Digital marketing tips during turbulent times

Digital marketing tips during turbulent times

As an agency that is deeply rooted in digital we felt it important to share our thoughts and tips around what to do digitally in a time where COVID-19 is having a grave impact on the well-being of people and businesses. We are facing challenging times with the economy expected to take a huge knock. As a digital marketing agency in South Africa, we’re constantly questioning, learning and updating our clients on how best to represent themselves within this complex and shifting social climate.While online behaviours have and will continue to change, due to the evolving circumstances around COVID-19, there remain consistent human behaviours and advertising opportunities. 

Here are a few of our thoughts on how to maintain your digital presence during this time:

In General

  • If you are in the essential goods space, we recommend building a unique campaign around your enhanced safety measures and the benefits your goods will provide to customers.
  • If your business is linked to a charitable cause, that should be emphasised through organic content and paid social efforts.
  • Communicate what your business is doing to flatten the curve across social media
  • Now is the time for clients and agencies to put their heads together to plan and prepare for what the industry is going to look like after lockdown.
  • Depending on your industry, there might be a period during lockdown when activity will be paused, however if you have a presence online we would recommend not pausing all activity, but rather reducing spend and being selective on which channels you will be present on.
  • Work collaboratively with your agency to think outside the box around how to use existing channels differently.
  • As a business, you should receive support on how to explore other ad formats, leverage new features or think differently about existing features.
  • Post lockdown it would be advisable to re-evaluate your business marketing KPIs. Due to economic and consumer changes, current KPI’s should be re-evaluated to meet new needs, or perhaps new ones created.
  • To ensure business continuity, consider what is most relevant about your brand, products, or campaigns that can be supported by media right now.
  • Consider if all your creative elements — tone, copy, visuals, keywords, placements — are appropriate and relevant in this new environment.



  • Search is not coming to an end, consumers are still Googling and brands still have a role to play in showing up against relevant queries. We suggest scaling down on the level of spend if there is concern around whether your business can afford to show up when it is not sufficiently operational to fulfil this need.
  • This is a pivotal time to be bidding on generic terms for your business as the user has more time on their hands for research. You want to be there when they are searching your industry terms. Once the lockdown is over you can remarket to this audience. 
  • A lot of your competitors will be taking a back step in terms of advertising, this is the perfect time to capitalise on competitor terms – they could possibly be cheaper. 
  • Consider a search with display campaign – your ad will be visible on the display network as well.
  • Take this time to build up your audience list. With a smart campaign you can advertise your products across platforms, including display, to stay top of mind.



We recently received some interesting stats from Google around what is happening in the YouTube space. “Average global daily uploads of videos with “At Home” and “Workout At Home”  in the title increased over 50% and 55% respectively from March 10 through March 15. Therefore creators are uploading new types of content for people’s changing needs.”  Due to this surge in online streaming YouTube has committed to reduce its video quality in order to reduce its bandwidth consumption as the behaviour of content streaming has shifted from evenings to a full day, due to working from home.

  • YouTube content has grown significantly, creating a unique space for advertisers to target their messaging to a captive, at-home audience. Consider the right YouTube ad format and create custom/bespoke messaging to provide new and fresh content.
  • YouTube is showing tens of millions of search queries each day related to COVID-19. Consumers remain open to brands, and although they might not show intent to buy now they certainly will consider your brand at a later stage.


SEO & Content

  • Be selective on what type of communication you put out in the market.
  • This communication must remain consistent with all stakeholders.
  • Build messages around support. Ensure your business is contactable despite being closed or having limited staff and that all stakeholders will be able to get in touch in various ways, whether it’s via your website, social or email.
  • Communication should be relevant to the concerns/issues of customers during this time. This being said, messages can still promote products or services if they are essential or to keep these products/services in the minds of people without a  hard-sell approach.
  • Messages should include a reminder that once things are back to normal, your brand will be available and ready to serve as it did before.
  • No SEO strategy should be overhauled, but rather messaging and keywords updated slightly to tailor new messages around the current situation. Keep the message relevant to your audience and your strategy shouldn’t suffer.
  • Do not bombard your audience with messages, rather send updates as and when necessary, with your regular content going out as usual.



