Africa has always embraced the mobile. That tiny little device that we cannot bear to be parted with can connect us to almost anything and anyone at anytime. Yet how many businesses have actually taken the time to invest in how their brand is portrayed on that little screen. Not very many.
Ironically, given how Africa as a continent has leapfrogged the laptop and embraced the mobile as a cost effective form of communicating, we in South Africa and the rest of Africa are not taking advantage like we should.
I will always advise my clients when discussing their digital strategy to make sure that mobile is an integral part of their overall plan. They are often reluctant to budget for it and many will dismiss it as just another added cost with no real value. Or something to get to later. Let me dispel that notion.
The future is here
Last year globally, the sales of smartphones exceeded the number of PCs sold. With over 1 billion people in Africa and a 65% mobile penetration rate we are the second biggest mobile market in the world. We are the fastest growing.
When you consider that just over a decade ago Africa had a 2% mobile penetration rate, you can start to appreciate the explosion of growth! A staggering 60% of Africans are under the age of 24. PCs are not their first port of call, it’s mobiles and tablets. It doesn’t take a visionary to see where we are heading.
Mobiles can generally be divided into dumb phones (no Internet capability), feature phones (have WAP Internet capability and make up the majority of mobiles in SA and Africa) and smartphones (your iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones such as the Samsung Galaxy).
Whilst smartphone penetration in South Africa and Africa is still low compared to the rest of the world, we are still looking at roughly a 30% penetration rate in South Africa by 2015. That’s not very far away and that growth rate is exploding all the time.
Get the edge
So there’s a very real competitive edge in making sure your brand and its communications work in the mobile space. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to have a quality mobile presence and can be relatively inexpensive to convert your standard website into a mobile version.
It will however take a better understanding of how mobile as a platform fits into your customers’s needs. As always, compared to your other communication channels, there will be slight variations in the motivations, experiences and needs of your end users.
As mobile phone browsers and technology advance we are getting to the stage where your mobile website can do almost everything its big brother can. What about an app I hear you ask? Won’t that be better?
The short answer here in South Africa is usually no. They are expensive to develop and with a 3% smartphone penetration rate in Africa (15% in South Africa), not very many people are going to be accessing that app.
So unless you are a globally recognised business or a large corporate with a specific digital strategy in place, you probably won’t need an app. What you definitely do need is a quality optimised mobile website that will serve your clients and customers the information that they are looking for quickly and easily.
Keep it simple
Whilst a good digital partner will be able to give you more insight and understanding into mobile sites and the dos and don’ts, there are a few basic points to keep in mind. Although your mobile site could do everything your standard site does, it shouldn’t.
Like making sure your standard website works across all browsers, you should make sure your mobile site will work on most if not all devices.
This means using my favourite acronym and keeping it simple stupid (KISS). You should look for ways to simplify both the design and functionality of your site. This might mean redoing your navigation and menus, eliminating some images or otherwise re-working your site’s layout and functionality.
It’s obviously much better if you are building from the ground up and can incorporate mobile into your development plans from the start. A strong trend in digital design at the moment is Responsive Design. Whilst it is slightly more work in the initial development phase, what you get is a digital presence that is optimised to display correctly and beautifully on all devices, from large screen PCs to tablets down to mobiles.
But that’s a column for another day.
Yes you could probably get away with not having a mobile presence at the moment, but not for very much longer. And the sooner you get into the mobile space, the better your understanding will be of how your clients and customers use it. Then you can start tailoring it to better meet their needs and end goals.