Julia Gichuri & Sarah MacDonald

Africa is young. More than 50% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 20 years. And when it comes to connectivity, African youth are actually not very different from their global contemporaries. Young people in Africa are using Facebook, downloading music and accessing entertainment on their mobile phones. The continent is becoming younger, more vibrant and more connected ,while remaining social at heart.

How can researchers and marketers connect with this growing number of tech-savvy people?

Socialites of the net
Like their developed-world counterparts, African researchers and marketing professionals are turning to social media. Sarah Britten, a director at Wunderman South Africa, calls social media “a reflection of the psychology of the nation”.

Brands are now eager to tap into the Zeitgeist by adding social media to their marketing mix toolkits within the African context. And any forward-thinking brand wants more than just to be on social media.

Looking at the results of a study of the internet population and fleshing these out with some insightful qualitative research yields some interesting results. While South Africans use social media mainly to connect with friends and family, they do expect brands to have a presence on these forums. Having a well-executed social media strategy is imperative. However, social branding strategists need to be aware that consumers are in a primarily social frame of mind when using these media. This mindset dictates the conversations that they are willing to have with brands.

Typically consumers are asking, “What’s in it for me?”. Research shows that the main reasons consumers interact with brands online is to get more information about products and services, respond to promotions and special offers, and to support brands that they like. Brands need to engage with consumers on their terms, and to provide them with rewarding interactions.

Beyond the net
In Africa, companies are discovering ways to create business models around the close communal links and sharing of resources that are a way of life here. Some of these initiatives bridge the online-offline divide.

A good example is the rise of M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer service. One of the main factors that has made M-Pesa so successful is its ability to connect families.  More than half of remittances on M-Pesa in Kenya are destined for parents or other relatives. In a country where the majority of the population resides in rural areas, M-Pesa enables income earners living in cities to send money instantaneously to their rural relatives.

Another example is provided by Mobicover, a small South African start-up that employs agents in township communities to sell insurance coverage on a mobile phone platform for large South African underwriters. By leveraging the existing social networks that these agents or micro-business owners have within the community, Mobicover is able to provide a face for the brand that people can identify with and trust.

Big business is also catching on. Standard Bank, one of Africa’s largest, is using a community banking model to bring the previously unbanked into the formal banking sector.  By taking on bank-teller responsibilities, spaza (neighbourhood kiosk) owners are becoming “township bankers”. Not only do they sell bread, airtime and cigarettes, they now also accept cash deposits and facilitate withdrawals.  Leon Barnard, the bank’s head of inclusive banking, is adamant that cellphone solutions need human touchpoints in each community if they are to succeed.

In this exciting new world, wise brands are using emerging technologies and social interaction to connect to Africa’s young population, both online and beyond.

Julia Gichuri is a research executive and Sarah Macdonald is a senior research executive at TNS South Africa