The ripple effect
Wild gamble pays off
THIRTY-YEAR-OLD Jason Stewart is on an ambitious business adventure. He wants to revolutionise the marketing industry and set new trends, tapping into space South African companies haven’t fully leveraged. For around two years Stewart and business partner Ryan McFadyen have been pioneering SA’s first specialist word of mouth marketing campaigns.
The two – both professional marketers – founded the specialist word of mouth marketing agency Have You Heard in October 2008 after a careful study of trends worldwide with regard to marketing and advertising. Since then they’ve been staging word of mouth campaigns, such as township seeding and urban youth ambassadorships, and engaging women via the nursing and hairdressing sectors countrywide. They have since concluded contracts with brand heavyweights such as Pepsi, Vodacom, Sanlam, Antistax and Woolworths.
Now the idea is to grow the agency into a force to be reckoned with within SA’s marketing and advertising industry.
Stewart recalls the adventure was some sort of wild gamble. Word of mouth marketing had only existed informally in SA – nobody was specialising in it.
“Essentially, when we started there wasn’t much of a market but the potential was there,” says Stewart. “What we realised was that word of mouth is the best form of marketing but nobody had really leveraged it locally. And South Africans talk a lot. So we knew there was potential here.”
Having spent a few years travelling the world, Stewart had noticed the growing interest in companies for that kind of marketing. “International benchmarks estimate that one influential consumer passes the message to 60 people over three months and each of those pass that message on to 20 of theirs.”
That was encouraging enough to propel the two to ask for a bank overdraft of R300 000 to set up the business.
The word of mouth marketing gamble – which encompasses a variety of sub-categories (including blogs, cause influencers and social media marketing, as well as ambassador programmes and consumer-generated media, among others) – paid off.
Stewart and his team focus on prompting influential individuals to share their opinions with their peers regarding clients’ products. Peer-to-peer recommendations are considered the most credible, valuable and actionable form of marketing.
“We focus on stimulating word of mouth
for brands. The objective of the campaign is to get people talking about the brand and to say the right thing. We try to get the message across through trendsetters, opinion leaders and influential consumers and try and turn them into informal brand ambassadors and build continuous relations with them. But you’ve got to have a good product that’s worth talking about. If it’s a bad product you’ll destroy it very quickly. So a lot hinges on the product.”
Reflecting back, Stewart lists a few challenges. About three weeks after the company was launched the global credit crunch hit and then the recession. Everyone they approached said the idea was fantastic but they didn’t have the budget. “Our major challenge was that when we launched people didn’t know what the word of mouth campaign was. So that was the first time we really focused on telling people what it is, how it works and why it’s relevant within SA. Literally, last year I probably presented around 500 times,” says Stewart.
As a small company it’s able to adapt quite easily to what companies want. “The tough thing is that it’s an intangible thing we’re selling and people can’t always wrap their hands around it until they see a campaign in action.”
As trendsetters the biggest thing has been to do a good job. “We have to ensure we do a great job, otherwise failure will not only destroy the company but the industry as a whole as we’re the first to do it in SA.”
When they started they rolled out one campaign. Since then they haven’t gone a day without a client.
The son of an entrepreneur, Stewart started out working at his father’s stores before going on a travelling spree throughout Europe, South America, south-east Asia, Australia and the Middle East. After working and travelling for three years he returned to Cape Town to pursue his studies in advertising. He enrolled at the Red & Yellow School of Advertising, where he obtained a postgraduate Higher Diploma in Marketing and Advertising Communications Management.
In 2002 Stewart joined Instant Grass, a youth market trends and insight agency, as a strategic writer. A year later he was promoted to business unit director of Instant Seed, the agency’s peer endorsement and brand advocacy division. He grew Instant Seed’s business steadily, overseeing a portfolio that included Unilever and Microsoft.
When not building his business you’ll find Stewart enjoying the outdoor beauty of Cape Town, travelling to spots off the beaten track (with his wife) or reading.
VITAL STATISTICS JASON STEWART Age: 30. Married: Yes.
Education: Higher Diploma in Marketing and Advertising Communications Management