Africa stands out as an exciting market for mobile marketing – provided brands learn to speak frankly (and often) to people about the products and services they offer. To achieve this agencies must develop more than effective mobile marketing campaigns; they must architect ongoing conversations aimed at reinforcing brand value and delivering people a simple and accessible brand experience. Jonathan McKay, Creative Director at Praekelt, a company that develops mobile solutions for developing markets, discusses the massive marketing opportunity in Africa and reveals (based on his first-hand experience with brands) the approaches that fly — and fail.
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With over one billion people and a voracious appetite for mobile content and information of all kinds, Africa is more than a market poised for explosive growth in mobile marketing and communications. It is also a sandbox for innovation and approaches that get amazing mileage out of ordinary feature phones and simple text messaging.
Currently, countries including South Africa, Ghana, Gabon and Kenya count nearly as many SIM cards as people, and the rest of Africa is catching up. Analysts reckon this rapid penetration paves the way for every single person in Africa to own a mobile device by 2020. Granted, the vast majority of people own low-end phones, but figures show that browser use is also creeping up as more people purchase high-end phones to explore and experience the mobile Internet.
Notably, Android handsets are gaining traction as smartphone prices come down. Safaricom in Kenya, for example, has introduced a sub-$100 Android phone that has also become their best-selling phone, beating out even more basic handsets. The trend is expected to continue since Asian handset manufacturers — specifically Chinese brands — are gaining on more established players like Nokia, and driving handset innovation in the region.
As a result, campaigns are designed to appeal to two distinct audiences: mobile websites for people with Internet-capable phones and text messaging via both SMS and USSD for everyone else. USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), a cousin of text messaging, is a technology used by the network to send information (usually text menus) between a mobile phone and an application on the network. USSD allows users to request information in short codes (starting with * and ending with #), or menus from the network during the session, making it an way for mobile operators (and increasingly brands) to engage in a two-way exchange with users — without latency or any additional charge to the consumer.
“There is very little MMS use,” Jonathan observes. “There is an enormous population of people relying on SMS and a growing number of people surfing the Net using their mobile phones because that is the primary access to the Internet.”
How are brands responding? According to Jonathan, they harness SMS to deliver most marketing messages and they bypass the [desktop] Internet wherever possible. “We are seeing brands completely and exclusively focus on mobi sites now, rather than on having Internet websites, because mobile is where the users are.”
Local mobile etiquette
And local is the word to remember here since adapting mobile marketing campaigns to the local language is key to success. “South Africa has 11 official languages. Nigeria has 200 languages, and not even a fraction of them are official,” Jonathan explains. “There needs to be some sensitivity in this area because when consumers are dealing with brands, they don’t like to feel that brands are an outsider entity that doesn’t live in their market or know their language.” It’s important for brands to “be careful that their tone is appropriate.”
In addition, brands have to be straightforward in their communications, laying out the terms and conditions of contests and campaigns and making sure the offer is understandable and transparent. In this environment, Jonathan stresses, opt-in is the only mobile marketing approach that works — both practically and ethically.
Accessible, affordable & relevant
Africa is also a price-sensitive market where brands must be careful not to waste people’s time or money. “The focus on any marketing effort or any mobile service project in Africa has to be to make the cost to the end-consumer as low as possible.”
For advertisers this means finding effective ways to engage people, a requirement that plays in favor of SMS.
But it’s not just cost. Text messaging allows brands to get real scale. “Scale has always been the problem in Africa, and scale is what mobile is really helping us to do,” Jonathan observes. “Achieving scale is what mobile devices are helping us to actually do for the first time.” With incredibly low TV penetration, a fractured radio audience and logistical challenges which hamper the distribution of outdoor and point of sales (POS) material, mobile phones are quickly becoming the most widespread and universal media in Africa.
Campaigns also need to be simple and straightforward, a requirement that presents marketers with significant “UX challenges.” For one, navigation has to be simple, uncluttered and intuitive. Brands also have to explain why people should interact with the ad in the first place.
“Asking someone to click to go to another page is a big ask for an African consumer because any new data they load costs them money, money that they’re not really going to be willing to pay without some idea of what’s being offered.” For this reason, Praekelt is careful to be clear about each interaction. “Marketers need to be very clear in their links… and we often accompany the links with blurbs to clarify exactly what would be gained from clicking from one page to another,” Jonathan explains. “You also need to design things in a way to keep the data load of every single page as low as possible.”
Finally, brands must keep their word — and show it. This means showcasing the winners of a competition, for example, or providing immediate feedback. Creating credibility is the issue. “African consumers don’t take anything for granted,” Jonathan points out. “Despite their propensity to engage, despite their enthusiasm, they’re not fools by any means, so we have to be very clear at every stage of our campaigns what we’re doing.”
Creating (and keeping) brand affinity
Africa, like many developing markets, is plagued by spam, a situation that has opened the door wide to permission based marketing approaches. “We observe that African consumers are far more likely to opt-in, which is why opt-in rates for campaigns tend to be much higher.” Depending on the brand, Jonathan reports, campaigns are “seeing opt-ins as high as 87 percent.”
