Online Marketing: Insights into South Africa’s growing industry

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Online marketing has taken advertising to a whole new level. The online directory has replaced the telephone book. Your business advertisement will no longer end up in the latest heap of recycling but will instead be available online 24/7 to potential customers in far reaches.

The role of the digital marketer has also shifted according to global trends. If you stop an average South African on the street it is highly unlikely that they’ll be able to tell you just what a digital marketer does. From our own experience of chatting to South African youth, the majority of them are blown away by the career opportunities and employment possibilities within the industry. Educating the South African youth about digital marketing is the first step in catalyzing a much-needed surge in the digital marketing industry. But for today, we’ll start with you.

So where are we at?

A recent study conducted by World Wide Worx in collaboration with Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group has shown that as early as 2010 the number of South African internet users surpassed the 5 million mark. Since then, the numbers have been growing exponentially and by the end of 2015 we reached just under 25 million internet users – that’s almost 47% of our total population! Data shows that on average South African’s are spending just over 5 hours a day accessing the internet from laptops and computers and 3 hours a day from mobile phones.

What’s more – PricewaterhouseCoopers has predicted that by 2017 South African consumers will be spending a total of R59.6 billion on internet access (a massive leap from 2014’s R19.8 billion).

The ways in which South Africans access the internet are also changing. The days of chunky desktop computers are over and today’s generation of internet users are relying more heavily on smartphones as their primary portal to the World Wide Web. A report recently released by We Are Social shows that in 2015 mobile phones accounted for 61% of the share of web traffic in South Africa, while desktop computers and laptops only accounted for 32%. Additionally, the South African Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has reported that half of South African smartphone users are now able to access more than 1GB of data monthly.


So What?


Not only are millions of more people in South Africa access the internet than ever before but they are doing it in different ways.

Put two and two together and you’ll see that this rise in internet usage is synonymous with a rise in both online marketing and e-commerce. Not only is online marketing the way of the future, but stats show that it can provide companies with superb advertising for lower prices and with even better results – proven. Businesses, both large and small, are taking the internet by storm and harnessing the power that digital marketing has to offer for marketing, sales and customer engagement. With a digital marketing skillset in their arsenal, small businesses are finally able to level the playing field against larger corporates.

Research released in April 2016 showed that in 2016 online retail in South Africa is expected to reach 1% of overall retail. While we’ve covered a lot of technological ground lately, as an emerging market economy we are still a couple steps behind. This creates an even greater urgency for us to keep an eye on those ahead of us and the trends and developments of internet marketing strategies globally.

Digital marketing as a career

The digital marketing industry is an expansive one, filled with opportunities for both those with specialist skills and those with a more general online marketing skill set.

We’re facing a skills shortage

For a while now those in the digital marketing industry have taken note of an escalating skills shortage. Digital marketing skillsets are in high demand, but ultimately in short supply.

In the words of Rob Stokes, Founder and Group CEO of Quirk: “The truth is that the growth in the digital industry has been so rapid that even globally it’s been impossible for skills development to keep up. When a completely new industry grows at 30-50% a year, there is no way that the supply of skills can keep pace.”

Let’s look at the positive side though – there has never been a more opportune time to up your digital marketing skill set, and join the industry.

So what skills are in-demand?

A recent Digital Marketing Talent report has however shown that hiring trends have begun to shift towards those with experience in certain areas.

There are however much value and employability in being what has been coined a ‘general specialist’ – having a broad knowledge of the industry but a specialist skillset in one specific area. This is also commonly referred to as a T-Shaped marketer.

Erin Everhart, current director of digital marketing at the digital agency 352 explained that: “One of the biggest things I see is that people are too specialized. It’s great, and you definitely need something to hang your hat on, but we’re at a position where I can’t hire someone who’s only going to do PPC or only going to do social. Basically, we look for good, creative marketers, who can come up with creative ideas across any medium, even if they’ve never worked in that medium before.”

Apart from managerial skills required in the digital industry, the industry is in desperate need for specialist (technical) skills.

It is without a doubt that specialist skills like SEO, PPC, content marketing and analytics are a growing need in South Africa and that their potential as internet marketing strategies can’t be ignored. SEO for one pulls all strategies together, acting as the pillar for organic traffic (which should be the bulk of every website’s traffic). With the rise of social media and changes in Google algorithms, all digital marketing services need to be integrated. No longer can marketers and business owners have a silo’d approach. For example – if you decide you want to rank organically, you will need a content strategy, which means you will need a social strategy to promote your content and finally paid advertising (Adwords) will provide the foundation to collect search data.

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