Are Caribbean businesses truly ignoring the power of digital marketing?

A few thoughts on an article published in the Huffington Post on the limited use of social media by Caribbean businesses.

Yesterday, the Huffington Post published an article,
Why Are Caribbean Businesses Ignoring the Power of Digital Marketing!, written Ms Katyan Roach, a Social Media Consultant based in Trinidad and Tobago, who has written several articles for that publication. As the title of the article indicates, Ms Roach posits that Caribbean businesses do not see social media as a critical marketing tool, and so are not being as effective in their marketing efforts as they could be.

Without a doubt the writer appears passionate about the topic, especially social media, which was the focus of her discourse. However, the overall thrust of the piece seemed a bit broad-brush, when Caribbean countries, and by extension the region, often require more nuanced examination. In addition to the fact each business is unique, and how success is defined is different to for each owner, below are a few points that ought to be considered.

Inadequate resources to leverage digital social media properly

One of the first points that must be emphasised is that the majority of businesses in the Caribbean are in fact small and micro enterprises, that is under 50 people. Further most would be considered micro-businesses, as they have less than 10 employees, and frequently are single individual operations, or small family businesses, that just about provide an income for its workers, rarely never generate any significant profit. Further, they will almost never have a multi-million United States Dollar valuation, or become the darling of venture capitalists and angel investors. They provide goods and services that are needed, but essentially, subsist.

While some micro and small business may have a presence on at least one social network, it is more than likely true that the platform is being underutilised. However, in order to maintain an active presence, engage followers, and employ strategies that can result in increased sales, require resources – time, money and manpower – all of which the majority of micro and small business truly cannot afford.

Although it could be argued that investment in social media could help such businesses to grow, the business plan and model that have been established may not support that approach, and so the level of investment needed cannot be justified. Some understanding of the business’ goals is essential first to determine how best and the extent to which, social media, as one of many tactics, can employed.

Quality of input determines quality of output regardless of media

Regardless of medium, be it TV, print, radio, Facebook,Twitter or Instagram (to name a few), the effectiveness of the output, such as the marketing campaigns executed, is to a considerable degree dependent on the money and the quality of resources that can be applied.

For example, have you seen or heard TV and radio ads that made you cringe? Frequently, that reaction stems from the fact that the production and content were not as sophisticated as we have come to expect. The same can happen in social media. Hence while the previous point emphasised the need for resources to properly leverage social media, that very same argument are applicable to traditional media as well in order for the desired results to be achieved.

Social media to boil the ocean

Finally, and in today’s digital world, it is crucial for businesses to have a presence online, be it on a social network, and/or have a website, as a channel of engagement. However, it is even more critical for a business to understand its market, its customers, and the limitations of its environment, and thus how best to used the various media and platforms.

For example, while much is made of the size of popular social networks (Facebook has over a billion subscribers, Twitter has about 300 million, Instagram has over 400 million), the customers who may have an interest in your business’ goods or services might be minuscule in comparison. The following questions seek to illustrate:

  • How much attention and resources should a Caribbean business be prepared to commit to a global (social) medium, if its goods and services can only be delivered within the country in which it is based?
  • Further, although Facebook has over a billion subscribers, and using Antigua and Barbuda as an example, how much attention and resources should an Antiguan business be prepared to commit when only a fraction of the 32,000 Facebook subscribers that are located in Antigua (about a third of the population) may be among its target customer segment?

In essence, it is easy to get enamoured with the opportunity to market one’s business to a global audience, but it can be an illusion and severely misguided, if the business itself cannot service that market, or if it might not (yet) be necessary to promote the business’ brand globally. Typically, the actual target customer segment – for Caribbean businesses – is considerably smaller and so it is prudent for them to consider carefully their options, and the various  media and platforms available,  to determine how best to engage and market to their true customer base.


Image credit:  Yoel Ben-Avraham (flickr)



  • Composing compelling content has to be the holy grail for Jamaican
    businesses to benefit from the exponential growth, globally of ICT.
    Developing the expertise needed to convert prospects into profits
    will take some time, but as that famous singer once sung,
    ” We Have All The Time In The World!”

    • Steve,
      I fully agree – content is king. However, need to create good content is really not emphasised. Further, many of us do not really have the time, nor the discipline, to produce not just content, but compelling content, on a regular basis.

  • Compelling points presented.

    My view, however, is that marketing should be driven by the catchment of the target market/audience rather than by how exciting or trendy the mode of the medium.

    Thus, if my products/services are more amenable to a certain demographic that gravitates to Facebook, then Facebook is my primary consideration as a marketing platform/medium.

    If, conversely, my products/services are designed for the older customers who probably are TV and radio fans, then likewise, TV and radio would be primary in my marketing considerations.

  • This argument about market size is slightly flawed as it assumes that only the local population is target audience for promoting a Caribbean based business on social media. Case in point, Antigua’s Facebook population may only be about 32K people, but over 250K stay-over tourists visit the island each year. Cruise passengers also account for another 600K+. Most of these people likely have Facebook accounts and do extensive research before their vacation. So if a local business, perhaps a restaurant or a gift shop wants to reach more of these people when they are on island, they should have their own website and definitely be on Facebook. This doesn’t mean they have to spend significant amount of time and money, but they should have a presence and update with some frequency. Failure to do so is a missed opportunity.

    • Ursula,
      Based on the example you have shared, I fully support your point, as it emphasises the need for business owners/leaders to understand their business, their customers and their market – in order to be in a position to justify how they use what limited resources they have at their disposal to attract customers, generate sales, and hopefully grow their businesses.

  • You make some valid points. Whilst asking why the region is poor by comparison to others in digital, we have to examine many factors, and not just see ourselves as a copy of the USA, Canada or the United Kingdom.

    Since Caribbean countries lack the network connectivity/readiness of these countries, and that our business environment/practices in many ways are not as developed (customer service is a prominent example), it’s wrong to expect us to be top notch. Or bemoan how businesses are “too slow” or “too conservative” to implement digital marketing. What works for the UK or Canada works given their market conditions, and societal exceptions. It would not necessarily work here, nor should, in the exact manner.

    Maybe necessity is indeed the mother of invention. If our economies and societies are not geared to high engagement or intensive digital marketing, why would or should firms follow suit? It is a rut, until there is mass public demand, that we will continue to be in.

    I don’t mean to push, but I run a blog on regional and global digital/tech issues, and I cover points that you have mentioned here –

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