VMF SA Deliberates On Key Issues

Adjusting to a new normal, the CMOs and heads of marketing agree that businesses are now doing more than merely paying lip service to customer empathy, while being innovative If Covid-19 has done one thing for business, it is an accelerated shift to a not only digital-first, but people-first mindset. And for marketers, the lack […]


  • Adjusting to a new normal, the CMOs and heads of marketing agree that businesses are now doing more than merely paying lip service to customer empathy, while being innovative

    If Covid-19 has done one thing for business, it is an accelerated shift to a not only digital-first, but people-first mindset. And for marketers, the lack of face-to-face opportunity has brought considerable strain.

    Listening to the CMOs and heads of marketing, at the two-day VMF South Africa, who were already inhabiting a digital environment — it’s clear that this shift for everyone else has meant a promotion for marketing with empathy into the spotlight and where owning data for meaningful insights has never been more important.

    As global economies begin adjusting to a new normal, businesses are making strategic moves which signal the CMO now has a stronger voice at the table, as they now have to embrace more agility, think about the societal impact, mental-wellness of employees and have the capability to respond to an unpredictable market. 

    “As a CMO, we can longer be just accountable and responsible for marketing impact. Beyond business impact, we really need to think about the societal impact. More than ever now, since last year, it’s about creating deep relationships and partnerships,” said Alison Badenhorst, Chief Marketing Officer, Rand Merchant Bank.

    “As marketers, we have become quite obsessed with measurement of what is measurable, which has created a short-term mindset. It’s important from a CMO perspective that we really focus on long-term brand building and getting the balance right,” added Badenhorst.

    Becky Opdyke, CMO, Tiger Brand, said the past year has changed the role of CMO. “Everybody is looking for more agility in our marketers and into our organisations, and the capability to respond to markets that are not predictable.”

    Adding to the increasing need for agility, Heidi Brauer, CMO Hollard Insurance, said it is essential now to “get back to the basics”. “Check what your brand is, check if your manifestos are set, your purpose is set and that everybody understands the communication strategy and the essence of what your brand is.”


    Clockwise: Martin Neethling, Becky Opdyke, Heidi-Brauer and Alison-Badenhorst

    Meanwhile, emphasising the crucial role a CMO can play, Martin Neethling, CMO, PepsiCo, said it is important to “keep the agenda whole”. “It’s important to understand what’s going on and then respond with agility, be forthcoming, and not reactive or in panic mode.”

    Going forward, marketers need to be resilient, innovative, and creative. “There’s been a huge focus on technology and economic impact during this time, but we underestimated the importance of putting people first before business. It’s about truly doing good business, and walking the talk. Internally, the focus should be on mental wellness, employees’ wellbeing and work-life harmony. A true demonstration of people-first has really come to the fore, more than technological advancement and economic pressure we are feeling at the moment,” said Badenhorst.

    Creating a frictionless CX 

    COVID-19 has also reshaped customer behaviour, and the challenge now is to offer an enhanced customer experience while being innovative. Talking about creating a frictionless CX, Nancy Moodley, Head of Customer Experience and Digital at Nissan South Africa, said, “CX has to be seamless and touch every customer touchpoint.”

    It is essential to understand what customers need and provide innovations and not just products offered by the brand. 

    “Innovation that CX brings to the table is the future of the future,” Moodley added.

    With time being a commodity for customers, businesses are also enforced to save time and efforts taken by customers. “Their journeys are to be shortened and pain points eradicated,” she added.

    Talking about a critical point that is often misunderstood, Moodley said CX is about “bringing in the solutions that eradicates the need to reach out to customer care.” 

    Data science also plays a critical role in CX, she said. “Your data needs to talk to each other. Putting a digital solution is not the answer. It is making sure that every single solution and every part of their journey is looking at your digital as well as your physical business operations.”

    The pandemic has caused brands worldwide to rethink all the areas of their business. “Empathy has become a vital part of the enhanced business solutions. Business as usual cannot be the answer,” Moodley said.

    Retention and acquisition


    Daniele Joubert and Bronwyn Pretorius

    Since the cost of bringing in a new customer is higher than the amount that a new customer is predicted to spend with your company over time, marketers come to realise that customer retention is critical for long-term growth. Daniele Joubert, Eater Growth Lead, UberEats RSA, emphasised on adapting to the changing circumstances and serving the community better. “We launched Uber Essentials. In response to the pandemic, our teams worked hard to innovate as quickly as possible to adapt businesses to allow our consumers to stay home and get their essentials delivered safely and reliably.”

    “We helped our restaurant partners manage their cash flows better by using a daily payout option. We added a functionality where customers could tip the restaurants,” she added in the panel discussion Retention Is The New Acquisition.

