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Why brands need to wise up about mobile marketing in Africa


By Patrick Palmi, CEO,

If you take an interest in digital and mobile marketing, you may already have come across a number of predictions around 2016 marketing trends, and maybe even a couple that focus on mobile marketing.

I’m sorry to inform you that, if you have been looking to these articles to help drive a mobile marketing strategy for 2016, you are being misguided.

Why? Because for brands targeting African consumers, most of these articles are six to ten years ahead of where mobile marketing is really at.

Instead, I hope that the biggest mobile marketing trend for 2016 is that marketing managers learn how to use it effectively. To do that, we need to make sure we really understand three things: the audience and their use of mobile, mobile itself as a channel and what is possible, and the messaging needed to inspire action and return on investment.

1. Understanding your target audience and their relationship with mobile

The majority of consumers in countries across Africa live in or near poverty. Their disposable income is limited, and so they are highly cost conscious. Many are unbanked. Yet almost every single adult owns at least one mobile phone. And they use it not only to talk to and send messages to each other, but also to listen to access basic news headlines and sports fixtures and results, listen to the radio, and interact with brands.

Now think about your marketing or advertising strategy and budgets. How much time and money do you spend on TV, web and print campaigns? And how much on mobile? My guess is that the ratio is somewhere around 90:10.

This seems illogical to me. I mean, we know that consumers are getting desensitized to our adverts, or finding ways mute, block or skip them. And we know that mobile phones are vital to consumers. We also know that, while it might seem like a difficult channel to crack, the brands that do manage to crack it, will be the biggest winners.

So what’s holding everyone back?

Understanding how to make mobile marketing work in Africa

I’m certain that a big part of the problem is that marketers don’t really understand mobile as a marketing channel. Many have probably dabbled a bit, but if a campaign is unsuccessful, it’s tempting to dismiss it and stick to the things that we know.

I have been privileged enough to work with some of the biggest consumer brands in South Africa, and together we have found three things to be true for mobile marketing:

1. Appropriate targeting and messaging are more important for mobile than any other channel

When you send a message to someone’s mobile phone, their first reaction when they see it likely to be disappointment. They were expecting a message from a friend, partner or family member, but all they got was ‘spam’.

Take the time to find out a bit more your audience, what’s important to them and how best to talk to them, and you have a much greater chance of engaging with them. If you’re targeting young males for example, maybe talking about the soccer would capture their attention. What’s important is that you add context and emotion to your messages so that consumers can relate to your brand. I have seen too many SMS campaigns that lack attitude and energy.

2. Loyalty and reward campaigns work best

If you’re looking for sure-fire way to get into the hearts of this audience, you need to offer them something in return for acting on your marketing message. How about giving them a free phone call if they redeem a coupon or pick up a sample?

Or you could reward them for spreading the word. Why not run a karaoke-style competition and encourage people to get their friends to vote them in order to win a prize? We have found that this is a great way to connect with young consumers.

At the end of the day, African countries are unique and it’s only by understanding your audience that you can create a successful campaign - no matter what channel you use.

There is still a big gap in communication between big brands and the consumers they are targeting. I would like to encourage all B2C marketers to make it their 2016 resolution to get to the bottom of how their target audiences really think, feel and act. Only once you truly have that understanding can you hop to create game-changing, energetic, empowering and inclusive campaigns.

Mariaan Christian

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