A Guide to Making it as a Digital Marketing Entrepreneur in SA

Updated on 26 November 2018

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digital marketing mike sharman
Mike Sharman, founder of Retroviral Digital Communications. (Image supplied)

“My job didn’t exist when I was at university. We continue to create tomorrow what doesn’t exist today. That’s the beauty of this (digital marketing) industry – it is a blank canvas for business creativity,” says Mike Sharman, co-founder of Retroviral Digital Communications, an award winning digital communications agency.

Retroviral, which launched in 2010, has established a significant track record for delivering innovative solutions to blue-chip companies and specialises in creating and implementing award-winning campaigns and digital solutions.

Sharman believes that the value (of doing business in this industry) is in the view of the entrepreneur. “It has taken us eight years to grow a small business that employs 13 people and does about R20m in revenue. The digital world is our pixelated oyster,” he says.

When he was asked about trends in the digital marketing industry, Sharman says live digital content has been the major evolution in digital over the past two years, but it is still under-utilised from a brand perspective in South Africa.

According to Sharman, live digital content is one of two major trends (and opportunities) that South African entrepreneurs should be exploring in the digital marketing industry.

Sharman breaks down the two trends that show where the digital marketing industry is heading:

Trend #1: Live digital content

Sharman, who is author of the business book The Best Dick, said: “We have used live (digital content) effectively for authentic message delivery on Facebook for brands such as Russell Hobbs. Live competition draws have been championed by our fans for the simple premise that our customers are seldom exposed to such transparency.

“We have used live (digital content) effectively for authentic message delivery on Facebook for brands.

“From an integrated marketing perspective, we leveraged live to execute the ‘Holy Trinity of Marketing’ (HTOM) in its purest form.”

Sharman said they’ve done live (digital content) for authentic message delivery on Facebook for brands like Russell Hobbs. Here Russell Hobbs SA is congratulating a winner via Facebook’s live video:

According to Sharman, the HTOM is the hybrid mentality that was the basis for the establishment of the Retroviral agency, whereby the ideal scenario for a through the line execution pertains to the use of digital content, leveraged in the real world for a more immersive, emotional experience with an activation, amplified by both traditional and digital PR.

“When we were briefed by M-Net to promote the return of the Survivor South Africa franchise, we were required to cut through the clutter of the ubiquitous format of reality TV. This is the award-winning Outwit. Outplay. Outdoor.”

Watch the execution of the marketing campaign done for the brand Survivor South Africa. Both traditional media and digital marketing were used for this campaign. Watch:

Trend #2: Podcasting

Another trend Sharman sees as a major evolution in digital is podcasting, because it has an emotional connection opportunity.

“Live video isn’t the only content tactic exploding on the local scene,” said Sharman. “Podcasting has seen the digitalisation of one of the world’s most impactful media – radio – and resuscitated the theatre of the mind with a consumption option that appeals to a millennial audience and older.”

He explained: “Shows like Serial have done wonders for the PR of podcasting and the increase in downloads for local properties from Cliff Central, as well as the aggressive marketing of the industry – by individuals such as Matt Brown – has led to the increased awareness and adoption of the media by a constantly growing audience.

“Brands should consider podcasting as an emotional connection opportunity and as we conclude 2018 and look ahead to 2019, Anchor is the app to watch. It combines the simplicity of recording a voice note – the defacto form of communication for the digital native – with the platform that links into social media to disseminate one’s Citizen Broadcast on the audio front.”

“Brands should consider podcasting as an emotional connection opportunity…

Examples of brands making use of podcasting is Discovery collaborating with personal finance journalist Maya Fisher-French on the Smart Money podcast on Cliff Central online radio and Nedbank collaborating with financial journalist Bruce Whitfield of Radio 702 on the The Money Show on 702.

Sharman added that voice shouldn’t be taken for granted as we head towards 2020. “Communicating with our connected devices as AI-like personal assistants will become second nature where our IoT world will continue to complete tasks for us at the drop of the spoken word.”

Advice to SMEs

On the online radio station, CliffCentral, Sharman said that everyone should aim to be “the best dick of your industry”. When SME South Africa asked him how does one become an expert in your field, he replied: “Find your obsession. My obsession is storytelling that leads to sales, or story-selling as I call it.

“To succeed as an SME, chase your obsession,” he added.


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