Q&A: Mobile Market Experts Talk Challenges And Trends In Africa

Nokia 105: $20 Cell Phone
The $20 cell phone from Nokia is aimed at users in developing nations. Nokia

Anyone who has used a smartphone is familiar with mobile marketing.

Email blasts, Facebook notifications and even breaks between levels of Candy Crush present an opportunity for advertisers -- but companies still have a lot to learn those opportunities.

“Marketing companies around the globe are familiar with how to get a 30-second television commercial to air, but in terms of mobile advertising, it’s not always as clear,” said Chris Babayode, managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the Mobile Marketing Association, a global non-profit trade organization that represents more than 700 mobile marketing companies.  

Babayode said that one of the most important things for companies to understand is each consumer’s mobile device, and they must ensure advertising messages are tailored to each particular type of phone.

It’s fine in Europe or North America, where advertising executives are probably using the same phone as their target consumers, but it’s a whole other story in Africa -- one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

The middle class is evolving, especially in sub-Saharan countries. People are buying more new products than ever, and some of the world’s largest brands are very interested in reaching them. But there’s one problem -- most people don’t use smartphones.

“Africa is completely different from the rest of the world in terms of the way consumers interact with mobile,” said Raymond Buckle, Raymond Buckle, chairman emeritus of the organization’s South Africa chapter and the CEO of Silverstone and RAMP Africa, a company that specializes in the mobile advertising market.

Buckle spoke to International Business Times about the challenges confronting and the solutions available to mobile marketers on the continent.

What makes mobile marketing in Africa unique?

There are different perspectives to it. The first major difference is, if you take industry jargon, [there is] a ‘dumb’ [market] and a 'feature phone’ market, as opposed to an emerging smartphone market in Africa. Mobile data has been emerging here over the past five years, and most of the mobile marketing in Africa is voice and SMS -- interactive services, text tags and voice messaging, which makes use of the features of the phone without necessarily being dependent on data and wi-fi coverage -- which makes it completely different

Are there a few examples?

A service called “Please Call Me” is one. It works by creating a media inventory that allows advertisers to promote messages from an awareness-and-response perspective. But it’s purely text-based. The response mechanism is typically SMS, USSD or click to call/mobi.

Mxit is an interesting one, too. Their Apps today work on almost every type of phone – not just IOS and Android. It’s a social environment, which has been highly developed. Currently they’re standing on 10 million active users in SA-- it’s probably the largest social network from South Africa.

In the old days where you had Java-based development, programs like that only ran on certain Nokias. They literally developed a version of the app for every different kind of phone. In 2013 it’s a different market, a different opportunity.

How have things changed? What are some recent trends?

There are a number of general trends. The one trend that’s coming in 2014 is that large operator groups are taking their mobile advertising inventory to market. Traditionally, they’ve been using their inventory for internal use -- now they’re competing for mobile advertising budgets with the likes of Google and traditional ad networks that have been operating in Africa through RAMP Africa.

Another big story, especially in South Africa, is that we have a platform called WiCode that has allowed the ability to redeem coupons at points of sale. It’s fully-integrated into the retail point of sale with some of the largest retailers in South Africa, which means a brand can have a coupon redeemed against a certain product. You could have an ad on Please Call Me, mobile Internet or SMS, which triggers a unique coupon delivered by SMS, and present that at the point of sale. There are no apps to download – and the mechanism allows marketers to close the loop.

It’s revolutionizing how people view mobile advertising.

What types of companies do you work with?

We’re working with large blue chip companies such as Nokia in Southeast Africa, which is one of our key markets.

A large portion of their media budget is going digital, and in fact, that largest portion is going to mobile -- well, digital media for online and mobile -- Unilever, Coca-Cola and a number of large brands are also doing this.

There was a recent release out of an East African business magazine where they took the top 100 global brands in Africa and determined what revenue they’re actually deriving out of Africa. Nike, for example -- 13 percent of their global revenue is coming out of Africa.

Consumer Brands from Heineken to Coke, banks, insurance and retailers have embraced mobile as a unifying medium, either as a response to the traditional media, or as the media that drives activation and awareness for the brand. And it’s not the typical social app-type of case studies that you’re getting out of the U.S. and Europe.

What are the benefits of using mobile advertising versus traditional?

Mobile delivers engagement and audience opportunities at scale. A typical small campaign has ten thousand users taking action. In terms of Mxit, for example, we’ve built a community -- and in one campaign we drove 1.5 million new users opting into a specific proposition within a period of six weeks. It’s predictable, and you can expect to achieve that level of engagement. It’s really significant.

 What are common mistakes companies make as they delve into mobile marketing in Africa? :

Africa is a mobile-first market, but saying mobile-first and understanding what it means are completely different things.

People think about mobile in a very tunnel-vision kind of way. The brand marketing people immediately compare their perception of mobile advertising with the typical audience and it’s not the same.

You’re sitting there with your brand-new Samsung S4 phone and comparing a user experience with the guy that’s got a Samsung e250, which was produced five or six years ago. I think mobile is not monolithic. There are different ways of engaging users in mobile, with whatever kind of device they have.

What’s the difference between a feature phone and a smartphone anyway?

Well, it’s a very fuzzy concept. The common understanding is that a smartphone is running IOS or Android. Feature phones typically also have a mobile data capability, but are mostly used for calls, SMS and browsing. – In my opinion, anything that can run an app and connect to the internet should be viewed as smart from a marketer’s perspective.

What are some of the biggest challenges ahead?

Compliance is a big deal. When you say mobile marketing – they hear SMS, and people think spam. From an operating and regulatory perspective, South Africa has promulgated a consumer protection act and a privacy of personal information act, which are going to create new standards. Practices will need to change. 

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