Everyone has a smartphone these days, right? Not if you’re in sub-Saharan Africa, where – according to a 2020 report by the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) – only 44% of the mobile connections were smartphone-based in 2019. This means that, on the vast majority of the African continent, roughly one out of every two mobile users still walks around holding a basic feature phone.

This also means that – in Africa, more than just about anywhere else – SMS marketing is king.

It’s a king that gets more and more powerful each year. Sub-Saharan Africa is widely recognised as the world’s fastest-growing mobile market, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 4.3% for unique mobile subscribers between 2019 and 2025. And while the mobile market continues to grow, the percentage of mobile internet users remains fairly low, at just 26% in 2019 (projected to reach 39% by 2025).

What’s my point? That SMS marketing is still one of the most effective ways to reach customers in Africa – and that it is likely to remain this way for many years to come. In an article published by the United Nations, Teresa Clarke – CEO of Africa.com – called mobile phones “central to life”, adding that for many Africans, “the cell phone is their landline, ATM and email in one device.”

Africa’s Big 5 mobile markets

With 46 different countries, sub-Saharan Africa cannot be treated as a single market. According to Kenechi Okeleke, senior manager at GSMA Intelligence, “large, under-penetrated markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania present the biggest opportunities [for subscriber growth].”

Both Okeleke and the GSMA report state that these five countries will account for half of the total number of new subscribers over the period to 2025. That’s 65 million new potential customers arising in these five countries alone by 2025 – and if you want to talk to them, the best way to do it is still via SMS.

Understanding your audience

Having said that, the report also predicts that smartphone penetration will rise to 65% by 2025. This, coupled with the projected increase in access to mobile internet, should be taken into account as campaigns evolve and develop over time. For instance, there may be an increasing need to include hyperlinks and embedded forms in future SMS campaigns.

Of course, this depends very much on the audience you are trying to reach – and the technology they use.

“Businesses are starting to take notice of how easy it is to connect with customers through mobile platforms and apps,” says James Bayhack, Director for Sub-Saharan Africa at CM.com. “While this trend already existed within various industries and businesses, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for remote-friendly, mobile communication between customers and businesses. Thus, companies need to be focused on discovering which mobile platforms their customers are on, and finding ways to reach them on those platforms.”

The final step: tailoring and testing

In short, it’s important to research and understand the technology of your customers – and the coverage they have access to in their home country. And, of course, every campaign should be tailored and tested to suit the specific data segment. Such testing is easy to accomplish with a platform like Leadify’s, and detailed feedback can be used to optimise your campaigns in real time. Why? Because the opportunities are endless – and there really is no time to waste.