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Biggest Surprise in South Africa Was BlackBerrys, Not Elephants

Biggest Surprise in South Africa Was BlackBerrys, Not Elephants iMedia Editors
We rounded the curve on the dirt road and there was a large herd of elephants. Or was it a gaggle?

Regardless, it wasn’t the biggest surprise during my week in South Africa that included four magical days in the Pilanesberg game reserve 2 ½ hours outside of Johannesburg.

What topped the sightings of more animals than I’ve collectively seen in my life?

The sight of BlackBerrys. Nearly everywhere. In 2012. Some South Africans carried two – one for work and one for pleasure.

Imagine that, for pleasure.

In fact, in June, South Africa's youth named BlackBerry as the 'Coolest Brand Overall' in the Sunday Times Generation Next 2012 Brand Survey Awards. BlackBerry also topped the ‘Coolest Cellphone' and 'Coolest High-Tech Gadget’ categories for the second year running.

BlackBerry’s BBM, a messenger service which has now peaked in the U.S., is used by 98 percent of South Africa BlackBerry customers, according to parent company RIM.

According to RIM, there are more than 56 million active BBM users worldwide and 70 percent of them use it daily to communicate daily.

The lesson for marketers? What happens in one region isn’t necessarily mirrored in others. And you need to know your target audience and reach them through their devices of choice.

The professionals I met when I keynoted a CMO Conference and during a mobile workshop I conducted did not fawn when the iPhone 5 was announced. Many were unaware of the news being made 11,000 miles away. Others didn’t care.

As much as I went to teach, I traveled to learn. And I learned a lot.

Here’s what I discovered beside the fact that game reserve visits belong on everyone’s bucket list:

Numbers according to Ogilvy:

  • 80 percent of South Africa’s population is on mobile

  • 50 percent penetration of smartphones is expected in the next four years

  • 20 percent of the population is on MXIT (a free mobile instant messenger app)

  • 17 percent of the population is online

  • 14 percent are on Facebook

  • 2 percent of the marketing spend is on digital (roughly 20 percent of what is spent in the U.S.)

  • The percentage of users accessing Facebook via their mobile devices is 38 percent. It is 58 percent for mobile subscribers 25 years old and younger

  • The number of Twitter users is approximately 2.5 million (doubled in the last year)

  • The majority of tweeters are under 25 years old

More mobile stats:

  • Churn rate among prepaid users is 43 percent

  • 33 percent of all mobile users access Web via mobile

  • 20 percent of mobile subscribers have smartphones

  • Mobile phone use increased from17 percent of adults in 2000 to 76 percent in 2010

Here’s a deeper look into MXIT:

  • The average time spent per day is an hour and a half

  • Unique users during a one-week period total are 4.7 million

  • 54 percent of users are aged 18-25

  • One quarter of users are under 18 years old

  • The cost for a marketer of a splash screen is R55000 (about $6,700)

As I traveled the country, I heard text message calls-to-action on the radio, saw them on billboards, and grew to expect them.

Groupon has made inroads in South Africa. Marketers I spoke to spoke highly of the service and continue to run Groupon programs. These folks have the same goal as we do – to sell more stuff.

In the game reserve, the most frequent mobile activity was picture-taking. Those humans with capable phones were emailing and posting photos in real time.

That practice was hardly noticed by the elephants.

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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