Digital Strategist South Africa

Episode 25: The Digital Strategist In South Africa – A Conversation With Cherylann Smith

Cherylann Smith Digital Strategist South Africa Digital StrategyCherylann Smith is co-founder and managing director of WeCollaborate, a brand communications specialist consultancy. Cherylann brings over a decade of experience working with major organizations such as Nando’s as well as the African Leadership Academy. She has worked on a wide variety of international brands such as MasterCard, Microsoft and Audi, focusing on digital, content and social media strategy. An active participant in the marketing community, including as a judge on a variety of major industry awards, Cherylann joins us today from Johannesburg to discuss the role of the digital strategist in South Africa. You can hear our conversation in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or below now.

Complexity is the hallmark of digital strategy in South Africa. With 11 official languages, incredible diversity and 61% of web traffic from mobile devices, coupled with astronomically expensive data plans, it takes something special to succeed. The keys are creativity and collaboration, both driven by the work of the digital strategist in helping ‘brands stand out amongst the clutter in a meaningful way’. This is what Cherylann does, first by ‘coming in as a consultant to look at the business from the outside in’ and then to get ‘immersed in the business to understand it from the inside out’.

Cherylann brings a psychology background to the role, something she studied because she was interested in ‘understanding what connects people…what connects people to brands..what are their motivations?’. After starting out in paid media and affiliate marketing she moved quickly into social media and content marketing when she realized that strategy is driven by the same data that she was used to on the paid side. This data and insight driven creativity is a concept that she comes back to time and again, and it is not surprising since it is central to what she says is the key to success in South Africa, namely ‘authenticity and really being interesting’ and doing so in particular in the vibrant mobile marketing scene, as she defines it ‘a small screen with big opportunity’. Much of this is driven by visual content such as Youtube and Instagram (that have increased by 53% in the last year). That said, the aforementioned issues around expensive data plans and limited smartphone penetration mean that the onus is very much on finding creative ways to connect with people who ‘can see through desperate attempts to generate page views’. The solution is to ‘be real, be authentic and consider what’s in it for the customer’.

Brands that do this well and that are connecting with South African consumers include Uber, who is using technology to change the way South Africans commute and travel, First National Bank has made banking personable and very interesting, Nando’s remains very clever and very relevant, and Knorr with their ‘what’s for dinner’ concept’.  All of these are driven by the quality of their content and how well they have engaged the community, something that homegrown health and fitness brand Sleek Geek has also done very well.

A real differentiator that Cherylann identifies about the South African industry is that agencies have gotten on board with digital and the extremely social nature of the society means an unprecedented level of collaboration that is happening in the industry locally. She sees this as being one of the key drivers in the world beating work that is coming out of South Africa right now.

But challenges remain. Areas such as online reputation management and data and measurement are both in their infancy locally. This relative immaturity in these spaces represent opportunities to those starting out though. Her advice is to get involved in the many great networking events such as those provided by the PR Foundation and the Advertising Media Association. In this dynamic environment she advises those starting out to ‘be flexible and stay uncomfortable…things change…if you are married to an idea you can lose something if you don’t remain progressive. What’s experimental and exciting today becomes quite old hat and expected tomorrow so you have to be the person that keeps yourself ahead and learning’.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

Listen to the podcast in iTunesStitcher or Soundcloud or below now.

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