I would not be surprised if in the past the term; e-Commerce, was looked at by many as just another corporate buzzword that was used to colour conversations and meetings, often resulting in the intended message not being communicated effectively – as buzzwords and jargon often do.
A Google search of the definition of e-Commerce offers definitions such as: …business that is transacted by transferring data electronically, especially over the Internet: Dictionary.com, and …the activity of buying or selling of products on online services or over the Internet. Electronic commerce draws on technologies such as mobile commerce, electronic funds transfer, supply chain management, Internet marketing, online transaction processing, electronic data interchange (EDI), inventory management systems, and automated data collection systems: Wikipedia. Many of the activities listed in these definitions have been standard operating procedure in many industries and different business sizes for some time now. E-Commerce could now be considered as business-as-usual. Arguably, this has been true for a longer period for Business to Business (B2B) transactions.
Business to Customer (B2C) and Customer to Customer (C2C) interactions have exponentially increased in volume with more developments around the use of Mobile Apps (a computer program or software application designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone/tablet or watch: Wikipedia). These forms of interaction are used to initiate AND conclude all manner of transactions from;
- Flight and hotel bookings: Bookings.com, Lastminute.com, Trip Advisor
- Accommodation: Airbnb
- Taxi’s: Uber, Ulendo to
- Retail: Amazon, eBay, Alibaba
A business such as Uber is often described as a technology company rather than as a taxi service company, bringing customers and taxi service providers together more efficiently and effectively. This is just one example of how a technology firm can transform an entire industry.
Amongst the more recent generations such as Millennials (arguably born between 1980 and 2000) and the so-called digital natives or Generation Z (born after Millennials), the use of digital means in everyday life is second nature. Even the more tech savvy Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are using mobile apps and computers to help make their lives easier both for personal and business needs.
More and more innovative use of apps and the internet are being discovered every day and this is not unique to developed countries; even here in Zambia there is an under-current that may not be so obvious. Entrepreneurs are emerging with unique value propositions albeit with varying degrees of success – just ask the oracle that is the innovation and technology hub called BongoHive.
Digital Marketing (…a broad term that covers advertising through online channels such as search engines, websites, social media, email, and mobile apps: market.com) seems to be the holy grail. One key benefit of digital marketing lies in the ability to have more objective measures of performance of a marketing campaign or programme that is run through digital media. In contrast, measuring the performance of traditional marketing channels such as print media, billboards and radio adverts, is not as straightforward. Of course, in selecting the location for a billboard or which magazine or newspaper a business will run an advertising campaign through certain market research and assumptions would have been made. However, with digital marketing more data analytics is possible. (Data Analytics is the science of drawing insights from raw information sources: Investopedia.com). That is also not to say that traditional and digital methods are mutually exclusive. They often complement each other very well.
When you download an App on your mobile device or sign up to a retailing service such as Amazon.com, more often than not you are required to fill in some personal information ; already the App owner/online retailer has a head start. From here they can and will know how many current and potential customers reside in Kitwe, Lusaka, or Livingstone, what their relative ages are and possibly their occupations and interests. The database built from such information has significant value and its contents are often sought by those that know its worth.
Just last year the scandal of Cambridge Analytica (a British political consulting firm which combined data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communications during electoral processes) gave us a peak into the extent to which data is being used and how valuable it can be. Ethical considerations on the use of personal data have also trended recently leading to more regulation of data usage in some jurisdictions.
Social media is defined as interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks: Wikipedia.
Social media is one key element through which digital marketing can be executed. Businesses can use social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to run their promotional programmes in addition to having the same content on their own websites and on other third party sites. They are then able to measure the effectiveness of those programmes and make adjustments as required in real time based on customer feedback. Despite its benefits, social media can be a double-edged sword – negative sentiment and criticism can equally have a far reaching effect through social media. A business should have a well thought through strategy on how to handle different scenarios to protect its brand and corporate image. A good reference here would be sports apparel giant Nike. After committing to support Colin Kaepernick (the NFL player that took a knee during the national anthem in protest to racially motivated police brutality), what seemed to be a damaging backlash of unhappy customers burning their own Nike merchandise on social media, was actually dwarfed by a spike in sales revenue amongst the majority of its customers worldwide. Both sets of customers were influenced by social media!
Research has shown that people are increasingly trusting of peer-to-peer reviews about the quality and effectiveness of certain products, services or brands. Large corporations have realised this and are developing and implementing strategies to benefit from all possible opportunities in the digital space.
Businesses are seeking out influencers and are known to offer them merchandise for free which they can review or unbox on their social media channels. Influencers are people who have built a reputation for their knowledge and expertise on a particular topic. They make regular posts about that topic on their preferred social media channels and generate large followings of enthusiastic engaged people who pay close attention to their views: influencermarketinghub.com.
Such peer-to-peer reviews are deemed by many to be more genuine/trustworthy or objective than content put out by marketing agencies or the service providers themselves. Social media influencers use channels such as YouTube or Instagram to share their views in pictorial or short video formats. Viewers may like, dislike or ignore the posts, and share the posts potentially reaching hundreds of millions of would-be customers across the world – going viral!
In a Zambian context we may be behind in terms of certain infrastructure and developments but woe to those who discount the present and future power of digital marketing!
It is recommended that businesses develop social media and digital marketing strategies for their businesses that complement the overall strategy of the business. As well as aiming to benefit from the opportunities presented by digital marketing for growth and wider exposure, these strategies also need to consider and aim to mitigate the risks inherent in the use of digital marketing.
And here I was thinking social media was only for the fickle and those with too much time on their hands!
About the Author
Chitende Silutongwe is a Finance & Accounting leader with business partnering passion & experience for sustainable value creation.