packaging and a creative designer. They used the power of colour and intriguing copy to captivate audiences online. This helped them gain traction faster and for much cheaper than any brand giant would have ever done. The videos went viral and immediately, sales begun to grow. These barbers only sold convenience and shaving products.

What drew people to them however was the authenticity and simplicity of their idea and channelled through sources that people engaged with and believed in. The sharing of the videos among friends in social communities acted like word of mouth for them. Their comical video ads left audiences with something to talk about, laugh about and remember for days, months and years. The ease of online purchase and free delivery sealed the deal. After just five years, Unilever decided to acquire the business for $1 billion.

The next consumer product revolution has begun to happen online. Unfortunately, leading brands are complacent and using online to advance ideas rather than create ideas. They have conformed to traditional ways of doing marketing laying little cognisance to the fact that the world has also shifted. Today, digitally native vertical brands – like Dollar Shave club – are leading in the retail business.

In Kenya, it is easier to buy clothes and shoes, birthday gifts and socks off of Facebook than it is to purchase these items in a shop. Much as online retail still suffers from mistrust, sales people who have embraced this method of selling their products are able to realize higher returns per dollar spent on online advertising than the marketers sitting in boardrooms designing billboards and TVCs with creative agencies and spending millions on advertising. As leading brands ask themselves what they need to do differently to increase sales, they rarely consider that they can sell their products online. Many companies consider this a retail function. It is not technical, it is not complicated. It just needs to be strategic and captivating.

Let me use the example of an FMCG producer that sells soap to illustrate this. If such a company would for example bundle a washing powder, with bar soap, bathing soap, a fabric softener and bleach and make these available at existing retail outlets countrywide; then push these bundled packages off their official Facebook or Instagram pages (using video, pictures, text and audio). The immediate assumption in the mind of the customer would be that it is cheaper to buy bundled products and they would trust the message with a lot more ease than if they saw if off a retailer’s page.

The domino effect would be created by listing the retailers from whom the bundled products can be purchased and making the products available at the retail outlets. This single message would cover most of the cost of advertising of five different products. The acquisition rate on products that people would not normally buy would go up, and awareness and trust in the company’s products would increase. Purchases would also increase as a result of the scale that the discount in price of the bundled products would offer. Over time, people would choose price, sadly so, over quality. None the less the commercial target would be achieved to the benefit of everyone along the retail chain.

Young entrepreneurs, sit and chat with customers all day on Facebook and on whatsapp messages, getting directions to places they can deliver their socks and t-shirts, ties, lapel pins and all kinds of personalized and novelty items. For the white collar marketer and sales people, this is a boon. The convenience that marketing in a digital world offers is less spend per minute on advertising to an already existing audience. You can just drop your video on Facebook, boost it for even as little as $10, and every time will your target audience will login to their social media pages or read an article off their favourite web page, it will find them. There is no prime time on digital media. Prime time is when your target market is online. Depending on your product, every minute can be prime time. You can then offer your products at cheaper prices if you reduce the high costs of marketing. Everyone wins.

Pre-social media age was a cruel time for young business ideas. Advertising was a preserve of few companies with large markets. Personalized marketing techniques were non-existent because micro-targeting was not possible. That has changed, totally. Brands that are still not using digital for marketing, engagement, retention or sales should speak to Kodak.

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