The rip­ple ef­fect

Wild gam­ble pays off

Finweek English Edition - - People - ANDILE MAKHOLWA andilem@fin­week.co.za

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

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