  • If you don’t want your brand showing up for content linked to COVID-19, Corona or Virus,  programmatic display has the ability to ensure brand safety and tight targeting.
  • With a shift in content consumption towards indoor activities, health, finances and business, we do recommend you supplement optimisation with tailored messaging or reworked banners to offer relevant content.
  • If your business is seasonal, then this might be a great time to give your current customers a sneak preview of what is to come.
  • An after lockdown promotion can give users an idea of what they can expect in the near future.
  • A lockdown competition can engage customers to keep them entertained and connected with your brand.
  • Display is a great way for brands to connect with their client base, wishing for good health and, if they are ill, a full recovery. 
  • Use display to offer prevention tips or curated content that will add value to customers.



  • Now more than ever with consumers having more time available to them, there will likely be an influx of users engaging on Facebook and Instagram. With these engaged customers, speak to their situation and push social responsibility, empathy and kindness over product and sale. 
  • Facebook and Instagram are strong platforms that invite users to engage with comments. Be more sensitive in the communication you put out on these channels during this time. If you aren’t in the position to handle the possible influx of comments, we would recommend reducing social media advertising over this period.
  • Competitions and light-hearted social engagement could be seen as a good gesture to keep consumers’ spirits high and their attitude towards you positive.



  • Leverage this space as a business to show your opinion, and share and promote the content that you agree with.
  • Host virtual events using LinkedIn Live and LinkedIn Events, where industry experts share information and guidance with the LinkedIn community and your customers. These tools are provided to help organizations of all sizes find success.
  • Showcase how your business is future-proofing itself for after COVID-19, and users will be interested to know and share this.



In closing, we understand that during this time some industries will thrive due to the nature of their business while others may suffer. Consumer behaviour and sentiment will shift, and as an agency we believe it is crucial for us to work alongside businesses — with the knowledge and expertise we have — to brainstorm for the future, and focus on two things:

  1. What is the business plan/strategy for after COVID-19?
  2. What strategic changes can we, as an agency, support businesses with and put in place now?

So within your marketing roles in whatever industry you find yourself: 

  1. Do not hesitate to reach out to your agency whose intention it is to support you during this time
  2. Avoid knee jerk reactions when it comes to media buying and planning that could negatively impact your business
  3. Show kindness to yourself and each other, and know that no idea is a bad one in a time  where new ideas are to be explored
  4. Try not to be fearful in taking risks with your marketing ideas. We are all in this together and now is the time to remain empathetic and consider your social impact.
How to communicate with customers during the coronavirus crisis

How to communicate with customers during the coronavirus crisis

It’s hard to believe how serious the COVID-19 situation has become for South Africans. A month ago, it was some frightening thing wreaking havoc in countries far away. And here we are. Since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed on 5 March, the number of infections has risen dramatically, forcing schools, universities, and some businesses to shut down. As panic grows, more and more people are avoiding leaving the house even to buy food or essentials.    

There’s a lot of understandable concern about how social distancing and self-isolation will impact SA retailers’ ability to make sales. Global brands such as Apple, Starbucks, Nike, and Adidas have already been hit by the outbreak. Many have responded by shutting down their physical locations.   

Many businesses have executed their own communication strategies to inform customers how they plan to deal with the pandemic as well as sharing information on how customers can protect themselves. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to think about how you should keep your customers updated in these challenging times. Ideally, your crisis communication plan should include the following: 

  • Information on any suspected or confirmed cases on your premises. Don’t reveal the identities of any employees
  • The preventative measures you plan to put in place, whether or not you’ve been directly affected. This should include details on how you plan to improve sanitation and serve customers should you decide to shut down temporarily 
  • Information on how you are going to continue monitoring the situation 
  • Clear, compassionate, and understandable messages
  • A link to a dedicated web page where clients can find the latest information about your response 
  • Links to external resources like the government’s health website and World Health Organization website

Your communication strategy should use all channels available. Below are some examples of platforms used by big brands to get their messages across. 

Landing page banners



Website and app pop-up messages



Blog posts


Facebook posts

Dedicated pages e.g. FAQs


Email newsletter

In-store signage


By creating a response plan and continuously monitoring the situation, you are reassuring customers that you are prioritising their safety, and keeping their best interests at heart.At TMI, we’re doing our small part to help lower the risk of infections and avoid crowded spaces, for the foreseeable future. We’ve encouraged social distancing by moving our teams to a work-from-home setting, however there should be minimal disruption to employees and clients in terms of communication and work delivery.


