Ralph Simon: mobile success lies in being ‘Glocally’ relevant [Tech4Africa]

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Ralph Simon

Success in the mobile space is all about “glocalisation”, says Ralph Simon from mobile strategy company Mobilium.

Speaking via Skype from Russia at the Tech4Africa conference in Johannesburg, Simon talked about the importance of making content that’s in line with global trends but that is at the same time locally relevant in order for it to spread most effectively to its intended audience.

This was echoed earlier by Catherine Luckhoff of Bozza, the South African mobile content distributor, who talked about how downloads increase dramatically through word of mouth. It’s this word of mouth that is facilitated best when content is locally — and colloquially — relevant.

Part of this local appeal may apply as much to mobile hardware as it does to mobile content, where devices that are developed to suit their local surroundings and target market perform best overall. Speaking in the same session, Verone Mankou, founder of Congolese hardware startup VMK talked about the Elikia, his company’s new Android-based phone that’s manufactured in China but designed in Africa.

Billed as the first African smartphone, the Elikia is specifically aimed at the African market in terms of affordability in a market where the iPhone 5 is barely touching sides due to its high cost. In the Elikia, VMK is looking to the bottom of the pyramid as Simon calls it — that is, potential customers who are lower down on the economic scale — but who place just as much importance on internet connectivity as any high-end smartphone user elsewhere in the world.

Simon also spoke about how it’s those who are open to change who will see the most success in the mobile space. Africa is at a particular advantage here because uncertainty is a concept that is far from new on the continent.

So what specific changes are happening in the media space? Simon cites several game changing examples that no one could have predicted even ten years ago. The recent merger between publishers Random House and Penguin indicates the impact that digital books are having on the publishing industry.

In telephony, Microsoft-owned Skype is “drinking MTN’s milkshake” by offering phone calls for the cost of an internet connection. One of the biggest changes has come in the music industry, driven largely by Apple’s iTunes. To date, iTunes has sold 25-billion songs — and 600-million pairs of headphones — effectively spelling the death of CDs (illegal downloads of course, being another issue altogether).

And then there’s television and movies, where Netflix is usurping the previous power that Hollywood studios wielded in protecting their distribution channels and spreading content they way they wanted it to be spread Today, 30-million people subscribe online to watch their movies and television on-demand via Netflix, which is growth that few people could have predicted when the company launched in 1999.

From these examples, it’s perhaps clear that the people who embrace technology, whatever it offers in the moment, to meet needs of their audience are faring far better than those who are hell-bent on sticking to the same medium. One of Simon’s final takeaways is that the driver of the mobile space is the notion that “whatever can be information will be information”.

In other words, information that doesn’t seem like it’s important or even is information to start with today may well be the currency with which mobile audiences are swayed one, two, and five years from now.

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