1 December 2011

Kenya: Phone Is the Only Screen Available to Many of Us


"If you had no other visual medium other than your mobile phone then it would be the screen you would consult continuously for entertainment." These are the words of Aggrey Maposa, the managing director of TNS Research international in West Africa.

Aggrey's words carry more insight than may seem apparent. For starters in most of Africa TVs either don't work because there is no electricity or because they are unaffordable. There are more mobile phones in Kenya than there are adults, which logically means that the only available screen in many grass thatched huts around the country is a mobile screen. This screen may carry music, games or other forms of entertainment and news. It is also the connection to other people near or far.

Dave Kelly a renowned continental media owner declared to the same audience that research has proven that most people would rather lose their wedding bands than lose their mobile phones. Which no doubt explains the strength of their relationships with this screen. Aggrey's and Dave's logic is compelling. Marketers cannot envisage covering the African market without engaging the people behind these small screens.

The mobile phone is rapidly changing in importance, last week Africa officially became the second fastest growing mobile market after Asia, during the weekend of the 26th of November, Nigeria became the largest African market by mobile impressions for ad network InMobi.

Marketing has to start looking at mobile from the consumer's perspective. How does a rural Kenyan engage with a mobile phone and the brands that rule their life? The mobile phone is the remote control with which our consumers in distant rural places have been connected to people with information and exposure in urban areas.

According to various economic sources, up to 50% of all Kenyans live under the poverty line . That from an adult population perspective would be around 10 million adults. Safaricom's MPESA has over 15 million subscribers over the age of 18. This represents over 70% of adults! This leaves you wondering how people with less than a dollar can have money to transfer. Few people are able to explain this. It possibly reveals new dimensions to our economy.

Our consumers work differently from many around the world. The mobile phone is possibly the channel that gets people to voice consumer opinion to each other, as well as aggregate decisions and direction. What the west calls a social network influence works here every day through elder brother pressure or pure budget and extended family pressure. Figuring how the mobile phone conveys this purchase influence will make or break the next generation of African brands.

So what should you do? Mobile makes very fashionable marketing conversation. In reality it isn't about the medium but about the people using it. The more time spent understanding them the easier it will be to speak to them through the only screen available to most of them. It remains likely that the technology may change slower than the people using it.

Frank is lead consultant at FMC, CEO at Sponge a Mobile Agency and Founder Co- Chair of the mobile marketing association

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