Nigeria, with 125 million mobile subscribers, is not just Africa's largest mobile market. It is also home to one of the most connected and engaged mobile populations on the continent. And as smartphones become cheaper and mobile broadband infrastructure continues to improve, the mobile phone will become even more deeply embedded in the daily lives of Nigerians.
According to Lynette Hundermark, managing director of Useful & Beautiful, that means marketers should start thinking about the opportunities mobile will pose for them as more Nigerians spend more time on their mobile phones and join the world of mobile money and mobile broadband.
Pointing to MasterCard's Digital Evolution Index research, Hundermark notes that just 8.1% of Nigeria's population has access to personal computers whereas mobile penetration is 94%. This offers a break-out opportunity for a market that has lagged global trends in adoption of digital payments and shopping, says Hundermark.
Mobile money solutions
"To date, Nigeria has faced many challenges in growing adoption of online banking and shopping - among them, consumer distrust, logistical and infrastructural challenges, and poor Internet penetration," she adds.
"Now, many companies such as MasterCard are bringing mobile money solutions to market that could help change that picture. With more affordable handsets driving an increase in smartphone adoption, the telecoms backbone improving, and an already large population of feature phones, Nigeria is ready to join the world of electronic payments."
However, growth in m-commerce and mobile money use in Nigeria will depend on networks, retailers, banks and other players educating the market about the availability and benefits of the technology as well as building trust among end-users. This message was also emerged at the recent World Retail Africa congress, where Hundermark chaired a few panels.
Hundermark says that the paradox of the Nigerian market is that people are early adopters of technology, yet they remain more comfortable with cash payments than they are with credit card or digital transactions. But given the central role the mobile phone plays in Nigerian life - and the enthusiasm for new technology - mobile money could change habits in Nigeria.
"Companies like MasterCard are investing heavily in helping people to understand the benefits of mobile wallets as well as the reasons that they are more secure and safe than carrying cash," she adds. "This, paired with Nigerian's ability to embrace change, could lead to a surge in adoption of mobile money in the country."
"With a growing middle-class that aspires to the best in global brands, there is a wonderful opportunity for mobile marketers," she says. "With its celebrity culture and love of fashion, Nigeria is becoming a very interesting market for consumer brands."
Working out a strategy
Marketers should start plotting out their mobile marketing strategies for Nigeria ahead of mobile commerce breaking into the mainstream, Hundermark suggests. Consumers are already active on the mobile channel. Now, it is up to brands to provide compelling user experiences designed especially for the Nigerian market to increase user engagement.
"There is a common misconception that a solution from a Western market or another African country will work in Nigeria," Hundermark says. "My experience in the soft-launch of a suite of mobile products for a Nigerian client has confirmed for me that the user experience must be tailored to the culture of the country. Too many marketers fail to recognise just how diverse Africa is."
Hundermark says that mobile marketers should set out by understanding their target market in Nigeria - a complex country with a diverse population. The starting point is to recognise that it is a mobile-only country where mobile devices are the primary way that most users connect to the Internet.
The population is still dominated by feature and basic phones, so any mobile strategy needs to take that into account. Even as smartphone sales ramp up, feature phones tend to be passed down to other users. Yet with smartphone penetration growing and most smartphone users preferring apps to .mobi sites, brands need to carefully consider exactly which mobile experiences they will deliver to the market and to deliver an experience that is suited for the platform.
"A lack of a .mobi site may exclude too much of the population, whereas the lack of an app may turn away more sophisticated users," Hundermark says. "It's important to carefully consider which segments you are targeting and the devices they have access to."
Brands that are invested in an app strategy must not only consider the app development cost for a specific platform, but also maintenance costs that may crop up unexpectedly as new operating systems updates need to be integrated.
The ultimate success of an app will be its uniqueness and ability to convey that X factor that delivers a value added component to the user. These include the ability to deliver relevant push notifications and alerts, provide a more personalised experience to the user, and offer some offline functionality. Whether the brand goes for apps, a mobi site or both, its mobile platforms must deliver accurate content in a timely manner and be fast to meet user expectations. The strategy must take into consideration the specifications of the mobile device and aim to deliver the most usable experience within the technical constraints of the mobile devices.