It’s still life in the slow lane for SA internet users

It’s still life in the slow lane for SA internet users

The internet, for the most part, seems like such an uncomplicated thing. 

But behind the scenes, it’s a huge spaghetti-mesh of really long cables that endlessly ping data back and forth between continents. In this age of mobile data and Wi-Fi, few people give thought to the existence of internet cables. But, it’s said that ninety-nine percent of international connections happen via these wires, which are located on the ocean floor. 

And, their depth can easily match the height of Mt. Everest. So, as you can now imagine, there’s a lot that can go wrong. 

Like sharks nibbling on the cables (there’s actual video footage of a shark trying to take a chunk out of Google’s underwater cable). Or a ship’s anchor accidentally getting caught in a wire. 



Whatever the case, cable damage can reduce an entire country’s internet to a snail’s pace. Which is exactly what South Africans have been experiencing for the last couple of days. The South Atlantic 3/West Africa (SAT-3/Wasc) underwater cables, which connect Portugal and Spain to South Africa, as well as the West Africa Cable System (Wacs), which connects South Africa with the United Kingdom, suffered spoilage. 

The international cable downtime impacted most large internet service providers in South Africa, including Webafrica, Afrihost, Axxess, and Mind The Speed. These ISPs have, meanwhile, resorted to Plan B: buying additional international bandwidth on other undersea cables.

Like all companies whose infrastructure is based online, and as a digital marketing agency in South Africa we were hoping for a quick end to the unwelcome outage. But by Monday, it became clear that South African internet users have more 404s, blank pages, and buffering videos in store. Which is kind of putting us back into the era of dial-up internet. You know, the days when loading a video actually took longer than watching the video itself.

There’s no reason to panic though. Two cables that break down at the same time isn’t the start of the internet apocalypse. But reports indicate that repair work could take two weeks. For now, we can pin the blame for the delay on Cape Town’s notorious gale-force winds, which battered the city at the weekend, delaying the dispatch of the Leon Thevenin, the repair ship meant to fix the problem. 


Looks like it’s time to play the Google T-Rex dinosaur a little more seriously, and see if we can set a new personal record


Here’s what South Africans really wanted to know from Google in 2019

Here’s what South Africans really wanted to know from Google in 2019

December must be a fun time for Google, because that’s when the company gets to take stock of a year’s worth of search data and identify the queries and events that interested people the most. This year’s results once again proved that there’s no such thing as a silly question. Or is there? You decide for yourself after reading Google’s Year In Review report

From discovering interesting facts and learning new skills to finding a nearby business and the latest celebrity obsessions, Google truly is the answer to all questions, especially the ones people are too embarrassed to ask their parents, best friend, coworker, or some stranger on the street. The latest results not only offer insights into the curious minds of South Africans but also highlight the year’s biggest events that have captured their attention and have made use of the Google Search engine. 

Those hoping to see news makers such as the royal tour to South Africa, the KFC proposal, and the world’s second sexiest accent, Afrikaans, on the list, will be disappointed because as it turns out South Africans were more interested in the quirky origin of their breakfast cereal. Ironically, everyone’s least favourite words “load shedding” was the most popular phrase this year. In bidding (pun intended) adieu to the decade, Google also recapped the top searches between 2010 and 2019, with load shedding and Corn Flakes featuring prominently over the last ten years. 

Check out the top searches for the year and decade below. 


Top trending questions

  1. Why were cornflakes invented?
  2. What time is the rugby world cup final?
  3. How many votes for a seat in parliament
  4. How did Cameron Boyce die?
  5. How long is a rugby match?
  6. What is Bosasa?
  7. What time do voting stations open?
  8. Who won the election in South Africa?
  9. What is media?
  10. What is teenage pregnancy?

Top trending questions of the decade

  1. How to make slime?
  2. Why were cornflakes invented?
  3. How to get rid of belly fat?
  4. How to lose weight in 3 days?
  5. Where am I?
  6. How many weeks in a year?
  7. How to create an email?
  8. How to grow hair fast?
  9. What is depression?
  10. How to draw eyebrows?