    According to Joubert, despite the ease of Covid-19 restrictions, the trend of home delivering essentials is growing, with an added demand for personalised experiences. “We had to redesign our CX as they wanted a much more personalised experience with curated content.”

    While Jourbert talked about creating seamless personalised experiences, Bronwyn Pretorius, Head of Marketing, Mukuru, stated that acquisition is just as important. So how do businesses maintain loyalty? She said the oldest trick in the book is offering discounts and promotional offers to customers, minus a one-size-fits-all approach.

    “We need to understand that all customers are different with different needs, different outcomes, and with different brand expectations. We reduce attrition by providing relevant offers and discounts to them, so that feels like a seamless process as opposed to the brand pushing down a specific offer.” 

    Changing shopping behaviour 


    Elizma Nolte

    Talking about the latest shopping trends, discovery commerce, Elizma Nolte, Regional Marketing Manager at Facebook, South Africa, talked about the changing shopping behaviour of consumers in this mobile-driven world.

    Earlier, eCommerce was intent driven, consumers knew what they were looking for. “Now, we are seeing a shift because of the various trends in the last ten years, specifically towards mobile and social networks,” Nolte said.

    Today, consumers are shopping all the time. Nolte said that even if customers are not inclined to shop, when they watch an influencer go live wearing a particular product that is tagged and shoppable, consumers are driven to make the purchase with a few clicks of the buttons.

    So has it collapsed the traditional purchase funnel? “Yes,” Nolte said. “Consumers today are quickly moving from seeing something to buying it immediately. There are so many products available online and consumer intention is so finite. Marketers have a short amount of time to capture the attention of their customers.” 

    In such a frenzied shopping scenario, how must marketers change alongside this shift and prepare for the new role?

    While marketing is an exciting space, it can be incredibly challenging. They need to innovate continuously to flush out seamless customer experiences. 

    Nolte questions if marketers are equipped with all the knowledge and skills required to stay ahead of competitors in this discovery economy ecosystem. “Do they understand that the majority of the content right now is video? Do they know how to create amazing, mobile-friendly video content? Are they keeping themselves updated about the newer ways of shopping and commerce? Are they thinking about trends like live shopping? Are they aware of the ways brands can make shopping fun?”

    While marketers need to analyse and dive deep into research about the strategies they bring forward for growth, they also need to think about the future of shopping, which is going to include immersive experiences.

    Are you ready for a change?

    With the imminent loss of third-party data, owning your first-party data is critical to surviving a cookieless world. Tealium customer Louise Blake, VP of Data at Seera Group, discussed how the company assessed CDP readiness and how owning their first-party data strategy enabled them to keep up with rising customer expectations (even during a pandemic). 

    Four years ago, Seera Group went through a journey of transformation which placed data at the heart of the business. “We were able to attack data from a holistic view rather than getting it siloed within marketing or finances,” said Blake.

    As one of the first industries to be directly impacted by the pandemic, Travel and Hospitality companies became inundated with customer inquiries, from bookings to cancellations. “Much of the business had shifted into managing bookings, cancellations, rather than focusing on marketing assets to attract customers,” she said. 

    Blake talked about the importance of knowing their customer base. Initially, the company struggled to address customer needs as they simply did not have the right infrastructure in place to understand and respond to the changing industry landscape during the pandemic. While they did have in-house data, they needed to change their strategies based on the new customer demands and expectations.

    “One of the key points is real-time interaction,” said Blake. 

    “Previously, we sent them emails to target them with specific hotel cross-sell information, but we realised it is not suitable for the customer. We looked at the customer purchases and realised that customers who booked flights from us were looking at competitors to understand hotel offerings. We did not have the infrastructure in place to target them in real-time with the most relevant offers.” With this valuable customer insight, Seera Group shifted their strategy to building a 360 degree of their customers.  

    Explaining how a CDP is different from DMP, CMX, and a personalisation tool, Blake said a CDP holds the basis to connect everything. By integrating Tealium, Seera Group was able to collect, store, and manage data across their 50-plus data sources, enabling them to create real-time and meaningful campaigns with a trusted, single view of their customers. 


    Kathleen Senona

    Marketers have had a tough year, but not one without learning. 

    Personalisation and privacy are often presented as concepts that are at odds with each other but that need not be the case, argues Kathleen Senona, Marketing Science Partner at Facebook. “The key is to find balance,” she says in her session entitled Understanding Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM).  

    Businesses have adopted technologies in response to changing consumer behaviours which are more online than ever before. Marketers will want to look at their historical sales numbers and be able to identify what led to those sales. They may further want to isolate factors like competition and seasonality to better understand incremental changes in trends. Marketing Mix Modeling or MMM is a marketing measurement approach that offers a natural progression for a business in their journey towards digital maturity. 

