However, what does 'gone digital' actually mean?

Offline processes are going online

Setting up a retail outlet on the Internet is much more affordable and scalable than starting up a bricks-and-mortar shop would be. This is why many aspiring entrepreneurs are choosing to set up e-commerce shops as opposed to ones in outlet malls.

The stats back this up. It was found that online shopping is growing at a rate of 35%, while retailers that have traditionally had physical shops (the likes of your Woolworths, Pick 'n Pay and Makro) are now choosing to have an online shop in conjunction with their mall outlets. The reason for this is that they know that a great percentage of the market is preferring to shop online, as opposed to actually going to the mall.

Online is becoming easier

When the Internet became commonplace in South African homes about 20-odd years ago, it was extremely difficult to access it. Dial-up modems were commonplace and usually ran on the home's dedicated line. This meant that accessing the Internet severely disrupted family life as no one was able to make telephone calls when the line was being used.

ADSL was only really a feature in offices that had the ways and means to afford this technology. However, it still had teething problems because the technology was still quite new to South Africa.

The result of this is that accessing the Internet was extremely difficult. So, instead of doing your business — for example, shopping and banking — online was a hassle. It was much easier to pick up the phone or actually go into the branch or shop.

However, with the explosion of fibre Internet, connections and devices such as smartphones and tablets transacting online have become incredibly convenient. It takes you less time to do what you need to do online as opposed to doing it in person.

Consumers are seeing this ease of doing business and are appreciating it. Thus, they are going online to make their lives easier.

The personalisation of the Internet

One could argue that this migration to online processes has removed the personalisation (and thus the feeling of trust) that people feel when they interact with providers in person.

However, technology developers have seen this challenge. They've also realised that providers are physically unable to monitor social media feeds, e-mails and live chat facilities 24 hours a day. To overcome this stumbling block that many companies face, they've gone into the realms of artificial intelligence or, as it is more colloquially termed, AI.

With AI, developers are able to see what questions a company's customers are most frequently asking and are able to develop answers to these, which can be delivered to the people who ask them. So, for example, if customers usually ask for a price list, a bot can be programmed to recognise the question that is being asked and deliver the customer a price list on request.

Personalisation can also be seen with the likes of Amazon's Alexa. This device, which sits in your home, can be programmed to perform certain tasks when you're not able to do them. Before you get worried that this will enable your household appliances to start communicating with each other — and possibly ganging up against you, Alexa's abilities can actually help you immensely.

For example, if you put sensors on your windows, and connect these to Alexa and if you are out — and it looks like it’s going to rain — you can ask Alexa if you've left any windows open. Although Alexa can't close the windows for you, you can get home that much quicker to close them yourself.

What does this mean?

As consumers are increasingly moving their interactions online, product and service providers need to re-evaluate the way that they do business and start to adapt their offering to make it suitable for the digital space.

With this change in service offerings, these providers will need to develop a strategy on how to market these new digital offerings in the online space. In other words, the marketing department will need to upskill themselves in digital marketing.

'Digital marketing' is not worlds apart from traditional marketing. This is seen in that brand-building essentials, that were developed in traditional marketing, are still true for digital marketing. However, the ways in which you go about building your brand in digital marketing are different to those methods adopted in traditional marketing.

In traditional marketing, the only tools available to you to help you build your brand were offline ones, such as the consistency of your logo, adverts in newspapers as well as thought-leadership pieces in magazines.

However, digital marketing puts a lot more tools — such as social media — at the marketer's disposal in order to help them get their brand out to more people than they would have with just using traditional means.

In order to make this transition from traditional marketing to digital marketing, marketers will need to upskill themselves in the principles of digital marketing. However, when looking at what courses to do, people need to choose very carefully. They need to choose a course that is backed by a SETA — such as the MICT SETA — as well as other industry bodies, such as the IAB SA. In addition, they need to choose a course that is comprehensive.

The world of digital is exciting! There are so many opportunities that are now accessible that you can take advantage of in order to grow and develop your business. This means that the time is right now for you to get into digital marketing.

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*Image courtesy of the Digital School of Marketing