What we learnt | Part 1

By Keenan Harduth, CEO and Co-founder of Mirror Mirror


When we started Mirror Mirror Africa just over two years ago, a month before lockdown in South Africa, the world, its people, economies, and all its organisations were about to be rattled, shaken, locked down, and left different forever. Our inherent trepidation and fears as business owners birthed more questions than answers about what the market needed and how we would deliver excellent work while being happier and healthier. It also reminded us that asking questions, important and simple questions, is always a good place to start when solving a problem, or facing a clearly different world, and new conversations.

Locally, organisations and brands often struggled with the change that the pandemic brought, some initially, and some only 2 years later. As we committed to helping our partners and clients grow through this change, we encountered some familiar but perhaps forgotten questions, renewed focus areas, revisited strategies, came across a specific need to reconsider social media, and fresh opportunities to collaborate.

As a team that helps people articulate and solve problems, conducts training, helps clients communicate with audiences, and does audience research and reporting, we have been lucky enough to research, audit, and understand customer perception around over 230 local and global brands. Here are some of the most frequent questions and considerations these brands have made, and what we learnt finding ways to answer them.

How do we compare? What is everyone else doing?
While the internet is packed with quotes discouraging people from personally comparing themselves to others, when you’re an organisation competing, building, and growing your business – understanding your positioning within an industry, consumer insights, their tactics, and the depth of your competitors’ presence is immediately and deeply helpful – when done correctly.

Benchmarking has become an increasing need, particularly at a social media level, where content performance, competition for attention, and questions of media spend is always a hot topic. Thankfully setting goals with access to industry data makes this easier for us, but many still do not have an approach to benchmarking, know who to benchmark against, or enough data to develop helpful insights. Inclusion of benchmarks in your strategy and reporting helps curate highly relevant industry data when you need it to make important decisions. Online listening exercises (we use Brandwatch) have become pertinent to our agency client’s pitch work, content strategies, client onboardings, and campaign reporting process.

Share of voice is another popular ask; simply understanding the size, source, spread, reach, sentiment and impact of competing and partner organisations – particularly in the midst of the great digital migration we find ourselves in. These comparisons usually identify key areas of differentiation, unpack competitor platform strategy and intention, key campaigns and editorial focus, audit content excellence, and understand their approach to customer service and community management, and their online PR spread. With social media users growing by a noteworthy 6 Million to 28 Million people in South Africa in just two years, we see major changes and unpredictability in conversation trends and brand’s share of voice online, the role of news media, influencers, and the sheer increase of conversations and content. Pop culture and social media culture is changing rapidly. Global news is increasingly dictating local conversations, while at the same time the local attention for African celebrity, broadcast content, and news is amplified by an increasingly pan-African audience.

Youtube’s daily live watchtime more than tripled between January 2020 and December 2021.

The need for this industry performance view deepens as social media continues to entrench its importance in South Africa; 16 – 64 year olds now spend an average of 3h45 on social media daily in SA, and their top 3 reasons to use social are to connect with friends and family, read the news, and researching info and brands.

Speak to us about benchmarking rival or interest social media platforms to understand
their key growth, content, and engagement performance.

Who are we talking to? How are people reacting? Who are we targeting?

People’s perceptions and opinions are constantly in flux, reacting and evolving to the world, the bombardment of global messaging, and noisy social media timelines. While most brands know who and where their target market is, they often don’t make the effort to keep up with them.
Answering questions like how they spend their time, money, what they care about, ambitions, interests, big life moments, and increasingly, their online behaviour is invaluable information to help reach them with solutions to their very real problems.
If you’re not obviously solving a problem for your customer or consumers, it will be hard to gain their favour, attention, share of wallet, or loyalty.

This is why it became critical for many of our clients to curate audience data from our analysts and research tools, which go beyond demographics to unpack the needs of your audience, and the points of intersection with them.

There is a general over reliance at an agency level on data supplied by the client, which is not unexpected, but few seem to have the ability and tools to gather original insight, fresh information, and augment their audience data. With tools like Audiense, we are able to unlock helpful and actionable insights for our clients.

Once again social media’s growth in particular, and the increasing need for paid media support, has accelerated the need to understand who should be targeted and how. It perhaps has inculcated the need to truly reconcile the match between your message and your market.

How can we get more leads, clicks, engagement and new customers?
While many people have come to terms with size not being everything, when it comes to social media communities the pursuit of Likes, Taps, Shares, Swipes, Clicks, Tiks, and Toks, is more vigorous than ever. This has become the bane of most creators, writers, designers, and analysts – get more results with less money, less effort, less time, and more noise. One gets the sense that in the failure of some brands to grow useful communities, they have taken their foot off the accelerator when it comes to social media, having paused content, campaigns, spent less, published less, prioritised advertising and influencer engagement on social over content excellence and community building.

In doing this the need to go back to basics is now more important than ever. Content that educates, informs, entertains, surprises, delights, provokes, inspires, assists, and truly persuades should all be utilised to uplift your readers and viewers, empowering them to make better decisions, and aligning to your brand to do so.

