South African marketers need to look towards packaged applications and specialist service and solutions providers to help them make the most of the new opportunities emerging from digital marketing.

That's according to Richard Mullins, director at Acceleration. He says that even in a country such as South Africa where broadband penetration has lagged adoption in the developed world, online marketing presents a host of compelling opportunities.
“The way that people around the world consume media has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. The Web is now a close second behind television in daily media consumption and is expected to surpass television as the top medium worldwide by 2011,” notes Mullins.
In South Africa, digital media has taken root among the middle classes, while cellular phones are expected to bring a large segment of the population into the digital world over the next few years. Yet many companies remain nervous of investing in digital marketing.
“One of the major factors holding back digital marketing in South Africa is the fact that many marketers and agencies struggle to understand the technology that enables digital marketing, or fear that they don't have the human resources to invest in digital marketing,” says Mullins.
“There is a lot of technology out there, and the features and functions can be confusing. It's hardly surprising that many companies are struggling to come to grips with the nuances and potential of tools such as Web analytics, ad servers, and email marketing.
“One of the major mistakes that companies worldwide make is to develop their own in-house digital marketing solutions to save money, rather than opting for a packaged solution,” says Mullins. “As a result, they often end up with inflexible solutions that are difficult to scale up as their needs grow. Maintaining homegrown digital marketing technology can become a major headache for the IT department and can often be more expensive than buying an off-the-shelf solution.”
“There is little need to create digital marketing applications from scratch because there are a host of affordable solutions on the market and even some free open-source solutions such as Google Analytics that offer rich functionality,” he adds. “Alternatively, companies can turn to an application service provider model, where they rent digital marketing applications hosted by a specialist.”
Mullins notes that the applications underpinning digital marketing are rapidly becoming commodities. As prices of applications fall, it frees up money that companies can invest in services, which is where their real differentiation will come from.
“Outsourcing the entire technology platform for digital marketing is an attractive option for many companies since it allows them to focus on the strategic side of marketing. Digital marketing technologies can place enormous strain on internal bandwidth, hardware resources and technical skills."
A specialist service and solutions provider in the digital marketing space will be able to offer a stable and secure technical platform, deep experience in complexities around digital marketing such as international privacy and anti-spam regulations, exposure to international best practices and training services.
The experience that a service and solutions provider can offer can be invaluable to companies that don't yet have much experience in the digital marketing space.
"Marketers can no longer afford to treat digital marketing as an afterthought when they are putting together their marketing strategies," says Mullins. "Instead, they need to treat it as an integral part of their strategies from the outset.
"In turn, digital marketing technology must be seen as a strategic rather than an operation investment. By choosing the right tools and partners, companies can implement digital marketing strategies that deliver a strong return on investment."