Slow down to speed up: the importance of solid strategic thinking in a post-Covid era


As things start to settle into a ‘new normal’, companies are in a better position to assess emerging digital trends and identify which ones are here to stay. There is no doubt the accelerated adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic will continue into the post-pandemic recovery, writes NOELEEN BRUTON.

Without a doubt Covid-19 has, in just a short while, accelerated the digitisation of internal business models, customer interactions, as well as distribution and supply chains. 

During the pandemic, consumers showed a ‘fast tracked’ adoption of online channels forcing many companies to promptly respond. According to a new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, this has resulted in a rapid shift towards interacting with customers through digital channels, and also the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by an incredible seven years.

This hastened response has been very encouraging with many companies undergoing a massive cultural shift that has not only allowed for, but encouraged, quicker decision-making and more out-the-box entrepreneurial thinking.

The unprecedented adoption of digital during the pandemic will likely continue in the recovery 

The crisis has spurred the adoption of online channels. Many companies went from testing the waters to embracing technology, diving into the deep end – headfirst.

This was all good and well after the all-hands-on-deck survival mode during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, as things start to settle into a ‘new normal’, companies are in a better position to assess these emerging trends and identify which ones are here to stay. There is no doubt however, that the accelerated adoption of digital technologies during the pandemic will continue into the post-pandemic recovery.

Many businesses are fully aware of how vital these channels are (especially now) to customer acquisition and retention, yet they do not have a cohesive plan to support digital transformation and future growth. These companies will likely have to fast-track their technological capabilities to stay in the game.

Digital marketing matters more than ever

To be truly successful and deliver maximum impact, it is imperative that businesses adopt a strategic approach to digital marketing. It is part and parcel of any marketing strategy and needs to be closely aligned with corporate strategy. It cannot be viewed in isolation.

Prior to compiling (or revising) their digital strategy, marketers need to ask themselves certain key questions …

  • How has the pandemic impacted on your corporate strategy – what transformation do you need, to not just survive, but thrive in this new world?
  • Has there been a shift in your business model – maybe a new market, a change in your supplier network or even some form of vertical or horizontal integration
  • Also, what impact has the crisis had on the pace and scope of your business’s digital transformation? What are your current digital capabilities versus future requirements and what is essential to bridge the ‘gap’? If, for example, you are a brick-and-mortar retailer, are you going to extend your offering to include an ecommerce presence? If so – your roadmap needs to include resources, technological capabilities, payment gateways, delivery options (owned, partnership or outsourced), as well as digital marketing. 
  • What are your competitors doing?
  • What is the market telling you – have you seen a shift in consumer spend patterns? How significant and permanent do you believe this shift to be?
  • What are your marketing goals?

Determine the channels that are needed to achieve your marketing objectives and identify the role required from each one

As you develop your marketing strategy, you will start to get a good handle on not only the ultimate channels necessary to meet your objectives, but also what strategic imperative is required from each channel.

When considering your digital marketing, ensure that you take cognisance of the entire digital ecosystem and adopt a full-funnel approach. This is not to say that you must incorporate all the ecosystem elements, but rather that you take a strategic approach as opposed to a tactical one. 

A typical digital marketing ecosystem has eight components. Each work together to create a solid foundation for your business’s digital strategic efforts. 

What is a full-funnel marketing approach?

A full-funnel marketing strategy involves tailoring your message (and delivery method) according to the stage your customer is at in their purchasing journey, based on where they fall within the funnel.  Rather than skewing efforts to the bottom of the funnel, focusing on sales/conversions only, marketers consider the entire 360-degree customer journey and incorporate both brand building and performance elements – thereby becoming more relevant to customers, more able to accurately determine the effectiveness of marketing spend and ultimately deliver greater returns. 

Because customers require a different approach at every stage of the funnel (and therefore different messaging, creative, etc.) it’s critical to adjust marketing strategies accordingly.

Although the simplistic funnel has three levels – Awareness, Consideration and Conversion – we employ a slightly more complex alternative that takes cognisance of brand loyalty and advocacy. Choose whatever funnel is appropriate to your needs. This funnel can be used as a rudimentary media model for both traditional and digital channels.

How much should you budget for digital marketing?

As digital marketing continues to grow and take over market share from traditional marketing, many marketers are looking for guidance on digital marketing spend.

There is no right or wrong answer here. The quantum allocated to digital will depend on whether you operate business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), direct-to-consumer (D2C), the sector in which you operate, competitive activity, and the type of content you require.

As a rule of thumb, B2C companies generally allocate anywhere between 5 to10% of their gross revenue to marketing.  Of this, anywhere between 40 to 50% is allocated to digital with social media making up around 25% of the digital budget. 

The challenge in digital is the cost of content creation. Historically the 80/20 rule was the gold standard, where 80% of your budget was used for promotion (media spend) and 20% for production or creation. Digital marketing has seen a far greater amount allocated to creation (developing ongoing fresh content, repurposing it for different platforms) and less to media. You will have to ascertain what works best for you based on your unique needs and business requirements. 

Avoid becoming a ‘tactical titan’

In today’s fast-paced and dynamic business environment it’s easy to become drawn into tactical and reactive thinking. My newsfeed and inbox are inundated with companies offering tactical solutions like a new click-through button that will treble your site traffic, five steps to grow your revenue, how Instagram can revolutionise your business, six mistakes people make on social media. These fads won’t accelerate your business exponentially – if only it were that easy! Avoid becoming a ‘tactical titan’. Move to that zone where you are focused on maximum return on effort – on conceptual thinking – the zone where the thought-leader and innovator inside you can creatively think and strategise about your business. Slow down to speed up.


Noeleen Bruton is the previous Group Marketing Director of Tsogo Sun who, together with Debbie Combrink, recently opened Marketing Grit, a specialist boutique marketing and digital agency. Marketing Grit’s services include strategic marketing consulting, digital marketing, as well as digital implementation including paid digital and social media.