Organic tactics for successful content are still important despite most people outsourcing the responsibility around engagement and reach to influencers and paid media teams. Brands big and small have forgotten the importance of conversational selling, persuasion through conversation, and the art of persuasive content – opting rather to say what they need to say about the things only they want to talk about.

Building content plans and stories around what your audience wants and needs instead of only your marketing calendar is perhaps not as widespread as we think.

What is the perception towards…?
If audiences don’t change as fast for you as for the rest of the country, understanding what people think about broader industry and cultural issues and moments – beyond social media – will add wonderful perspective and perhaps even answers to your many questions. At the scale of online conversations, simply understanding the conversations, curating the facts, and simply understanding political change, and cultural and social movements becomes tricky. We often minimise our view of the web to social media networks and news, but the trend has not abated in people seeking and participating in more niche spaces online, special interest groups, forums, creator channels, blogs, and better curated online experiences.

The importance of this question often hinges on sentiment. Thankfully, the human verified approach to sentiment in online conversations can produce very insightful data, including how to impact these perceptions and sentiment – either to maintain and amplify, or to change or negate the impact of them. This also increases the behaviour of truly being more customer centric in our choices and opinions.

Questions we’ve been asked to answer are often along the lines of – What fears are people expressing about their lives? What is the local perception towards taxes? Or online learning? What do people love about the TV shows they talk about? What do people seem to be doing and talking about on their weekends?

Where do we start?
The ambition and optimism of South African business has always been evident, and never more so than with the boom in small business activity in the last few years, driven by access to technology and social media that makes business easier, and more sustainable. Small businesses now employ around 80% of the South African workforce. Within this reality is the need for many businesses to start or restart their marketing, truly understand the power of digital and social channels for their business, and do it affordably.

A solid strategy or plan is always a great starting point, not only because through solid strategy you articulate exactly what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to do that, but strategy development and planning also allows for fresh data, research, audience engagement, and collaboration to form part of the process – bolstering your chances of success.

Increasingly our advice is to simply start. Be brave, take the leap and test your approach and strategy – changing it if need be, and without overthinking it. These tests, or little campaigns – often driven by authentic, owner created content reveal your capabilities, skills gaps, and help create a customer base. For established teams revisiting strategy helps with accountability and evolving in such change-heavy times, with a renewed focus on digital transformation.

A great place to start is understanding your audience, their content consumption habits, and figuring out by trial and error, what they actually resonate with, and what their problems are that you can help solve. Simply understanding industry topics of conversations and trends will spark ideas on how to better communicate with your audiences – internally and externally.

Can you help with senior oversight?
Everyone needs a bit of help sometimes, and collectively teams often need solutions they can maintain and evolve themselves, with guidance. We get asked to assist during times of crisis, which often comes with the need for experienced community management and on the fly moderation.

We have also answered the call for ongoing mentorship and oversight in marketing teams – because senior staff are billed out to clients as much as their teams, it leaves very little time for training, upskilling, mentoring, and team building. This is often easier to implement than hiring senior resources or overheads – particularly around strategy, knowledge sharing, and reporting. Thankfully our team is experienced in customer service and team management, helping our clients work better together through this change and the gaps in their teams.

Content reviews, content creation, award entries, regular training, reporting, data curation, platform training, pitch work, and software utilisation have been common areas of concern in the last 18 months. The high rate of churn in teams, particularly in agencies, means that outside advisory can be the most consistent presence on a brand.

How can we improve our reporting?
Oi-vey. Reporting. The importance of unified data, a strategic approach to reporting, consolidation of channel data and insights, and the curation of the same across businesses seems to have top consideration, but poor execution. It seems most teams dip into data once a month to rush off a report – often with little view of the future, or helpful insights – whether they have live dashboards or not.

Part of this mistake is driven by the fact that most people do not see reporting as a content output, which makes them less consumable. Reporting IS content, and should be treated as such. Reporting, like any other content, should have a clear target audience, who may have unique consumption habits and needs for data. The reporting insights your studio or creative teams need to improve their content may not be the same as the performance or brand sentiment data needed by C-Suit level execs.

All types of insights and data need to make it back into the business appropriately, and at the speed of relevance. This problem is further compounded by the fact that most agencies are marking their own homework, adding spin, creating a specific focus, and hiding unflattering data and metrics. This coupled with the curation of irrelevant or unimpactful data can lead to a very frustrating reporting period, and slow progress.

In 2022, most people have access to data from various channels, and may even have prioritised key metrics through their strategy or reporting – but developing helpful insights and reports for multiple audiences, with strategic intent in mind, is less common. Allowing sufficient time to create these reports, experience in reporting on objectives, deciding what information goes into which report, or morning brief, or monthly meeting – and how to present it – can seem overwhelming. Oi-vey indeed, but maybe not – we can help.

Part 2 coming soon!

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