Is Digital Marketing Relevant for Africa?

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is the marketing of products or services using digital channels to reach consumers. The key objective is to promote brands through various forms of digital media.

Before the likes of Facebook and advertising on mainstream search engines such as Google, there was no such industry. It is a new industry, growing fast and with great impact on the means of doing business. Digital marketing is even being labeled as “disruptive technology”, meaning that is a new emerging technology that unexpectedly displaces an established one.

Think about it. When you are looking for the latest news, sports, Bonang and AKA update – where do you search? News channels on TV, the newspaper coming out tomorrow, the weekly gossip magazine? Ain’t nobody got time for that. We are using the phone we have on hand to check hashtags on Twitter and Instagram feeds of the celebrities we follow.

Digital marketing’s success globally arises from several factors. More than half of the world is recorded to have a mobile device, internet connectivity is becoming increasingly accessible, especially in developing countries and the market data one can find is not only much more accurate than traditional market survey methods, it is also available in real time.

But what does this mean for Africa? Well I’m more than happy to inform you, that some of the most cutting edge digital technology was grown right here in our own back yards.

Digital marketing successes in Africa

Ever wondered what we did before we had WhatsApp? Well if you were part of my generation (and I am really not that old…), you probably logged on to MXIT on the daily.  Developed in 2011 in Stellenbosch, MXIT recorded 7.4 million monthly active subscribers in July 2013, of which 6.3 million were South Africans. MXIT was the free chat platform available on mobile in the time before smart phones were the norm. At that time, we were having chats on phones that had no colour screens or predictive text. Bless. If you weren’t in the MXIT age, you’re too young for this post bro. Jokes. We will still acknowledge you… for the ‘gram. Eventually, they closed down their doors over the span of 2015-2016 having lost market share to global platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

MPESA (M for mobile, pesa means money in swahili) is the world’s most successful money transfer service. It enables millions of people who have access to a mobile phone, but only limited access to a bank account, to send and receive money, top-up airtime and make bill payments. Launched in 2007 in Kenya and Tanzania by Vodafone, it expanded to Afghanistan, India, Romania and South Africa. M-Pesa is branchless banking technology (how disruptive is that!) where users can withdraw the money sent to their mobile from the local supermarket.

In 2010, it was acknowledged as the most successful mobile-phone base financial service in the developing world. By June 2016, 7 million M-Pesa accounts are recorded to have been opened in Tanzania alone. The service provides millions of people access to the banking system and reduces the prevalence of crime in a largely cash-based society

On the same tail, in 2012, FNB won the “Most Innovative Bank” Award at the BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Conference in Washington DC. The award was bestowed for their tech innovations such as “eWallet” (similar to M-PESA) and the Banking App. FNB was the first to start an app for banking in South Africa, it’s competitors followed suit, however, FNB still continues to be rated best digital bank by consumers. I remember my first iPad I received in 2012 through an FNB promotion. The cost of the iPad was added to my monthly bank fee.

Why do digital strategies work so well in Africa?

Globally, in the year 2015, 3.2 billion people world wide were recorded to be online, in many countries both from the developed and developing world, most adults have more than one mobile device.


It is predicted that in 2020, 500 million Africans will be online. 90% of African users access content through mobile. On average, Africans are estimated to spend 19 000 minutes per month online – that’s 13 HOURS!!

1/3 on activity online is in on social media. New activities such as shopping, video and e-commerce are growing interests. E-commerce growth in Africa is at a rate of ten times year on year.


As Social Selling Evangelist Jill Rowley stated:

“The internet is the most disruptive force I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Sales functions are undergoing a massive transformation out
of sheer necessity. The reason they’re transforming, is in direct
response to the fact that the buyer is transforming. It’s a case of sales
essentialism; adapt to survive.”

In true African style, I will answer the question of this article with another question:

Is Digitial Marketing Relevant for Africa?

Were Africans not the pioneers of digital marketing?


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