In a country where the vast majority of the population are only able to access the web at work, mobile has become the great enabler. While South Africans have undoubtedly gone online for media, most have done so on their phones. Tim Bishop tells us more.
Ke nako. It’s time. The phrase that was on the lips of football supporters across the globe in 2010 could just as easily have been on the lips of mobile warriors across South Africa. It’s time – to mobilise…
The local mobile industry came into its own in 2010. For the first time, the majority of the media world woke up to the fact that the mobile web is the new mass medium. With mobile penetration tipping over the 100% mark in 2009 and recent estimations of handset figures reaching into the 50 millions, no-one can deny the power of mobility.
Add to that Google’s recent revelation that 60% of all online searches over a weekend in South Africa are conducted via mobile devices, and you understand why more and more publishers are taking their titles mobile – and why brands are joining the movement in a bid to engage with this on-the-go market.
Unfortunately, the measurement industry is also playing catch-up, which means that official statistics concerning usage of the mobile web are not available. But those in the know estimate – conservatively – that 12 million South Africans are actively surfing the mobile web, only two million of whom also have access to the traditional web. That’s 10 million consumers who are desperate for mobile content. And that figure is on the rise.
Why is it rising so rapidly? The simple answer is accessibility.
Mobile phones are getting cheaper by the day and even the cheapest handsets on the local market now offer a usable mobile web experience, and those experiences are improving with each new release. Importantly, each of these handsets is sold ready-to-use – the mobile web is quite literally just a click away.
This increased accessibility resulted in another sea change in the mobile medium. Gone are the days when the mobile world was restricted to the rich elite. The mobile world belongs to the mass market. The largest segmented user of the mobile web in South Africa is young, black and male; predominantly LSM 6. But users extend all the way down into LSM 3, 2 and even 1.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. In a country where the vast majority of the population are only able to access the web at work (if they’re lucky enough to work in an office and have access to a computer), mobile has become the great enabler. The mobile web has become the access touchpoint of choice for the mass market.
And 2010 was the year that publishing houses and brands began to take note.
Unfortunately, it was also the year that thousands of opportunistic businesses declared themselves ‘experts’ in the mobile field. Too many of these self-proclaimed experts launched themselves (and several naïve brands) into the mobile environment – often proclaiming an iPhone or BlackBerry application as mobile nirvana.
But Africa is very different from the rest of the world. Smartphones (the likes of iPhone and BlackBerry) represent only 6% of handset penetration in Africa. Nokia and Samsung own the market in South Africa, with close to 70% representation.
Brands must understand that this is a lowest common denominator continent, and if they want to reach the mass market, a great mobi site that performs well on all available handsets is the way to go. When created properly, mobi sites can look as good as an ‘app’ – and do everything it can do, while simultaneously being perfectly operational on the most basic of handsets and able to adapt upwards automatically to unlock the advanced features of the smarter phones.
For examples of just how effective mobi sites can be, pick up your closest handset and surf to redbull.mobi or, on the local front, computicket.mobi or ewn.mobi. Who said that just because the screen is small, the brand has to think small?
So, what’s on the cards for mobilising into 2011 and beyond?
After the landrush, consolidation. The market will absolutely continue to grow and develop exponentially – as will the understanding of the market and the medium.
Handset content adaptation (HCA) – a staple Prezence Digital methodology – will become a must-have technology. With 6 000 different mobile devices circulating in the market – each with its own array of screen size, input controls, browser and connection capabilities – the challenge is to create mobile platforms that automatically adapt to suit the user device and enhance the user experience.
As it stands, Prezence recently conducted an ad hoc study of the top 10 visited sites in South Africa, including the likes of Supersport, News24, Mweb, IOL and TimesLive – and only a few were fully handset-aware and even fewer made the effort to adapt their content to user handsets.
More worryingly, not a single one was ‘touch aware’ – which requires a slightly different design approach, based on the fact that our fingers aren’t matchsticks. At the very least, it requires leaving a little more space between links and menus to ensure that users can actually use it. HCA takes care of that automatically.
The second important technology for mobile is geo-location. The ability to locate a handset – and thus a user – has incredible opportunities for brands to become instantly relevant to consumers. While this technology is particularly useful for social channels, it also brings with it a wealth of other opportunities – including personalisation, vouchering and ticketing, crowd-sourcing, community-building, proximity marketing and relevant geographical information services, such as traffic alerts and weather.
The third important factor is an increased understanding of the market using the mobile web. While detailed mobile audience demographics are not yet available – and possibly won’t be for some time still – the MMA, DMMA and Nielsen’s are already able to provide members with a wealth of data around traffic and activity on the mobile web – including unique browser figures, page impressions, number of sessions, unique browser frequency and average page and session duration.
As newer phones are brought into the market, the quality and quantity of the data will improve. And as more publishers and brands mobilise, the pressure to produce these statistics will increase. It’s just a matter of time.
In the meantime, it is up to publishers, brands and agencies to ensure that their mobile offerings create an enjoyable new world for all to enjoy. It is not enough to miniaturise. It is time to mobilise. Ke nako.
This story was first published in The Media magazine.