Many South African companies looking for new mobile marketing opportunities may benefit from experimenting with the humble .mobi portal before they start investing in mobile applications for the major smartphone platforms.
That's the word from Tony Sousa, CEO at Acceleration Media. He says that many South African companies are looking towards mobile apps as a way to reach their customers as they seek mobile marketing opportunities that go beyond simple messaging applications such as SMS competitions.
However, companies need to look carefully at their customer bases and budgets before they join the mobile apps rush since only a small proportion of the South African cellphone user base currently own high-end smartphones, says Sousa.
Companies serving the higher end of the LSM spectrum may already be able to justify the investment into developing mobile apps. But many organisations could benefit more from experimenting with mobi sites before they develop their apps strategies since the reach is wider while the barriers to entry and the risks are relatively low, Sousa says.
"Companies need to take a strategic approach to mobile content and services," he adds. "By starting out with low-cost channels such as .mobi sites, companies can start to understand the needs of their users. Then, they will have a better idea of what the potential return on investment is from a mobile app and what users would require from it before they start to build it."
Developing a mobile app for just one smartphone platform - be it Apple's iOS, Android, Windows Mobile or BlackBerry OS - is already expensive, says Sousa. Costs quickly mount up when one starts to develop mobile apps for multiple platforms to cover the fragmented high-end smartphone market.
By contrast, the .mobi portal offers the advantage of being accessible from any device that has web access - it can be accessed from all newer smartphones as well as the older web-enabled cellphones in the market, says Sousa.
"This approach will also help you to understand your mobile business model, your customers' appetite for mobile services and the platforms that your customers are using before you make the not-insubstantial investment in developing apps as smartphone penetration ramps up over the next two years," says Sousa. By this time, advanced features such as location-based services will also be more popular and mature, offering a wealth of new possible ways to interact with smartphone users.
Sousa cautions that companies should be looking at mobile as a channel in its own right and considering how to align with their other channels. They cannot simply copy and paste their web strategies into the mobile world because the way that customers behave across the two channels is vastly different.
They should tailor their mobile websites, search campaigns and display advertising accordingly. For example, a mobile customer is likely to be looking for quick gratification when he or she goes online to search for the telephone number of a restaurant.
And users are more likely to be using the mobile web after hours and over the weekend than they are during the week, since many South Africans still only have Internet access at work. These realities should all inform one's mobile strategy, concludes Sousa.
About the author
As CEO of Acceleration Media, Tony Sousa is responsible for driving the growth of the company's business and helping it to enhance its mobile advertising and marketing offerings. A telecoms industry veteran, Tony joined Acceleration Media from MTN South Africa, where he held the position of Senior Manager: Portal and Web until July 2010.