This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative, technology and advertising minds.

Arthur Goldstuck has been tracking internet technology since year zero. He was probably the first person in South Africa to send an email. And the first to get spam. The Future By Design asked Goldstuck to look at current trends and advise marketers about how best to use modern channels of communication, from email to cellphones.


The Future By Design: How should people who manage brands think about technology?

technology future
They need to be aware of the fact that the majority of consumers today have some kind of device in their hand that they use to communicate with the world, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want the world to connect with them. Once you accept this as a basis you build it up from there. So when you want to communicate with people, their mobile device is the best vehicle to do that in terms of reaching a person on a personal level – but not necessarily in terms of making a sales pitch to that person. In other words, people resent receiving spam, so when they get communicated with via their cellphone or tablet—or computer for that matter—it needs to be done in a way that’s meaningful for them, but that’s also acceptable.

I probably unsubscribe from three to six solicitations a day, where I’ve been put on a mailing list. There’s no point in emailing a harsh letter saying, ‘Take me off this immediately!’ — nothing’s going to happen, because it’s all automated. But there are two things one can do as a consumer. The one is to unsubscribe if there’s an unsubscribe button at the bottom. The other is, if you’re using a tool like Gmail for example, you can report it as spam. And that ultimately can be damaging for the brand.

I have to unsubscribe from so many unsolicited mails—and they’re often companies that I either know about or are legitimate businesses, they’re not scammers. So it tells me that people are increasingly using mass marketing mailing lists that they’ve bought from somewhere. It’s a very poor approach to technology, to assume that just because the channel is available, the channel must be used without any limitations. So fundamentally, most brands that are using technology as a marketing vehicle indiscriminately are damaging their brands. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: Taking it into the future, is there a requirement for brand owners to be much more astute, ie much more aware of technology, and much more aware of consumer rights and what consumers want?

Yes. The bottom line is exactly that. In the growing awareness in use of technology you also have to have a growing awareness of consumer rights and expectations. So as you get more and more powerful tools for communicating with the consumer, you also have to develop a more and more powerful sense of responsibility in how you communicate with the consumer. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: What technologies are most going to affect the way brands are managed?

The fundamental shift that’s happening right now is the migration from basic phones to smart phones. We’re seeing, especially the Android platform, exploding in this country, but Windows Phone also growing very rapidly, and we’re going to see new operating systems like Firefox for example also being increasingly used at the entry level. All of these are going to be used by the consumer in a similar way, even though they have different operating systems. So most will use, for example, WhatsApp and FaceBook.

Many brands are, however, going to build their own apps and get people to download their apps. But unless the app itself becomes a kind of household name, like Whatsapp or Facebook, it’s not going to be a very effective tool. If you’re a Shoprite Checkers, then maybe in the future you could use a Shoprite Checkers app as a shopping vehicle, but that’s not going to work right now. People aren’t geared to shopping on their cellphones yet.

The massive uptake that’s happening right now in smartphones, doesn’t automatically translate into massive uptake of transactional activity. That still takes a long time. So marketing, yes, through the appropriate channels, selling, no, because people aren’t ready for it. So the most effective vehicle right now probably is Facebook in terms of using a technology platform, because it is so pervasive. And you can also target people very narrowly on Facebook.

But there are others: WeChat is proving to be a highly effective channel, but it’s had high take-up but not high traction yet. An app is not necessarily the way to go, but if you can make an app into a household name, then there’s no reason not to… but that applies to only a few brands that are in a position to do that. Probably the ones who have the best opportunity via apps are the banks and the telcos, organisations with a very large user base. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: When making apps, the watchword then is value – the greater the value, the greater the uptake?

Absolutely. You have keep a sense of value and purpose in the app. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: How is technology changing the way people interact with brands?

Precisely because people have this tool in their hands, they’re now able to interact wherever they are and whenever they wish to. And brands haven’t quite woken up to this yet. So, for example, querying a brand via their Facebook page or their Twitter feed, only a handful of brands have woken up to just how powerful that is for the consumer. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: Which brands do you think are leading the way? For example, Tesco ‘gets’ Twitter.

As far as Twitter is concerned, the banks really do lead the way. And it’s almost a cliché, but FNB and Vodacom have long led the way in terms of the effective use of Twitter. The other banks are getting better all the time. Nedbank and Standard Bank in particular have improved by leaps and bounds. And then brands like Nando’s are pretty good, but they’re also very disjointed, because there are so many different Nando’s identities. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: Is FNB the brand that gets technology the best in South Africa?

I’d say they’re a bank that’s premised on technology and innovation, and it’s part of their corporate culture… whereas other banks tend to have to almost bolt it on to their culture.

It’s resulting in very strong appeal to younger users those who are tech savvy and those who want to use digital tools. So the fact that you can even buy your tablets or notebooks at a highly preferential rate from FNB, and then conduct your financial activity through their digital tool on that same device that you bought through them, gives you a sense that they are looking after your digital life. I’m not saying that other banks should also sell products, but the point is that they’ve done a great job of integrating people’s digital lives. They also sell connectivity, so even your connectivity you can get through them. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

TFBD: So if you want to reach that moneyed youth market, you need to be tech literate?

Very much so. Standard Bank and FNB are both doing an excellent job in appealing to that youth market. And technology is just one of the routes that they take to that. The other is having products that are geared towards younger users. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have, if you have the wrong products, that’s not going to win you that market. Yes, all the banks have products aimed at younger users, but they don’t all necessarily integrate effectively into their overall strategies. Those two banks tend to get it right.

To sum up: showing that you’re alive to technology is also showing that you’re alive to the changing nature of the world in which young professionals operate. ~ Arthur Goldstuck

About Arthur Goldstuck

Arthur Goldstuck is a South African journalist, media analyst and commentator on information and communications technology (ICT), internet and mobile communications and technologies. He heads the World Wide Worx research organisation. From the beginning of 2009, both the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and Internetworldstats have used World Wide Worx statistics when providing internet data for South Africa.

Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter: @Art2Gee