In 2009, mobile effectively became the most pervasive mass medium in South Africa, surpassing radio and TV. Yet the reality is that the marketing community has yet to harness the power of this incredible medium.
That’s the truth, according to Marc Herson, director of 2go, an Africa-focused mobile social network that allows users to set up a personal profile, talk to friends, share files and pictures, play games and meet new people in chat rooms – for free. Since its launch in 2007, 2go has amassed a user base of over 10 million Africans, primarily due to its insightful and premeditated decision to support over 800 feature phones, which are still the primary mobile device in Africa.
Herson was speaking at the annual Habari Media Tuongee (Swahili for ‘let’s talk’), which was held on 15 – 16 August at Zebula Lodge, attracting 90 delegates from the cream of the local digital crop. Herson was one of three digital gurus on the mobile panel, joined by Angus Robinson from Native, and Tim Bishop from Deloitte Digital.
According to Herson, the primary reason behind the lagging spend remains the same as ever: a lack of understanding of the medium and its platforms on the part of advertisers and their agencies.
“The major problem is that that advertisers and agencies are not themselves using many of the mobile platforms out there, and as a result, they are not always sufficiently familiar with specific mobile platforms, and their potential in terms of creating and driving brand awareness and engagement,” he says.
Herson believes that the responsibility to educate marketers about the potential of the mobile market lies not only with publishers such as himself, but also with agencies.
“Agencies need to help brands understand mobile platforms and the benefit that each audience can bring to the table,” he says. “And it’s high time they also showed how often mobile applications can deliver superior results to traditional above-the-line advertising!”
In explaining the benefits of the mobile medium, Herson compared mobile devices to traditional media radio and TV.
“The mobile medium is the only medium that consumers carry with them. In many ways it beats traditional media such as TV and radio for pure reach, because the vast majority of people are not only economically poor but also time poor – they either do not have a television, or if they do, they seldom have the time to watch it. Our statistics show that 30% of our user base does not watch TV.
“But because these users rely heavily on public transport, they spend hours and hours every day commuting – up to four hours every day, when they often pass the time interacting with friends on platforms such as 2go.”
Herson adds that 2go often sees unique click-through-rates of over 10%, and in some cases these rates can reach upwards of 30%.
“Mobile is also highly targetable and measurable in real-time. A brand can more accurately reach its target audience and measure engagement in real-time,” he says.
For instance, on 2go, a brand can reach males aged 18-25 in Gauteng with one message; and females aged 20-30 in the Cape with alternative messaging. And the system can test and track engagement using different copy, allowing advertisers to adjust the copy to make a better connection.
Last, but certainly not least, Herson points out that agencies need to understand that although they and their peers might have smartphones, the vast majority of Africa is still dominated by older generation feature phones.
“If you want to interact with the mass market, choose your platform wisely, and work closely with media houses and mobile publishers to ensure the right technology fit with your strategy,” he says.