Keep calm and make your marketing mobile

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So you get it, your MD gets it, and even your financial director gets it. If you’re not engaging with your customers and prospects via mobile, you might as well pack up and go home. Especially in South Africa, where mobile even beats the mighty radio in terms of reach, and, for so many people, mobile is their first and only way of accessing the internet.

Mobile channels give marketers and advertisers an unprecedented ability to build a direct relationship with their communities, on a device they love, via an interactive medium. (Get it wrong though, and you really get it wrong.) But before you charge off into the wonderland of mobile apps, QR codes and location-based services, take a deep breath and think about the customers you want to reach, what you want to tell them, and what you want them to do.

Despite the hype, the reality is that according to the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) of South Africa, 54% of South African adult cellphone owners only use voice, SMS and USSD. Thirty-eight percent have access to mobile data. And, the clincher, according to Our Mobile Planet data, in 2011 only 15% of South Africans have a smartphone.

And, they might not be sexy, but “please call me’s” and SMS ranked up in the top two activities people used their cellphone for, according to the MMA. Even in the face of the rise of instant messaging services such as BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp, around the world SMS use is increasing, according to Portio Research.

So before you excitedly start wireframing your first mobile app consider these tips:

  1. Understand what technology your target audience has access to.
  2. Choose the best platform for mobile marketing to your target audience: there is no point in launching an all-singing-all-dancing app if your audience will never be able to download it.
  3. Remember that data costs are still a challenge in South Africa, despite being partially alleviated by new data packages and BlackBerry bundles.
  4. Don’t buy into the red herring that SMS is dead.
  5. Finally, the medium is only part of the puzzle. Offering valuable content and having an authentic conversation with your target audience is more important than the channel.

But, having said all this, the reality is that nothing is simple in the fast-moving mobile world. Portio predicts that around the world smartphone shipments will account for more than half of all handset shipments by 2016. And although smartphone penetration in South Africa is only 15% at present, if your target audience is part of this 15%, they are not going to be happy with a basic SMS or USSD-only experience. Even mobile web might not cut it for mobile app fanatics.

FNB is probably closest to cracking this nut with its range of services encompassing SMS, USSD, mobile web and native applications. This is where the real innovation in mobile advertising is going to take place: working out how to offer the best experience to each customer across the board in order to delight and engage.

Garth Rhoda is sales director at Habari Media.

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