Digital summits and the slow growth of the South African industry

Attending digital summits is always an interesting experience. This is where the who ’s who of the digital marketing sphere gather and where industry successes and challenges are presented and discussed. The IAB Digital Summit is no exception and is regarded by many as a highlight of the industry’s social calendar.

What stood out at this year’s IAB Summit is how far South Africa is lagging behind when compared to other countries like the United Kingdom. Guy Phillipson from IAB UK was one of speakers and reported that digital had quickly become the dominant marketing medium in the UK. Digital spend in the UK now includes 40% of the overall marketing budget. In comparison, it is predicted that, in South Africa, we will only reach the 10% mark by 2018.

Considering this, it is understandable as to why the main focus of digital summits in South Africa has remained on the growth of the industry. For some time, we have heard speeches and talks about this subject and have discussed solutions that range from simplifying our terminology as to ensure that clients are able to have a better grasp of what it is that we do, to the necessity of diversifying the culture of the workforce so that we are able to connect to a bigger portion of the South African audience. These are valid and important points, but one does wonder when discussions about topics like content innovation (which aim to move the industry forward on a technical level) are going to take to the main stage.

Innovation and Growth

Most experts will argue that until we convince brands and businesses to seriously invest in this type of marketing, until we find the right terminology to explain the worth of this approach, and until we find a method of conveying a brand or business message so that it resonates across cultural barriers, talking about touch points like content innovation is a waste of time.

In all fairness, people do speak about product innovation at these summits, but it never makes up the bulk of a discussion. Topics like this always tend to remain side notes, which is frustrating for those of us who are not only interested in the growth of the industry but also in its evolution. There are those amongst us who feel that the two are interlinked and that evolution will invariably lead to growth.

Finding Solutions

An interesting question asked by Mr Phillipson at this year’s IAB Summit was whether the age of copywriters and designers was over and whether creative directors and technologists are the future of digital marketing. He was referring to the popularity of apps, interactive videos and other similar user experiences. These are the types of content that receive the most attention and that clients are easily impressed by. It also stands to reason that strong concepts, expressed largely through visuals, should have the ability to transcend cultural barriers.

This sounds like the solution to many of the problems that our industry is currently facing; however, production of this type of content requires specialised software and a level of expertise which usually comes at a notable cost, a cost that clients are not always willing to cover.

Summits should therefore incorporate a technological aspect to the proceedings that teaches us the basics of producing this type of content in a cheap yet efficient manner. Not only that, but it is also suggested that they invite speakers who have conceptualised award winning content of this variety so they can take us through their ideation process. In other words, the age of the theorist is over and the future now depends on highly specialised experts who are willing to share practical and up to date knowledge.

Great ideas and tech-savviness are the future of the digital marketing industry (and every other industry out there, for that matter), and the growth of an industry as a whole is not only dependant on gathering clientele, but also on the sharing of workable knowledge. We accumulate knowledge, share it and others build on it. They share what they’ve learned and we then build on that. And so, the cycle continues. The only way in which this industry is going to grow is if we hear from local and global experts who are getting it right at ground level and then build on the knowledge which they impart. In the words of Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”



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