Long before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic many things about marketing and advertising were at a crossroads, both in Uganda and around the world due to the impact of the digital revolution. For decades, companies had marketed their goods and services mainly through traditional channels such as print, television and radio. What the pandemic has done is to force public relations, advertising and marketing agencies, to focus on and drastically review their ‘normal’ ways of doing business, and develop a ‘new normal’ toolkit for this uncertain business environment. With the arrival of the internet 30 years ago, followed by the steady rise and power of social media platforms, marketing companies now have more efficient and effective communication channels to offer their clients.
Agencies had soon realised traditional advertising techniques were not reaching audiences effectively enough, especially younger audiences. They had to adapt and embrace the new age of digital media. It was not long before we started seeing more and more ‘Digital agencies’ offering potential clients their expertise in exploiting all the digital options available. Long standing traditional marketing companies had no choice but to change as an increasing number of their clients wanted to see their products and services appear on popular digital platforms. Clients in East Africa, especially those handling global brands, now wanted 24-hour online presence and guidance from their advertising/digital marketing agencies to reach customers. Both the clients and agency folk began to restructure and reshape their traditional strategic marketing skills to include digital.
Surprisingly though, there are still situations when digital media is chosen by a client and/or marketing agency not necessarily for the best reasons. They may choose it to make up for an inadequate budget or as a result of a bad media plan, as they believe it’s ‘cheaper’ to buy and ‘reaches’ far more people. Digital marketing is still relatively new. The jury should still be out on its brand building powers, or effectiveness and reach, resulting in more sales compared to older traditional marketing methods. Undoubtedly, more and more people are spending time on the Internet and being ‘reached’. But regardless of the emergence of ‘new’ media channels, if the marketing strategy, big idea, or content is weak, not engaging, or missing, then it will all be a waste of space, time and money. Nothing is going to change that fact, no matter what number of online ‘influencers’, ‘followers’ or ‘boosters’ are used as part of the ‘marketing strategy’.
Not long before Covid-19 burst on the scene, marketing folk were grappling with the need to remain relevant, especially by learning and adapting to new theories and disciplines. One London marketing consultancy firm who advise marketing companies on marketing themselves, began targeting and advising both traditional and new (age) digital marketers on ‘staying competitive’ by repositioning, and shifting from ‘Positioning’ to ‘Value Propositioning’. Simply put, they were now advising them instead of selling their companies (as they had before) by means of an uninspiring list of their product and or services; they should now come out with creatively crafted statements ‘why’ someone should choose their product and or services.
With a little bit of creative thought, agencies have adapted and repositioned themselves. They now provide or offer (‘New!’) more refreshingly ‘unique’ products or services. It has been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions of people have lost their lives; businesses have gone under, taking away jobs and resulting in all manner of social upheaval. There is less money around, meaning less demand for products and services. Just as digital upended traditional marketing over the last couple of years, we too as practitioners, have to change given the shifting consumer behaviour and industry demands due to the pandemic. On a positive note, just recently it was reported that there was a good handful of new high profile marketing agency start-ups in London despite the effects of Covid-19 on the market place.
In East Africa, advertisers still have to keep their client’s brands top of mind but now no doubt, with reduced marketing budgets. They have to work out where to spend the money to reach their target audiences. For instance, the lockdown period saw more people watching TV and less exposed to outdoor media. But we are no longer under a lockdown so one may ask, is TV still the way to go? Covid-19 has reinforced digital marketing as the preferred medium for advertisers. But, let’s pray it’s not going to be at the expense of the big idea, great content and creative executions.