The engaged economy: Are you really ‘connected’ to your customers in Africa?

Africa may be rising in terms of its economy and infrastructure deployment, connecting more and more Africans to the communications grid, but new media communications organisation, Ole! Media Group, cautions businesses to be aware that not everyone is switched on to the latest mobile app.

By focusing only on the “shiny baubles” of smartphone and tablet apps, when the vast majority of their customers still use basic feature phones, companies operating across the continent, run the risk of having their messages remaining unheard and their brand unengaged.

Although urbanisation of Africa is underway and smartphones are appearing more widely on the continent, they still account for less than 30% of cellphone users. In fact, by 2015 it is reckoned there will be 5.6 non-smartphone users to every one smartphone across Africa. In South Africa, there are approximately 8m laptop or PC users accessing the internet versus more than five times that number of cellphone users, and with mobile internet and USSD access available to 90% of the user base in Africa, it seems pretty clear that an effective communication strategy in Africa needs to include content that is accessible via a wide variety of mobile devices.

“Being at the cutting edge of technology is important and you have to plan ahead. But don’t be so beguiled by the technological ‘cool’ factor that you lose track of where your customers are right now,” says Desere’ Orrill, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Ole! Media Group. “In our role as marketers and communicators, we have to talk to the target audience through their chosen channels, and for many of them that still means SMS, feature phone browsers and USSD.

“What ultimately drives bottom line success is what you give people. It’s not about the platform but about how you use the platform that matters. If you get this right, you engage and retain your audiences,” continued Orrill.

Speaking at the Mobile East Africa conference in Nairobi earlier this month,  CEO of Ole! Media Group Tim Legg confirmed that a changing media audience on the continent requires a change in approach. “The conference reiterated how mobile has become an agent for social and economic change in Africa. Entire industries are adapting to the mobile world – media, advertising, banking, insurance, photography, broadcast – to mention but a few. Particularly in emerging markets where around 75% of users own a feature phone, SMS, USSD and WAP are still key methods of communication. In this regard, Africa is a hotbed of innovation and people are coming up with inventive ways of using the ‘old technologies’.”

The opportunities for business expansion and revenue generation through effective use of mobile marketing in Africa are huge, if marketers are receptive to the realities of the African communication landscape. There is a great appetite for information. This means that customised content which is delivered in a format that can be easily received and activated will ensure sustained customer engagement across the world’s fastest growing continent.