Top ten trending searches

  1. Load shedding
  2. Election results
  3. Thanos
  4. IEC
  5. Fiona Viotti
  6. Black Friday Specials
  7. Gavin Watson
  8. Mark Batchelor
  9. Teacher’s Day
  10. Hoërskoel Driehoek


Top trending searches of the decade

  1. Load shedding
  2. Uzalo
  3. Meghan Markle
  4. Zodwa Wabantu
  5. Baby Shark
  6. Cardi B
  7. Game of Thrones
  8. Thanos
  9. Nicki Minaj
  10. Amapiano


Top ‘near me’ searches

  1. Job openings near me
  2. Parks near me
  3. Restaurant near me
  4. McDonald’s near me
  5. Hotels near me
  6. Hair Salon near me
  7. Voting Station near me
  8. Petrol station near me
  9. Makro near me
  10. Woolworths near me

Top trending South African personalities

  1. Neyi Zimu
  2. James Small
  3. Xolani Gwala
  4. Chester Williams
  5. Andile Gumbe
  6. Siya Kolisi
  7. David Kekana
  8. Faf De Klerk
  9. Peggy Sue Khumalo
  10. Robert Marawa

Top trending sports searches

  1. Rugby World Cup
  2. Cricket World Cup
  3. India vs South Africa
  4. Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates
  5. Afcon
  6. Bafana Bafana
  7. Cricket live scores
  8. Proteas
  9. PSL Standings
  10. Stellenbosch vs Kaizer Chiefs


Top trending movies searches

  1. Avengers Endgame
  2. Captain Marvel
  3. When They See Us
  4. Aquaman
  5. Lion King
  6. John Wick 3
  7. Joker
  8. Hustlers
  9. Birdbox
  10. A Star is Born

Top trending music personalities

  1. Johnny Clegg
  2. Thami Shobede
  3. Nipsey Hussle
  4. Mampintsha
  5. Oliver Mtukudzi
  6. Nichume
  7. Ndlovu Youth Choir
  8. Babes Wodumo
  9. Pitch Black Afro
  10. Kabza de Small

More than 40 000 search queries are submitted to Google every second. This equals to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. “This year’s trending searches show South Africans’ keen interest in the world and people around them. Pop culture, sports and politics captured the nation’s attention. Nine of the 10 top trending search terms were for local people, news and events,” Google commented on this year’s results. 


Instagram spotted testing “order” button

Instagram spotted testing “order” button

While shopping though Instagram has been around since 2017 (in the US), Instagram has recently been spotted testing an “order” button in the Stories feature. While no official statement has been made by Instagram on the matter, this could mean that the platform is starting to seriously consider the various ways in which consumers can make transactions directly from the Story they are viewing.

For those who aren’t fully aware of the Instagram shopping experience, in March 2017, Instagram launched a feature whereby US businesses could tag their products in organic posts. This was subsequently rolled out to Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Australia. The tag gives customers the ability to tap through to find product prices and extra details, making online shopping a seamless experience directly from a related post.

Today, any business that applies and is approved for shopping in Stories can do so and take advantage of the benefits it offers. According to Search Engine Journal, with access to this feature, “businesses can add product stickers to stories, which works just like adding any other type of sticker. Users viewing the story can tap on the sticker to open a product page. From there they can make a purchase.” As of September 2018, the feature had proved incredibly popular, and was being used by more than 400 million business accounts on a daily basis.

With the initial phase a success, it is now no surprise that Instagram has been spotted testing an “order” button. While its purpose or function is still unclear, the green button features a dollar sign, and suggests that it may allow consumers to order a product or service directly from the relevant story. This does not mean the button will be officially launched and become a permanent feature but it does prove that the company is experimenting with how orders could be made through the platform. 

As Instagram is heavily focused on improving the shopping experience it offers, similar buttons are expected to make an appearance in the future for testing purposes. For a digital marketing agency in South Africa it might not be as obvious an investment, but as over 90 million accounts in the US are tapping product tags on a monthly basis, it makes it worthwhile. Digital marketing agencies in South Africa who make use of Instagram as part of their social media marketing may well see additional shopping features roll around sooner than anticipated. 

Digital Performance of the Automotive Industry

Digital Performance of the Automotive Industry

The South African automotive industry is among those most frequently impacted by the smallest conditional shifts within the country. When things are going well, consumers have more money to buy locally manufactured vehicles and when Eskom lets the lights go out manufacturing can grind to a halt. The commercialisation of electric vehicle technology in South Africa is also going to have a long-term impact on the performance of several local plants.

