The quest for the 'mobi-grail' 28 July , 2014

The quest for the ‘mobi-grail’ Make promises. Keep promises.

There are no magic formulas for mobile marketing. It is a rapidly developing art that continuously evolves. What works today, will not necessarily work tomorrow as conversations move swiftly from topic to topic. This is in no small measure, thanks to how the offline and online worlds have merged to form a ubiquitous omnipresent space in which we have all become content creators. But in this ever-changing landscape, there are endless opportunities to engage, retain and grow customer loyalty.

The marketing monologue determined by broadcasters and print media where recipients obediently consumed the brand messages are a thing of the past. The advent of modern technology like the internet and email, as well as the humble SMS, initiated a platform for dialogue, where the recipient of the communication had the opportunity to provide feedback or to respond. For the first time, a consumer’s voice could be heard – in small bytes.

Then came social media and the dialogue became a conversation, rapidly exploding into multiple conversations. The brand still has the power to seed the conversations through stimulating advertising and clever use of content, but it is now a participant in the conversation and the custodian of the communication flow, not the broadcaster of old. Users comment, share, adapt, co-create and generate their own content – it is a deep-seated desire within all of us to be seen or heard in some small way, to ratify our existence, share our opinions. We’re hungry to be heard and social media provides that outlet.

But nothing has enabled the desire for social conversation and communication more than the mobile phone, which entered the information era roughly around the same time as the internet in 1994. There are now as many cellphones as there are people in the world.

The mobile phone is so important in marketing and communication today as communication is digital, and digitalis mobile, and all companies are social. In Africa today, for every one smartphone user, there are six non-smartphone users. Only 14% of people on the continent use smartphones. This is estimated to grow to 24% by 2018, with one in three people having access to a smartphone. But, to ignore today’s main mobile market amounts to a huge lost opportunity in Africa, as not being on a smartphone does not mean the audience itself is not smart or sophisticated in its content requirements or desires.

To engage with the main market African consumer via mobile, you need to do so using appropriate messages, distributed via accessible channels, while providing an entertaining and rewarding experience for the mobile user. This includes conversations across SMS and USSD.

As marketers, for our communication to succeed, we need to find the place where our marketing objectives and the consumers’ needs meet. I call this the ‘marketing sweet spot’. For the most part, our needs are business driven – bottom line. The consumer, however, first and foremost requires information. The internet is the dawn of the Information Age, but we are all the knowledge seekers within it. A recent promotional campaign we ran for a leading university showed 45% more visits to the information “how to apply” page than to a competition entry page on the same mobisite.

However, reward still figures prominently in the minds of the African mobile consumer and usually in the form of instant gratification. Such is the nature of the mobile space which more than adequately facilitates this immediacy. Close on its heels is access to entertainment, whether in the form of a quiz, video, game or daily horoscopes. Opting out of the rat race for even a short time to focus on the lighter side of life, scores points – as an example, a recently launched USSD sports platform for a client garnered 1.2 million subscribers over a seven day period.

Thus, a combination of good content and features, presented in simple and easy to use – and in Africa this means affordable, too – ways, will stand a good chance of being successful in the mobile engagement arena.

However, perhaps the single most important consideration for marketers operating in the mobile marketing space today, is that African customers are strongly aware of brands and their messages and positioning. They identify with products that espouse the ‘better things in life’ and are astute in their judgement. Those goods or services that do not live up to their brand promises will be discarded. Being mobile, they are likely to voice their opinions, to quickly, which are subsequently shared and spread.

Cheap prices are not the key to the African consumer’s heart. The key is value. This value is derived not only from the perceived lifestyle enhancement promised by the marketing material, but also by the experience, which the consumer has with the brand and the brand’s communication process. Value can be communicated through feature phones just as much as through a smartphone app and adapting communications to take this into account will be a strong factor in building loyalty. Once you have his loyalty, it will take a lot to shake it. In other words, make a promise and then keep it.

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