Wednesday, 4 January 2017

A Goodwill Message to the South African 4x4 Accessory Industry

As we enter 2017, over three years out of South Africa, and having now left England and settled in Australia, I have something that may be of value to South African 4x4 accessory makers wanting to export. I am happy to announce that my business has grown remarkably and I am enjoying my work as much, if not more, than I have ever done. And that’s because being out of South Africa has given me a perspective that is impossible to see from inside the country.

18 months ago I received an unsolicited, kind letter from a South African company director with whom I had worked on a series of videos, telling me how my videos on YouTube had opened so many doors for them, as they had grown into markets overseas. Just one of these videos hit 1,2 million views in a year. That letter meant a lot to me.

As a result of the spectacular growth of my YouTube channel, I now have the overseas agents of South African companies contacting me, asking me very nicely if I would use their products. Some also offer money. That is about as foreign a concept to most South African businesses as eating Yorkshire pudding at the Sunday braai. I recently approached the South African agents of a superb Chinese-made torch brand. They gave me a flat, ‘no’. Meanwhile the head office in China replied with a hamper of products worth in excess of ZAR20 000.
     "Please use our brand and tell us about them" This was the clear and simple request. They understand the impact of the Internet, and that makes all the difference.

This now is from my perspective. The Internet is not something readily understood by the South African camping and 4x4 accessory industry. Many have failed to get any market penetration into other countries, and while it is sometimes because of indifferent product quality, it’s mostly because they where I was three years back, and have no idea of the power of the Internet.

Proof is that those that have used the Internet to good effect have been successful - including myself. Some have relied on their overseas agents to run the marketing– which they do, almost exclusively on the Internet. What I am saying is that in terms of the Internet, South Africa is 5 – 10 years behind the developed world. And I do not mean this in terms of broadband services (although that is true also) but in terms of the attitude to it.

This single piece of information is my contribution to you, from what I have leaned about this business in the outside world. And it is this: Effective use of the Internet is vital when it comes to marketing.

Is the main reason you cling to magazine advertising is for self gratification? It’s the feeling you get when you open the page and see your business in all its glory, double-page-spread. How many people actually notice it? Then buy product? And for how long?

Social media backed up with a vibrant website is the key. A website homepage should have large open, inviting visuals. Don’t sell the boerewors or braai. Sell the sizzle!

And one of the best ways to make your web site work is with short, sharp, snappy product videos. Product demos two minutes long. No rock music! Not too long. Properly photographed. Don’t get your friend’s brother’s daughter to do it. The ‘family’ approach does not work overseas. As for magazine advertising, I’m sorry to say, but it’s mostly dead. Spend your budget on things that turn into sales, especially if your brand is well-established.

In most countries, when a customer goes looking for a product they use two things: Google and YouTube, probably 99% of the time. Okay. I am exaggerating, 98% of the time. If you are not pouring everything you have into the Internet, you are missed the boat. Social media is taking over the world of marketing, especially for small business operations producing products for a niche market. You have to be on YouTube and Facebook to begin with. The world has moved on from dull, seen for a few days then tossed into the trash magazine adverts. This has been replaced by videos that keep selling years and years after they are posted on YouTube. And products being used and demonstrated.

This might seem like a plug for 4xOverland. And I guess it is, although I don’t make videos for companies and nor do I take paid advertorials. But I do use products in my adventure videos, like so many other 4x4 YouTubers.

If you want to take your product overseas, there are a few key factors to success:

The world is eager for your product. There is a shortage of good camping and 4x4 gear around the world. So go for it. But quality is vital. You need to look at your workshop’s quality output. Good is often not good enough, especially for Europe. It’s got to be outstanding to make an impact. And the quality I speak of does not mean strength and durability. It’s also got to look good. The better you can make it look, the more of them you will sell. Build integrity comes second, sadly. Proof is one of SA’s largest gear exporters who’s finish is good, but build quality is mostly lacking. (no names, no pack-drill) Yet it’s one of the most successful. Because they are good Internet marketers.

There has been, and still is, a tendency to regard Internet marketing as an also-ran. Was your website the last thing on your marketing agenda? It should come immediately after signage outside your offices. It should be your most important selling tool. If it isn’t, you are missing the point of a website. But a website alone, without social media to send people to it, is not effective either. The videos, photos and posts on social media are there to send customers to your website to find out more, have a call to action (BUY IT NOW) and whatever you do, do not 
disappoint them by having a shoddy website.

And, get your products into the hands of the users and posters. These are 4x4 enthusiasts that have large social media numbers. Post their videos on your YouTube channel and website also. This is by far the single most cost effective way of turning marketing spend into green-backs. No contest!

All the best and success in 2017.