While local sales have slumped in recent years due to the economic crunch felt by consumers, good news has recently given new hope to the export half of the market with reporting “a potential R60bn could be invested by SA’s vehicle manufacturers and component makers in the next five years” and reporting that “South Africa on track for record vehicle exports”. But will this be enough to make up for the shortfall in local sales which shows few signs of improvement?

The motor industry as a whole is suffering from a poor global economy and tariffs dispute between America and China with potential extension of that market unrest between America, the EU and Mexico (where several major manufacturers operate out of to cut labour costs). Manufacturers operating out of South Africa specifically have concerns regarding the country’s stability and the poor economic spending power of consumers as well as power grid stability. 

To counteract slumping in-store sales car manufacturers and their dealers are turning increasingly to a more cost effective form of marketing to try and get the message across that in a tight economy, their brand has the best solution. Some in the industry have relied on attractive websites and existing brand strength, such as Volkswagen and Honda, limiting their search and display advertising to smaller budgets and simple banners. 

This Spartan approach to their online marketing would likely only work for them. As two of the most popular local brands (along with Toyota and Nissan) they can rely on most car buying South Africans to search for their brands by name if they don’t see an ad to click on. Due to the sheer volume of their vehicles in the country entering the used car market, exposure is also a key element and it’s not one that their competitors can counter with passivity. 

It can be said of most South African divisions of large manufacturers however that many have been caught like a bunny in the headlights when it comes to digital marketing. Traffic and engagement remain unfalteringly low for all but the already established brands.This information is useful for digital marketing agencies in South Africa.  


Let’s Look at Some Examples

Below we have some comparative traffic numbers for Honda, the now discontinued Chrysler, Fiat, VW and Volvo over the period of a year. Honda, despite some highs and lows retains a relatively stable average over the course of a year. VW appears as a somewhat distant but relatively stable second while Fiat and Volvo perform little to no better than the abandoned Chrysler website.



Mixing it up a little below it’s apparent that those with the lower brand recognition who don’t pursue a strong online marketing presence also perform on par with Chrysler. Renault stands out but Subaru, Kia and Peugeot are nowhere to be found. Renault’s slight bump here is likely due in some part to their display advertising. Renault, in general, appears to focus more on paid marketing tactics such as search and display than their ‘on tier’ competitors and it’s working for them. 



On the other hand their marketing budget doesn’t appear to be that high which means that were a competitor to dedicate a real effort to their own online campaign Renault could quickly find itself losing this narrow margin. Below we get a further indication of paid media spend and effectiveness, with Peugeot, Fiat and Subaru with little to show for whatever efforts they may be putting into a digital strategy. It’s worth noting once more though that even though Kia and Renault are performing better, the degree to which they’re doing so is tenuous.



Zooming in on the ‘all traffic’ window again over Jun 2018 – May 2019 we get a clearer picture of Renault’s complete performance against same tier competitors. 



So what are Subaru, Peugeot and Fiat doing wrong? 


For one thing, although Fiat does some display advertising, Subaru and Peugeot do little to none and their search campaigns are limited to the degree where it becomes difficult to ascertain their actual scope. Subaru, Peugeot and Fiat have nice looking websites with varying degrees of emphasis on user experience. Fiat’s is very user-friend but has little to no content onsite in which to place critical keywords or run search ads to. 

Peugeot’s site is not particularly pretty and gives an impression of being a financial or money lending site at first glance. While it’s easy enough to find the car model you might be looking for more information on there’s little more than technical specs once you get to the car’s page. The site doesn’t do anything to tell the browser what that particular model excels at, what it’s known for or why they should care. 

Subaru has a nice looking website that’s quite user-friendly and even has a news section for posting content. Part of their trouble is that they don’t. Publications are infrequent and far from optomised for online searches. They dropped a lot of content in June and a single article in September with nothing else to show for the year on their News page. 


The link to real sales


While there are many causes for poor sales numbers to consider there’s a clear pattern here as well. 


According to the sales figures from NUMSA the same manufacturers not engaging in digital promotion are seeing lagging sales figures while those who already enjoy powerful brand recognition such as Toyota, VW and Nissan take the lions share of the market. For the lesser known brands to make it in South Africa they need to create an image, claim a niche in the public’s eye and this isn’t something that happens on it’s own.