#AgencyFocus: Breaking boundaries with DarkMatter
by Sabrina Forbes. Brothers Charl and Xavier Olivier, founders of agency DarkMatter, believe the catalyst to any solution is to traverse into the unknown — to go beyond what is seen, driving creativity and strategic insight to the bleeding edge of the unknown.
DarkMatter was founded in 2015, originally as an extension of a previous company Charl and his partner, Kopano Boikanyo, had started; the name SociaPath (a combination of “social” and “path” but with obvious connotations) was changed to DarkMatter once Xavier has finished his masters in marketing. This full-service digital marketing and content agency has a simple promise guiding everything it does: “Brand Belief”. For the Olivier brothers, they believe that combining strong strategic thinking, powerful storytelling, and best-in-class content design is what will create memorable brand experiences.
Digital is at the heart of what the agency does and what it’s good at but the industry hasn’t always been as open to moving channels or creating new avenues of communication. Charl recalls being made fun of when he first dove into the world of social-media marketing and management. It was a misunderstood concept and he remembers it taking some time to prove its value to brand marketers (the idea of Facebook Pages for brands was still foreign). Charl managed to show the value of social media marketing for a brand when he opened his photography page on Facebook that, according to Xavier, is still the most-followed page for a South African photographer in the country and was the first photography page to get Facebook-verified.
The agency currently also puts value on proving its digital offering by executing the same metrics and strategies it does for its clients for the agency itself. “We do what we do for our clients for us, and its works phenomenally. We’re getting like 4–6 leads a day. The minute we started doing it for ourselves, we saw our own value. Now I can confidently go to meetings and I can say I can do this for you because I am doing it for myself already. In this industry there are a lot of people selling snake oil. They don’t know what they’re doing and it’s a joke. A lot of people come to us after they’ve been burnt by other agencies,” says Charl.
Affordable and accessible
While the agency has worked with big brands such as Aramex, IBM, Nedbank, Dimension Data, CottonOn, OrderIn, Pierre Cardin, and Fila, it focuses primarily on making quality marketing services accessible and affordable to small- or medium-sized businesses. “When we formed the agency, I think what we really wanted to do was make high-quality marketing more accessible to small and medium businesses because we believe that we produce the same quality as any other bigger agency. We have that ability in terms of production and strategy and execution. The three leaders all have degrees in marketing and are using the founding principles to execute what works. Our rates are more reasonable but we can do what they can do. That’s the end goal; we want to give people value,” says Xavier.
The agency’s goal is to work with emerging clients which want to take their business to the next level and are looking for the right partners to help them do so. It also, as part of an effort to give back, has worked with Thalitha’s Children Trust, building the website and creating content in an effort to the NGO get more abandoned children into loving adoption homes (within its first month on social media, the trust received a large amount of donations and pledges).
The agency is still relatively small and because of this, its ability to be agile is one of its key selling points. “We pride our business on value and we also pride ourselves on speed, too. This is something very different in the South African market. We find that a lot of people aren’t really willing to burn the coals at rapid rates, whereas we are. We can implement things and make changes quite quickly. That’s probably one of our USPs. I think it goes back to that line of making marketing more accessible for small-to-medium businesses,” says Xavier.
When pricing comes up during the interview, Charl shares that he’s experienced a number of projects where he’s been privy to the costing structures of other agencies (in his freelance-photography capacity) and says he’s often questioned why clients are being charged exorbitant rates for something he knows isn’t worth those costs. “You start to realise how many people are just really dodgy and are just marking things up for no reason and adding random line items. I guess that, in the service industry, people do do that but, particularly in marketing, people just add random things and extra cream,” he says, adding that it could also be because some business have massive budgets to blow and so they simply look for whichever company is considered the best but which might not necessarily deliver the best value.
The team at DarkMatter has an unwavering desire to understand what makes its work, well, work, and is constantly looking at the numbers to see where and how it can improve. It’s a tech-/data-focused approach with a strong creative element. “Our difference is that we understand the algorithms maybe a bit better than some other agencies, says Xavier. “We have a desire to understand why an ad would perform better or worse than another ad. It’s a lot of trial and error to make things perfect. It’s not only the content side that’s important; it’s also the management side that’s important. If you don’t have both of those right, then you can go very wrong, very quickly. If your content is not good, no one is going to care and you’re going to get low relevancy scores. If you’re boosting wrong and you’re sending it to the incorrect people who don’t care, then you’re going to get very little engagement and that ad is not going to go very far. There are brands wasting so much money by simply going ‘auto boost — South Africa’.”
Charl adds that most people assume there’s just a boost-now button on the front, when there’s a whole business manager on the back with statistics that allow you to analyse and tweak for days on end. For him, targeting in SA is more difficult than other places because of our massive variety of demographics; he says it’s easier to target in rural England, for example, because everyone there is mostly white and is involved somehow in farming but meanwhile, in SA, there could very easily be two people with exactly the same interests, culture, gender, race, and values but with very different incomes.
When it comes to assumptions driving marketing behaviours, Xavier mentions a campaign for a pharmaceutical product that measures the level of ketones in the body. The client was adamant that the brand’s target audience was people who were “banters”. After running an initial campaign and diving into the data, they were able to see that the only people buying the product were women between the ages of 30 and 50, the majority of whom were not banting but simply wanted to lose weight. For him, discovering who your real target market is from data sets gives you the ability to start using that as proper marketing collateral.
When questioned on what Xavier feels the biggest digital trend in 2019 is, his response is that he thinks “the biggest trend is that Facebook is going to integrate all their messaging services into one. So, Instagram [Direct], WhatsApp [Business], and Facebook Messenger are all going to become one universal communication platform by the end of this year. People need to take that into consideration that Facebook is going to integrate all of this. They have become a monolith in the industry. They own these platforms for a reason; they want to create a singularity and that singularity is going to become the most-important marketing tool that any person in digital will be able to use.”
Charl adds to this by reminding us that WeChat has been hugely profitable in this space already and that Facebook has definitely noticed. “You’re going to have offers on it all the time. Now imagine [what’s] on your WhatsApp [is] also on your Facebook and Instagram. You’re going to get offers popping up in your free messaging with your friends. You’re going to be advertised directly to,” he says, bringing up another trend he’s noticed, that of ephemeral content. It only lasts a short while and, by the way Instagram Stories’ popularity has grown, it’s easy to understand why this is a key trend for 2019 and beyond. As a photographer, Charl remembers a time when all brands would capture videos and pictures from events for distribution after the fact. Today, brands are shooting stories live in vertical video and uploading immediately, in the moment of action.
“The concept of a time bomb forces the user to engage with it but also allows the person who’s posting it to not be scared because they know it’s only going to last for a certain amount of time. You don’t have to edit and retouch and be perfectionistic about it. You can just launch and then let it disappear into the digisphere. It’s becoming the new thing to shoot video in square crop and vertical because square fits nicely into the Instagram feed and vertical video fits nicely into Stories. You’re optimising your content so that it suits the platform that it’s on. And that’s very important, to be able to understand those little technicalities and to produce content within those realms,” shares Xavier.
The two believe that the best, and most-successful, partnerships are built on transparency and trust. As brothers who work together, Xavier says they’re able to be completely transparent and honest with each other, without judgement. They completely trust each other, communicate openly, and respect the decisions the other person makes.
“#Agency/BrandFocus” is an ongoing weekly series updating the market on ad agency performance, including business performance, innovation, initiatives, the work, awards and people.
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.