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Digital marketers still do not have the faintest clue how deep the water is

Digital marketers still do not have the faintest clue how deep the water is

It is a fact that digital communication has become the dominant medium of information exchange between individuals worldwide. It is a fact that social media platforms consolidate the communication needs of millions upon millions of people. And it is a fact that the personal detail of all these many millions of people constitute a vast resource that can be tapped into by governments and companies, either to expose them to a specific doctrine, or to market their products to them.

But now for the catch: how to design marketing in such a way that it [ideally] reaches every potential customer in his or her own life setting, taking into account each person’s preferences and dislikes, and if possible, bridging everyone’s cultural bias.

The featured image I have chosen for my commentary popped onto my screen while browsing a website styling itself as tips and tricks dot com. Scrutinising the picture, one notices immediately that there are a number of built-in cues that tell something about the intentions of the marketers, and the marketing behind these items for sale.

Most important is that the message claims universality. By claiming that everybody talks about this watch in Namibia, the sales message tries to establish credibility in the sense that if this object is on everybody’s mind, there definitely must be something to it.

From this direct observation comes the implied part. If you are not yet part of that group (everybody) who talks about this fancy watch, then you are still out in the cold. The bait has been set, and the seller bargains on the fact that you as the unsuspecting reader will also want to know what all the fuzz is about. What exactly makes this watch so special that everybody is talking about it? By adding “in Namibia” the message is personalised albeit in a very general way. It implies that the everybody who is talking about it does not reside in some other African country, or any other foreign country abroad, – No! All the everybodies are there in your own country right with you, your dearest compatriots, so to speak.

This is rather ingenious, but it is in fact, all nonsense. Drivel contrived by marketing minds who mine unimaginably large data bases consisting of the records of the said millions upon millions of people who use the internet every day.

Another cue on that same page is the proliferation of Alibaba advertisements. These are a dead give-away that the website probably resides in China, and that the whole marketing spiff that comes with it is also Chinese in origin.

Access to these large data bases is fairly easy. To that attests a not insignificant reported number of cases of data breaches, stolen records, and in some cases, outright collusion between the custodians of the data (your service provider) and the mega-marketers who need to reach more and more individuals in their quest to keep growing their market share.

Asking the question how they got your detail, is futile. The channels to collect or acquire data on demographics, location, gender, age, race, income, spending preferences and lifestyle, abound across the internet. What is more to the point, is why it has become necessary to flog lies to sell products? Or is this just the “normal” way modern marketing works?

But it is this concoction of distortions that make me suspect that not a single company or interest group knows exactly how to use the information they have on consumers to their own advantage, in other words, how to sell more by reaching more prospects. The fuzziness of all the marketing messages convinces me that they are all fishing in clouded water. They know the fish is there in their billions, but they have not figured out how to tailor-made a specific personalised bait for every individual fish. That they are actively seeking for the golden answer is clear. This is confirmed by the ubiquitous attempts at dressing every marketing message in such a way that it suggests a familiarity, or a personal need, or a specific problem that can be solved.

I do not think that this type of infringing marketing will go away. On the contrary, the results must be such that the companies will continue refining the algorithms that mine your personal information to display that specific product that you are looking for. At least, this is the end goal I see anticipated by the new breed of marketers.

Invasive and intrusive elements on the internet are many. That is the reason why there are so many adblockers, and why all the leading sanitisers have options to block certain types of content, or certain types of files, like display banners. The problem is, it is still very general, and if you block one item, you effectively block all items that are classified in that same category.

What is clear to me is that digital marketers have not figured out what works, that is why they still use a shotgun approach to a large extent. The big difference now is that they use Namibian bullets for all the everybodies in Namibia, and Angolan bullets for the Angolans, and Zambian bullets for the Zambians, and so on and so on.

Heaven forbid that marketing gets to the level where, with the assistance of AI, a lone ATM in a converted container in a godforsaken corner of Botswana, greeted me when I stuck my card in the machine with: Good Morning Mr Steinmann, how are you?


About The Author

Daniel Steinmann

Brief CV of Daniel Steinmann. Born 24 February 1961, Johannesburg. Educated at the University of Pretoria: BA, BA(hons), BD. Postgraduate degrees are in Philosophy and Divinity. Editor of the Namibia Economist since 1991. Daniel Steinmann has steered the Economist as editor for the past 29 years. The newspaper started as a monthly free-sheet, then moved to a weekly paper edition (1996 to 2016), and on 01 December 2016 to a daily digital newspaper at His editorial focus is on economic analysis based on budget analysis, dissecting strategic planning and assessing the impact of policy formulation. For eight years, he hosted a weekly talk-show on NBC Radio, explaining complex economic concepts to a lay audience in a relaxed, conversational manner. He was a founding member of the Editors' Forum of Namibia. Over the years, he has mentored scores of journalism students as interns and as young professional journalists. He often assists economics students, both graduate and post-graduate, to prepare for examinations and moderator reviews. He is the Namibian respondent for the World Economic Survey conducted every quarter for the Ifo Center for Business Cycle Analysis and Surveys at the University of Munich in Germany. He is frequently consulted by NGOs and international analysts on local economic trends and developments. Send comments to [email protected]