Where will you meet your audiences in 2014

In 2005 the University of the Free State published Consumer behaviour trends in South Africa — A strategic marketing approach.In the document it is stated that, “when it comes to choosing which brand to buy, the balance of power has shifted away from the manufacturer towards the consumer. It is the consumer “pulling” rather than the manufacturer “pushing”, which drives the market in S.A.” If anything, it seems to have been prescient of the current global sentiment whereby consumers expect businesses to meet them on those touch points where lifestyle is defined.

In South Africa mobile penetration is presently at 100.48% (Unicef). Given the fact that we currently rank 5th globally in terms of mobile data usage, it is safe to assume that there is a demand from consumers to be met on the devices they use most, by the companies they do business with.

But our mobile culture is rather unique: it\’s a blend of developed trends in technology, and a strong demand for similar, but affordable and easily accessible mobile services adapted to a landscape where varying levels of spending power persist – and therefore different types of mobile phones are found.

In 2011 there were more than 7.3 million smartphones in South Africa; in 2012, that number jumped up to more than 10 million. The remaining 40 million mobiles are either feature phones which share some of the smartphone functionality, or \’dumb phones\’, which are only capable of sending and receiving voice calls and text messages.

So what do South Africans do with their smartphones?

A 2011 study called “Global Mobile Research: The Smartphone User & The Mobile Marketer” conducted by Ipsos GmbH, TNS Infratest and the Mobile Marketing Association, and Google, found that 63%of users access the internet with their smartphones. Of those, 61% use Google to search online, with most of them going on to perform other actions; 36%, it is reported, make a purchase. Almost all smartphone users who access the internet, access social media websites like Facebook. It\’s also worth keeping in mind that 28% of consumers use their phones to do price comparisons while shopping.

Mobile web isn\’t the only option

But those figures only reflect local smartphone usage. Feature phones and \’dumb phones\’ still constitute the bulk of local market. Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) provides an easy alternative for businesses that want to increase their reach to audiences who are unable to log on to the mobile internet, or where internet access isn\’t reliable. It\’s a service not limited to any specific type of phone, which means it\’ll suit smartphone users equally well. A USSD service can be recognised by the format of it\’s number, which is usually prefixed with an asterisk (*), and suffixed with a hash (#) – e.g. *111# (Vodacom) or *141# (MTN). At present the most visible providers of USSD-based services include cellular service providers and banks.

While in the developed world it may well be the year of responsive web design (Mashable), South Africa\’s unique mobile landscape will require businesses to consider their audiences more carefully to provide a touch points that suit the devices they use. Businesses who fail to meet audience expectations, are those that stand a bigger chance of losing out in the long run.