Marketing in Africa? SMS is definitely not worth writing off


The relatively low penetration of smartphones in Africa, paired with high data costs, means that the humble SMS remains the best way for organisations to reach a mass market with targeted marketing messages, alerts, statements, and other information.

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SMS remains a powerful channel because it can be used to reach nearly anyone with a GSM handset — in Africa that is nearly every person, considering that there are more than 650-million cellphone users continent-wide.

Even as smartphone penetration ramps up, it will be a long while before smartphones account for the majority of the devices in the market. Africa remains dominated by prepaid users, many of whom opt for low-priced feature phones.

The majority of connections are still basic 2G voice and SMS services, and simple 2.5G data services, rather than 3G or LTE connections. For that reason, text-based mobile marketing is still the mobile marketing method with the furthest reach in Africa.

Bear in mind that more than eight out of 10 people in Africa own a cellphone, and most people also carry their phones with them everywhere they go and seldom switch them off. What’s more, even people who don’t have a permanent or accessible street address have a cellphone number.

Even when someone moves home, they are likely to keep the same cellphone number. Whether your customers are rich, poor or in between, you can reach them with a timely text message when you need to.

SMS has the advantage of immediacy, with consumers usually receiving the message you send within seconds and often opening it as soon as they receive it. That makes it particularly useful for time-sensitive communications, such as payment reminders and special time-limited promotions.

Response and engagement levels on SMS are also high because the cellphone is such a personal and trusted device. Depending on the campaign, it is not unusual to get SMS response rates of up to 30% on offers and 60% on surveys. This compares to around 2.6% for direct mail, 0.5% for pamphlets and 8.5% for published media.

An SMS is noticed, read and acted upon. It is simple for clients to respond with a quick reply; what’s more, many people who might delete email from marketers or throw mailers in the bin are highly likely to read text messages because they are accustomed to receiving important notifications as well as personal messages via SMS.

By segmenting the SMS marketing database, marketers can personalise messages to clients’ needs and interest. As such, SMSes can be leveraged as effectively for one-to-one marketing as it can for bulk messaging.

And since it is bi-directional, allowing customers to respond immediately with a request for more information, means it’s good for focused, call-to-action marketing. Another benefit of SMS lies in its cost-effectiveness at a few cents a message, especially when compared to print, postage and telephone costs.

Image: via Flickr.

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