The past decade has seen considerable confusion among virtually all media owners in Africa. The ubiquitous internet created panic in the traditional media industry and left marketers bewildered about how best to stem declines in readers, listeners and viewers.
This was particularly evident in the continent’s newspaper industry with what could probably be described as the worst marketing strategy ever. A strategy that affected newspaper sales the world over, not only in Africa.
Today, almost all of Africa’s 54 nations have internet access, at least in their capital cities. However, about 600 million people Africa still do not have access to the internet.
As more and more consumers were able to access the internet, newspapers particularly, created websites offering free content. Somehow, newspaper and radio marketers simply assumed that the online environment was just another news medium with the result that newspaper readers, for example, found they were able to get news and features without having to spend money buying a newspaper.
Across the continent, this strategy also led to drastic declines in the sales of newspapers and magazines. Eventually, for example, after years of giving away content free of charge, South Africa’s Business Day created a paywall on its online site. The result has been a paid subscriber list of almost 10 times its average daily hard copy sales. Today, like many other business titles across Africa, Business Day is a digital product with an optional hard-copy offering.
An interesting aside is that the past decade has also seen a dramatic reduction in the number of research studies conducted into the marketing of media in Africa. A sure sign that as the media business environment has become tougher, so research budgets have been cut or have disappeared completely.
Generally speaking, weekly and daily newspapers across Africa are showing continued sales declines as the internet takes its toll.
Last year in Nigeria, for example, there were 122.7 million active internet users. Most of these consumers are young, educated and urban.
The mobile phone is rapidly becoming the hardware of choice throughout Africa, leaving media marketers struggling even more as the continent’s youth is able to access the internet on the move and at any time.
Use of social media in Africa is growing rapidly as smartphones and data become more affordable. In 2020 Facebook was the most popular with 54.77 per cent of the social media market. YouTube followed with 22.78%; Pinterest with 9.39%; Twitter with 7.47% and Instagram with 5.27%.
The challenge increasingly facing newspaper marketers is bridging the time gap from receiving the news to publishing the news. In short, publishing morning news events in the afternoon is futile in terms of serving the needs of consumers. And delivering yesterday’s news today is even more frustrating.
Marketing strategy with regard to newspapers is no longer about increasing sales but developing a content mix that is in line with time delays.
In Sub-Saharan Africa today, radio remains one of the most powerful media, particularly in far-flung rural areas.
Kenya, for example, had 173 licenced radio stations at the end of 2018.
In Malawi, with its population of 18 million, radio is the leading news medium but by late 2018 almost 10% of Malawians were online and half a million of those were active social media users.
Like radio marketers, those promoting television have a far easier job than their newspaper counterparts.
They are able to use their own media to promote themselves and while this is widespread and inexpensive, it is often the only strategy used. Somehow media marketers cannot bring themselves to use their competitors as promotional platforms.
Prior to the advent of the internet, newspapers, radio and television channels in South Africa, for example, made considerable use of their competitors’ platforms.
In the late 1980s Johannesburg’s Saturday Star carried a weekly media and marketing feature. At its height this covered five broadsheet pages with 45% of that space being advertising by competitor newspapers, radio station and TV channels.
Two decades later, the feature was down to a single page and today it doesn’t exist in the Saturday Star.
Lack of marketing is also an enormous problem for community media, particularly newspapers and radio.
In 2002 a joint venture by government and private sector media in South Africa saw the establishment of the Media Diversity and Development & Diversity Agency in an effort to break the stranglehold of government-owned media and the major commercial media groups, on the media environment.
The objective of the MDDA was to fund community media projects.
It did not take long for the MDDA to realise that without exception, every application for funding excluded any provision for sales promotion, let alone marketing.
With the result that many of these media struggled (and continue to struggle) to secure sufficient advertising revenue.
While media in Africa generally continues to battle with a shrinking advertising pool, increasing competition and state-owned media having to be bailed out with increasing regularity, there have been some marketing successes.
South Africa’s Naspers Group, now one of the biggest media owners in the world, saw the writing on the wall even before the advent of the internet. It persuaded the South African government at the time to allow it to put together a consortium of newspaper owners in South Africa to launch a pay television network to counter the effect of state owner TV and radio channels on local small commercial media.
The biggest company
Today, MultiChoice, is one of the world’s biggest pay-TV operators reaching into the whole of Africa, parts of the Middle East and China.
When the internet arrived in South Africa, Naspers, through a subsidiary called Media24, launched free-access online news platforms. But, unlike its competitors who simply provided free news, Naspers launched a number of online shopping platforms and used its free new services to promote these. The company is now the biggest online news and shopping channel owner in the country. It went further and bought a share in China’s Tencent online platform.
Interestingly, the newspapers still produced by Naspers form the smallest revenue generator in the group and rarely warrant more than one line in its annual report.
The Naspers story is, without doubt, one of the best-case histories of media marketing in Africa and the world today.
However, the majority of its competitors, particularly newspapers, continue to plod along, hoping that the glory days of cash-rich media will somehow miraculously return.
Lack of marketing has also had a detrimental effect of the efficacy of news across all media and the entire commitment.
TV, radio and particularly newspapers have generally reduced their editorial complements and at the same time cut back on training.
The result is that the quality of journalism across the continent has declined and with it consumer trust.
Once again, lack of any form of strategic marketing thinking has done little to improve this situation and to a large degree, marketers are still being excluded from newsrooms.
Increasing marketing efforts
If media in Africa are to flourish, increasing their marketing effort is critical. Most media owners, with the exception of TV, have never provided for marketing in their budgets.
This has been a massive problem because when most media realised that they needed marketing departments, they also needed a completely new category within their operating budgets.
And with most companies at that stage struggling to contain costs, it meant that, at best, all they could afford was a very junior marketing executive, with no budget and very vague guidelines.
What Africa’s media need to understand is first of all that their online platforms are not simply mirror images of their newspapers, radio and TV stations. The primary objective is to build subscribers and then to offer those subscribers products and services. Marketing is vital in terms of identifying just how to monetise not only digital platforms but also existing traditional media.
It stands to reason that if successful companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and scores of others all find it absolutely necessary to spend between four and 15% of their turnover on marketing, there must be something to say for it.
And it is these great brands that understand that marketing is not just about advertising, public relations and magic bullets, but rather it is a tool to reduce risk and increase profitability.
A marketing audit is inexpensive but critically important for media survival.
Chris Moerdyk (@chrismoerdyk ) is a marketing analyst and advisor and owner of Moerdyk Marketing with many years of experience in marketing and the media as well as serving as non-executive director and chairman of companies.
* Opinions expressed in posts published on The Media Online are not necessarily those of Arena Africa or the editor but contribute to the diversity of voices in South Africa.
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