Marketing lessons from Africa
Last week Eric wrote a blog post on text messaging and some of the promotional and advertising opportunities the medium provides. This week I want to look at texting not as a medium part of the mobile marketing mix, but as a way to change how products are used and even to provide new products and services.
Some of the greatest examples of how texting, and mobile technology in general, have changed the lives of millions of people come from Africa, where a mobile phone can dramatically improve living standards by saving wasted trips, providing information about crop prices, summoning medical help, and even serving as a conduit to banking services. Economist and emerging markets expert Jeffrey Sachs calls mobile phones “the single most transformative technology for development.” Leonard Waverman, chairman of the economics faculty at London Business School, has shown that a 10% increase in a developing country’s mobile phone penetration adds 0.6 percentage points to the economic growth rate of the country. The World Bank claims that number to be 0.8 percentage points. So how exactly is texting used in the developing world, and more specifically in Africa?
SMS has transformed the banking, agriculture, healthcare, education and non-profit sectors in Africa.
Mobile banking is probably the best developed sector. M-PESA, Orange Money, MobiPay, MiMoney, MTN Mobile Money and even Western Union are some of the major players that allow customers to transfer money even without a bank account, just with a simple text message. M-PESA, the most popular mobile money platform, was first used as a way for young, male urban migrants to send money back to their families in the countryside. It is now used to pay for everything from school fees to taxis. Teachers in Rowanda receive their salaries via mobile money and retirees in Kenya receive their pensions the same way.
Since 2002 SMS has been changing agriculture in Africa. The biggest challenge for smallholder farmers in Africa used to be the lack of transparent information about the market prices of crops. Today such information and even more is available through a simple text message. CocoaLink, a program launched by the Ghana Cocoa Board, The Hershey Company and the World Cocoa Foundation, provides cocoa farmers with useful information about improving farming practices, safety, crop disease prevention, marketing, etc. Again with a simple text message.
mHealth initiatives have revolutionized healthcare in Africa improving communication between field and clinical staff, diagnostics and prevention. FrontlineSMS significantly improves the communication between field and clinical stuff thus improving the diagnosis process. Ghana’s 2000 GPs can send and receive free text messages from their patients. In Nigeria, teenagers can text questions about HIV/AIDS and receive answers. In South Africa, people can text “HIV” followed by their location and receive an SMS with the location of the two nearest traveling testing units.
There are numerous other examples of the innovative use of text messaging in Africa from providing resources to non-profit organizations to fighting corruption and violence against women. What I find incredibly interesting is that in the West we are obsessed with developing promotional tools and sexy smartphone apps when in reality we just need to provide solutions. The best solution doesn’t have to be the sexiest one, but the smartest one.
In the West, we use mobile and digital technology mostly for promotions without considering how these technologies can affect the other three Ps of marketing: place, product and price. We call it mobile and digital marketing when in reality it is just mobile and digital promotion and advertising. Even simple technology such as text messaging can take the cost and infrastructure implications out and affect the product, the price and the place, thus giving us the opportunity not just to promote businesses, but to profoundly transform them. With such simple technology, we can create new products, transform distribution networks and change pricing models. Now think what we can accomplish with smartphones.