Using digital media to build brand image across Africa

The importance of friends and family, particularly spouses, in the purchase decision-making process is clearly evident among the African consumers interviewed in Boston Consulting Group’s 2013 Africa Consumer Sentiment Survey. The internet and social media are growing in importance as ways to stay connected and share opinions.

When it comes to mass media, almost three-quarters of the consumers interviewed said television ads have the biggest influence on their purchase decisions. The survey revealed nuances across countries, however. Radio is a greater influence in Ghana and Kenya than in other African nations, while newspapers are more influential in Kenya and Nigeria.

Although the internet and social media have minimal impact on purchase decisions today, these online channels are gaining traction in some countries, including Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria. In Nigeria, for instance, 40% of consumers interviewed reported being influenced by online product reviews and blogs. Not surprisingly, demographic differences also come into play. A higher percentage of wealthier consumers (60% of households with annual incomes of more than US$20,000 and 54% of households earning from $10,500-$20,000 per year) and younger consumers (50% of those ages 18-24) said they were influenced by the internet.

Although African consumers have broad access to the internet and some spend a great deal of time online, e-commerce opportunities are still largely in the future. Sixty percent of the people interviewed reported having internet access, and about half of those with access spend more than two hours a day online. Still, in most African countries, less than 10% of consumers said they make online purchases; Nigerians are most likely to do so. Although they’re not buying products, consumers do research products, search for information, and educate themselves online.

In terms of how they access the internet, 58% of respondents use their mobile phones, 37% use laptops, 23% use desktop computers, and 11% use tablets. About a quarter of respondents go online at work, and less than 15% use internet cafés or other public places. The survey revealed regional differences, however. Most North Africans, for instance, access the internet at home: 77% in Egypt, 63% in Morocco, and 59% in Algeria. Yet, with one exception, sub-Saharan consumers prefer to use mobile phones: more than 80% of Kenyans, Nigerians and South Africans chose this option. The exception is Angola, where consumers prefer to go online at home, using either a desktop or a laptop.

To capitalise on this growing market, companies must develop digital strategies and integrate their online and offline marketing. Moreover, given the growing number of African consumers who use mobile phones to access the internet, optimising the mobile experience should be a priority. Until e-commerce takes off, smart companies will use digital channels to build their brands, engage consumers, provide product information and drive offline sales. When the online marketplace matures, these forward-looking companies will be well positioned to drive online purchases.

This is an excerpt from Understanding Consumers in the “Many Africas” written by Stefano Niavas, Lori Spivey, Mia von Koschitzky Kimani, and Garett Chau and published by Boston Consulting Group.