African consumers are also far more likely to engage with digital content, and that includes content offered as part of a mobile marketing campaign. “Overall we see much higher stickiness in Africa than we do elsewhere.”
But Africa is also a market with its share of challenges.
Natural disasters and other events can upset distribution channels for weeks and months, creating shortages of product and making it tough for brands to keep customers loyal. In some cases, a factory or brewery will not be able to generate enough product to get into market, which means a region may not have stock of your product for weeks. When that’s the case, Jonathan says, conversational marketing is a must.
This exchange can start off with a free sample (a reward connected with a text campaign linked to product displays, for example) or other approaches that reach out to the consumer and ask permission before engaging. “The opt-in, incentivized by a reward like a free sample, starts the conversation, Jonathan says. “The challenge for every marketer after that point is to create enough brand affinity through a dialog to convince consumers over mobile to choose your product, even if it isn’t always available.”
Mobile doesn’t only help brands stay top of mind; it also allows them to deliver vital information in spurts people can understand and appreciate.
A prime example is Unilever, a consumer brand that is working with Praekelt to communicate the health benefits of its hand wash products. In South Africa infant diarrhoea is the number one cause of infant mortality, and the number one cause of infant diarrhoea is poor hygiene on the part of the people who were caring for these infants. Against this backdrop, Unilever aims to deliver much more than mere advertising. “The campaign for the product will make a kind of educational, low-cost information resource available to mothers and care givers,” Jonathan says.
At the other end of the spectrum, brands are increasingly harnessing an ongoing and educational approach (delivered primarily via text messages) to explain their product benefits to people who may have never used them before.
Praekelt is currently working with a client to launch an antiperspirant deodorant in Kenya. The focus of the mobile media campaign is to educate consumers about the product, Jonathan explains. “Part of this is educating consumers as to why they should be interested in antiperspirants at all because most Kenyan women are satisfied with bathing and/or using perfume.” To ensure the product introduction covers all the bases Praekelt is making use of a wide variety of mobile interactions. These include directing people to mobi sites and asking them send a message to a short code number on pack and at the point of sale.
Sustainable and ongoing
Regardless of what the brand wants to achieve, Jonathan is convinced the campaign has to be relevant and ongoing. “With every single campaign, we are looking to attract consumers, to involve them and then to sustain an ongoing relationship with them,” Jonathan says.
Take a campaign where consumers are asked to text in a unique code found under the cap of their bottle of Guinness beer, for example.
“That’s only the first stage in the relationship, and that’s the opt-in that we require in that case. Once that interaction starts, there is immediately a push back with some mobile content that the consumer might enjoy, such as ringtones, wallpapers, fun facts, trivia, and so on. With every new interaction the brand builds up a picture of that consumer and they get to know what they are interested in, what they like, how old they are, and where they live.” At the end of a series of interactions the foundation is laid for a “more long-term relationship.”
Participation marketing & more
Where is the growth (and excitement) in the African market? Jonathan has a close watch on the opportunities at the intersection of conversational marketing and sampling.
In practice mobile marketing campaigns – delivered via text messaging or through interaction with a physical store display – would encourage consumers to engage in more than an ongoing conversation; they would reward consumers with unique codes (delivered to their phones) that could be redeemed for sample products at pre-defined outlets.
The eagerness of people to connect with brands doesn’t only pave the way for more “participatory” approaches to mobile marketing. Jonathan expects this appetite for experiences will also impact the nature of the mobile Internet. “It [the mobile Internet] will not be an Internet like we know it elsewhere because people [in Africa] will be far more engaged with the services available to them. They will have interactions with brands that we wouldn’t have in the developed world because consumers there crave these experiences.”
What does Jonathan see moving forward?
“I think you’re going to see a massive wave of participation-led mobile campaigns in Africa over the next two years.” One driver will be the people — an the other will be a change in mindset. The hold-up has been that brands and agencies don’t understand the spend and effort that is required to support a mobile campaign. “They may think that they just have to slap a URL or a Facebook icon on to the ad or billboard. But by far the most cost effective and efficient way to approach mobile advertising is to engage through the mobile media itself, which means messaging – either alone or in combination with mobile banners or material at the point of purchase.”
Clearly, Africa is a market posed for explosive growth. But it’s not just the numbers that make this region a must for brands. It’s also the interest (passion) of people there to communicate with companies not once — but many times — on their mobile phones. Thus, as Jonathan points out, Africa will likely see a wave of participation marketing where users (eager to engage with brands on their phones) expect (even demand) frequent interactions with brands — conversations that are frank, relevant and permission-based.
Editor’s note: It is always a delight to connect with Jonathan, who is an authority on mobile marketing in developed markets. I am pleased to report that Jonathan will also be back on MobileGroove for a series of in-depth articles and podcasts looking at mobile marketing case studies and use cases in Africa. So watch this space!