Africa, mobile, and the cue cards marketers can relish

“The United States economy is nine times the size of Africa’s, but Africa has twice as many mobile phones.” This gutsy opening statistic from Ghana-based Bright B. Simons’ intelligent article on why ‘Africa’s True Mobile Revolution Has Yet to Start’ – which was published in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network – pinched me wide awake the morning I received the e-mail alert.

Kwesi Sakyi-Gyinae

Having followed the developments in mobile and its attendant interventions in marketing for some time now, Bright’s discourse further piqued my interests. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I had asserted in my exposition on Mobile Marketing: Thanks, But No Thanks that “…consumers are increasingly breathing their own sense of uniqueness, desiring to be treated differently; and it appears this feeling is reinforced in their ownership of personal digital assistants, cell phones, and other mobile devices.” In Africa, the evidence has been glaring. Recall that between 2005 and 2010 alone, the continent powered the upswing in world mobile phone usage by contributing an overwhelming 73.6% – 88 million to 333 million users, according to the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Game changer

Interestingly, Bright’s enterprise-based perspective (and essentially so because of his orientation as an IT systems inventor) on the mobile future of Africa introduces fresher dimensions to the already arduous discipline of mobile. He believes that although the consumer revolution in the consumption of mobile content has strengthened and supported growth in the telecommunications industry, opportunities still exist for mobile to lead economic breakthrough – and this is possible if we move on to the enterprise level of mobile technology.

“Whiles the subscriber growth has been astounding, a critical look at value creation however show how much more needs to be done before mobile can shift African economies. For instance, the United Kingdom, with barely 7% of Africa’s population, has a bigger telecom industry in terms of revenue. That’s why the enterprise side of things has seized my imagination,” Bright argues. And by ‘enterprise’, the ideas of cloud and mobility – where boundless access to corporate intellectual assets anywhere rather than fettered local resource access are paramount – are well presented in his piece. Revolutionary as these thoughts may seem, they make profound sense. The unprecedented proliferation of mobile devices, the evolution of corporate culture, competition and social lifestyles, and the strategic value of information in our knowledge economy all make a decent case for enterprise mobility.

Promises and perils

Unrestricted instant and mobile access to an organisation’s intelligence and information systems has become a needful and vital competitive asset. On-the-move sales force and off-site marketers can get the opportunities to update the firm’s databases with live quotas met; they can get access to vital consumer information to facilitate after-sales support programmes; they can retrieve vital knowledge propositions when meeting clients for business deals; they can keep up with key distributors and suppliers, inter alia. Thus, whiles improving productivity through the prompt provision of information, mobility and the idea of enterprise provide an invaluable support system for the firm’s marketing system, and even the existing business practice.

Consider how Kenya’s breakthrough mobile phone technology, M-Pesa, has emerged to be a formidable enterprise, transforming the ideals of money payments. Since its introduction in 2007, the M-Pesa innovation has emphasised mobile competence in the access to money anywhere, anytime – a maxim which has been extremely well embraced by local businesses, small and large alike. Similarly, the country’s information democratisation and interactive mapping platform Ushahidi (meaning ‘testimony’ in Swahili) has expanded to serve a bigger component of the media industry.

In Uganda, the mobile app MafutaGo, is allowing users the instant luxury of finding the nearest petrol station with the cheapest price for gas. Whiles the examples can be countless, so can the deterrents, chief of which is cost. Research, development and testing of mobile applications on varied devices, networks and geographies can mop up a large proportion of a firm’s budget.

Tipping point

Nonetheless, there’s no need to play dead on the mobile battlefield, because soon enough, one way or the other, the sophistication of mobile enterprise will demand your firm’s attention. Some local firms have worked enough with their IT department to equip staff with access to corporate e-mail servers. That’s fundamental. But a more appealing thought will be to milk the consumer-end of enterprise mobility. How can consumers get access instant, mobile access to your brand’s new product or service updates, information and promotions? How can brands personalise yet standardise mobile content and navigation for consumers? How can consumers be assured of data security in case any of the above happens? Where do the marketers pitch their tent? Can the development of mobile apps – just like some top brands have done globally– lead the way for your brand? There are no black-and-white foot tracks here; only questions whose answers can upend the marketing cue cards for harnessing the mobile prowess.

The author is a marketing intelligence builder and researcher. Continue the conversation with him via e-mail [email protected], on Twitter @ksgsakyi, and on the blog