An Interview with Ahmed Kajee, Head of Digital Marketing, Old Mutual Emerging Markets

Thinking Digital: Change Management For Corporate Marketers

Meet Ahmed Kajee – the head of digital marketing for Old Mutual (Emerging Markets) and one of the country’s most esteemed experts on marketing management. As a born leader with an entrepreneurial spirit, Kajee found his niche in digital and has over 15 years of experience as an innovator in the industry. The Mail & Guardian selected Kajee as one of the “Top 300 Young South Africans you have to take lunch,” in 2009. Men’s Health Magazine deemed him to be one of the “Six men under 35 who will shape the next decade,” in 2010. As a public speaker, Ahmed is passionate about sharing insights on digital and is involved in an array of youth development and entrepreneurial programmes. We sat down with him to get his perspective on digital change management and what that means for one of SA’s largest corporates. 

What impact has digital made on the financial/investments sector in South Africa?
 
Internet banking, mobile banking, mobile value-add. It's enormous. Remember deposit slips, getting stamps at the teller and needing to complete forms? Those are all things of the past. From a financial services perspective, internet banking revolutionised how we interact with our money, manage our accounts, how we pay for things – everything. And it all happened recently – over the last 10 years. We need to appreciate that.
 
Think about M-Pesa, MTN Mobile Money, Payment Pebble and Snapscan. Those things have revolutionised the way we do peer to peer transactions. If it had not been for this revolution to internet banking, then to secure baking, SSID and online credit card payments, e-commerce wouldn't have taken off like it has. The effects have been far-reaching.
 
At ITWeb’s Digital Economy Summit, you presented on the importance of defining a digital marketing strategy within a business context. Can you share some insights on that topic with us?
 
A lot of digital marketing strategy happens to speak around tactical implementation and digital marketing best practices in terms of campaigns, creativity, app development, mobile advertising, content marketing – those sorts of things. Those are all great and there’s a place for that in the role of the digital marketing practitioner. But when you elevate the conversation to an organizational level, you start asking: when we look at how to utilize digital data analytics to inform bigger, broader decision-making in terms of how we go to market and shape the organizational strategy – is it at board level? Because there's a fundamental distinction between being a practitioner in digital marketing and defining a strategy vs how digital can inform business strategy.
 
In hiring and recruiting for example, we now have what’s referred to as digital natives. And digital natives don't necessarily work within the 9 to 5 paradigm. Yes social media doesn’t sleep but organisations have daily work schedules that start at time x and end at time y. These considerations bring together digital, recruitment and business strategies within an organizational context. Also, if you start thinking about complexities like shifting budget to digital marketing, what do you do with traditional advertising? If you employ people trained in TV and above the line and print advertising, what happens there? So there are nuances that are embedded in how you actually execute the strategy and take it to market. It's not just about the practitioner.
 
What is your approach to change digital management within a large organisation or brand?

 
You have to look at it realistically. I'll use an analogy. If you're in a speed boat and want to change direction – it's quick. You simply change the steering. But when you have a mammoth of a ship and you want to change direction, you can’t do that quickly. That’s why the Titanic sank. It is possible but it takes a while.
 
As long as the organisation does the right things to plant those seeds of change from top to middle and lower management and so on, you will start seeing it happen. The challenge in large organisations is that there are very good reasons for maintaining the status quo. And on a balance of probability, you have to have more people advocating for the change than you have people who advocate against it. So the challenge is about people and getting people to see the need to change.
 
Change by its very nature is difficult. One of the theories on change is that it requires a certain level of dissonance – where one’s current world and future world or current thinking and future thinking have to collide in order to see change. Some people take longer than others to accept and be happy with that dissonance. People become accustomed to seeing the world in certain way. Likewise, organisations become accustomed to seeing the world in a certain way as well.
 
Look at the case study of Kodak – for years, the brand was embedded in traditional photography and print. They didn’t see digital coming up behind them. In fact, they did see it, but for them it was ‘business as usual.’ If you look behind the psychology – people there weren’t trained in a manner that enabled them to be comfortable with change. Under those circumstances, adaptation becomes extremely difficult.

What about change management within the Old Mutual context?
 
By virtue of the fact that we're a 170 year old brand that looks after people's money, there has to be considerable amount of trust. We have to be very cognisant, risk sensitive and considerate about how we show up in the market. Ask yourself, “would you like your money to be invested in a company that follows the latest fads at a whim?” The answer will most probably be no. Conceptually we have to ask – as an organisation do we really want to be leading or are we comfortable with being a fast follower or a follower? These are the discussions that are currently happening and will continue to happen as change takes place.
 
Can you comment on the current talent pool of digital marketers in South Africa and what needs to change in order for practitioners to become truly invaluable within a business context?
 
This touches on one of my biggest bugbears. There are people who refer to themselves as digital marketers simply because they’re competent at doing social media marketing. But do they understand ORM? Do they know about social business? Do they recognise the complexities that exist in using social media as a PR tool vs live tweeting for an event vs using it in as part of an ad campaign? I find that too often they may have no inclination of the level of complexity that the discipline entails and yet they refer to themselves as social media experts. That’s just one example.
 
There are important distinctions to be made, for example the difference between digital marketers vs digital account managers vs digital strategists and digital campaign managers. You get a campaign manager who works with analytics and online marketing and a campaign manager who works with integrated marketing communications. Yet no one is making these important distinctions. It begins with the fact that tertiary education organisations are educating students using only one piece of the digital picture. The result is a digital analytics “expert” who has completed nothing beyond a Google analytics course.
 
There is amazing talent – it just needs to be streamlined. I have yet to see a degree in digital marketing. Maybe this is what needs to be formalised from an academic point of view so that the future of the profession can be shaped correctly.
 
This article is featured in the Heavy Chef  Review magazine - Education Edition. Download it here.

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