If you take a minute to Google the words "Social media marketing", you'll find loads of information on not only its definition but also its value, but if you add the words "in the Caribbean" to your search term you'll find that it's a different story. Besides stumbling across some well SEO'd agencies; information, statistical or otherwise, is sorely lacking.
Added to that is the fact that several Caribbean business websites are outdated or poorly designed and the deeper you dig the more obvious it becomes that these businesses appear to not see the value of Social Media or Digital marketing.
To our counterparts across the seas, digital marketing seems to have become second nature and almost daily we see their strategies at play. They intrigue us to the point that we stand in awe of their marketing prowess, readily follow their brands and purchase their products in spite of high currency exchange rates and import duties and although many Caribbean business owners are fully aware of these success stories, they still treat Digital marketing like an illegitimate child, never fully acknowledging its value or giving it the recognition it deserves.
Yes there are some local companies that will seasonally throw some money at Digital but what happens during the rest of the year? Most seem to see little value in having a focused results oriented online strategy. Instead they continue to throw the bulk of their marketing dollars into the traditional mediums of television, print and radio and while I'm not saying that anything is wrong with these traditional marketing routes, truth be told, these options can limit a company's ability to properly target or effectively measure their marketing spend.
Another glaring issue is that the concept of fostering customer loyalty and building a strong brand identity via their social and digital platforms seem secondary or even unnecessary.
In many sectors, monopolies kill the competitive dynamic, so numerous Caribbean businesses see no value in adjusting strategies to fit into this ever evolving landscape. They believe that they determine the market forces and not their customers. There is little or no desire to embrace the strategies that are so readily accepted and practiced by first world economies.
I was once told by a local Marketing manager at a popular hotel that she didn't need to market, digital or otherwise, as her hotel was booked solid. I've often wondered how that comment would have gone over with her Brand Managers at the US head office, for while I agree that focus on the bottom line a key component of any business, to quote my good friend Michael Adams, a marketing and business consultant, "She's missing one important ingredient. Her customers no longer require her permission to share the 'customer experience'. Good or bad, they will share it and if the business is not embracing and strategizing for the impact of this game changing dynamic, she's leaving her business totally exposed."
The sad truth is that she's not alone in this thinking, this seems to be the attitude of many Caribbean businesses and as digital practitioners should we shoulder some of the blame? Could it be that we are not doing enough to educate and to inform the region of the potential of Digital marketing and the impact it can have on a business, both positive and negative?
The Caribbean is romanticized for being a place of sunshine, beaches, color, music and fun. Yet, when it comes to our discussions on digital marketing, and even some of the campaigns we design, our cultural footprint seems to be missing. Instead, in many instances we can at times, come across as overly technical. Discussion on ROI and Hashtags may make sense to us, but maybe more of us need to take it down a notch and truly speak to our business owners in a language everyone understands, time money and profitability.
Who is saying to the business in the simplest terms, social media is not going away, anytime soon, with over 1 billion, yes 1 billion active monthly users on Facebook alone, this is not a beast to be ignored!
I'm happy to say that I believe that there's hope for us, for I have recently met a number of awesome people in the Digital space who are trying their very best to get this message out and even though it's still an uphill battle, where in some cases sound advice is ignored, they keep pressing on.
As I close, I would like to share this story with my Caribbean business owners. Every experience, good or bad can and will make its way to the masses and what does this mean for you? Just look at the recent exposure Kohls received from a satisfied customer? This video, in which a regular customer called Candace Payne, so overjoyed with her purchase of a new Chewbacca mask, recorded the moment she opened the package and uploaded it to Facebook. To date her video has had over 150 million views.
So what does this mean? According to Fortune magazine, Kohls was one of the exclusive sponsors of the Oscars which only had 34.4 million viewers. The magazine went on to say "another 30 million people have also viewed the video Kohl's posted on its Facebook page of the retailer's employees showing up at Payne's home to say "thank you" with a $2,500 gift card and more Star Wars merchandise. This was a complete bargain next to the millions Kohl's reportedly spent to be a sponsor of the Oscars."
Social media/digital marketing is here to stay and those who embrace its value, those who can maximize the benefits, will see the returns where it counts, in their bottom line and those who do not, will ultimately feel it there too! This should be a wake up call to Caribbean businesses.
To my friends in the digital space, I say, continue pressing on. Let's start some real down to earth conversations about the issues that hamper our efforts to change perceptions. Let's all work together to educate and to develop a vibrant community. The competition for business is stiff I know, but dialog can't hurt us, it should only help us.
The business community needs us to guide and walk them through the often confusing, ever-changing landscape that is the Digital space. As some of the early adopters of this dynamic and evolving technology, let's continue to have the conversations that inform the business owners of how Digital marketing can support, nurture and enhance what they care about most, business continuity and growth. It's really the least we can do.
I would love to hear your comments, feedback and suggestions on what you believe can be done to change the perception of Digital marketing in the Caribbean?
Also look out for part two in this series as I talk to a number of top digital strategist who share their insight, on the questions surrounding the issues facing Caribbean businesses when it comes to making the most of Social Media Marketing.
*The terms Digital marketing and Social Media Marketing have been used interchangeably.