    Senona offered three overarching themes that Facebook believes in for building modern and contemporary MMMs. “We need better data so use the highest quality and granular data. We need better models for more actionable outcomes at a higher cadence. We need innovation, so investigate and use new techniques.”  

    Marketers know that efficiency is not linear when it comes to ad spends. MMM uses ridge regression and evolutionary algorithms to analyse data and inform marketers about how to allocate budgets across products and channels to optimise spend and maximise returns. It uses mathematical equations to show the statistical relationship between factors so a team can make informed decisions. 

    Getting started may seem daunting but enterprises can opt to kickstart their MMM operations using independent vendors, by building in-house capabilities or by using Facebook’s open-source platform Robyn which offers downloadable codes via GitHub. The advantage of Facebook’s platform is that it offers modular pieces that marketers can assemble and customise based on their unique KPIs. 

    However, the advantage of any MMM is that it is supported by machine learning making it scalable; it is also semi-automated which not just reduces the burden of manual tasks but also minimises bias. Looking forward, Senona shared that the most exciting prospect of using MMM is that it allows marketers to innovate, experiment and optimise their marketing efforts. 

    Hyper-personalisation to drive better experience 

    The lines between online and offline have blurred. “There is no such thing as eCommerce anymore. It is just commerce, and it is everywhere,” said Marc Emert, Sales Leader Africa Customer Experience (CX)

    “Most businesses are stuck in 2008, doing things like basic personalisation that is far from hyper-personalisation,” said Emert during his session at VMF. While better experience is the only competitive edge that can drive businesses, data is the fuel to empower those experiences.

    With a hyper-personalisation strategy, he claims companies can increase their revenue by 44 per cent, increase their conversion rates, and witness an increase in their order and purchase frequency.

    But there’s work to be done. The number of touchpoints have increased considerably. For example, Domino’s generates 75 per cent of its orders through digital channels. Orders are placed via smart TVs, from a consumer’s car, or even through Facebook messenger. With increasing customer touchpoints, hyper-personalisation is increasingly becoming the focus of forward-thinking businesses. 

    According to Emert, unification of data is the key to execute personalisation. The overlap of operational and experience data will inform marketers about gaps that can be filled and opportunities that can be converted. “But to collect all data, you need to be where customers are.”

    Companies like Amazon are good examples to understand how hyper-personalisation can be executed. Meanwhile, companies like Stitch Fix are beginning to refocus their marketing strategies and work on their first-party data collection, Emert added.

    Multiple touchpoints, one voice 


    Veli Mabena

    “If touchpoints are not translated into transactions, we will have a plethora of platforms that do nothing but become noise,” said Veli Mabena, Category Management Head at South African Broadcasting Corporation as he addressed the marketers at VMF. 

    If an influencer is talking about a brand partnership through an online channel, the interaction must have the means to translate into sales, otherwise it becomes meaningless. Translating all customer touchpoints into sales is crucial to retain customers. But that’s not as simple. Veli delves into the difference between multichannel and omnichannel strategies. While multichannel offers many ways to communicate with the customer, the level of service across each channel changes and so does the message alongside it. For a good omnichannel business strategy, customer experiences across channels must be consistent and seamless. 

    “Gone are the days when brands or products were the heroes, it is the customers who are the heroes now.” This makes it all the more important to keep the customer at the centre of all business decisions,” Mabena said.

    He also talked about incorporating customer-centricity across the operation chain with special focus on last mile delivery and fulfillment services in an increasingly digital retail world.

    Be authentic in your messaging 

    Kim Thipe, Non Executive Director at African Media Entertainment Limited, took on an ongoing debate within the marketing community through her session Is Content Still The King? Should marketing focus on content that is geared towards brand building or content that drives lead generation? While branded content puts the business and its ethos into the spotlight, content marketing is measured by the return on investment in terms of leads and sales. Can we choose one and not the other? According to Thipe, it’s best if brands find a balance between the two. 

    The exploding platform distribution that marketers witness today is a key factor to consider,  said Thipe. There are new platforms and immersive formats that have democratised content. So, it’s not just brands that are creating content but consumers too are participating via user-generated content and the growing creator economy.  

    However, Thipe warned that this explosion has led to a rise in divisive content that not only creates noise but distracts from larger issues of importance. “There is a solution,” she said. “There is an opportunity to embrace empathy through storytelling as a push for a better world. This is the learning we must take away from the pandemic in our effort to define a new normal.”

    She urged brands to work together to communicate better with their customers. Messaging that has empathy and purpose can work to leverage trust among consumers. It can lead to newer conversations brands never thought they could have. Consumers want brands that are authentic. Research has shown that consumers prefer brands that align with their values. Ultimately, an engaged customer is also a loyal one. 

    Written By: Chandni U, Khushbu Raval and Yolande DMello


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