Digital Marketing in Africa, The Challenge, The Potential & The Future

It’s clear to see that we’re living in a digital world, and so digital marketing is at the forefront of advertising your business successfully. Yet, in some areas of the world, digital marketing is still not fully understood.

Digital Marketing in Africa The Challenge, The Potential & The Future.png

Africa is considered as an emerging market, with internet activity and online presence being lower than any other continent, especially Western counterparts. According to Internet World Stats, there is only a mere 26.9% of internet penetration in Africa, making up just 9.1% of the world’s users.

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 For a new online marketer, business owner or entrepreneur in Africa, digital marketing and online success seems out-of-reach and almost impossible to accomplish. Because of this, Africa is often left behind by international businesses that use digital marketing strategies. 

With the majority of Africa being offline, this means huge difficulties are to be faced if businesses in Africa were to depend on digital marketing. And so, the question remains:

How can you use digital marketing in Africa?

Let us compare inbound marketing and offline marketing techniques.

Inbound Marketing

Customers today are empowered. They have the world at their fingertips, where they can access information instantly. Through inbound marketing, we can attract potential customers rather than actively looking for them or chasing them down. (See below the Inbound Marketing Methodology Infographic designed by HubSpot)

Inbound marketing methodology HubSpot

Inbound marketing typically refers to marketing methods like search engine optimization, social media presence, blogs, podcasts, videos, infographics, white papers etc.

Offline Marketing

With internet activity being so low in Africa, it makes sense to combine both inbound marketing techniques for those who are online, with offline marketing methods to create larger audiences. Offline marketing methods may include: TV advertisements, radio broadcasts, telemarketing, cold-calling, leaflets, flyers and participation in events and shows. Despite being more expensive, offline marketing does prove to be successful in promoting businesses in offline countries, such as Africa.

 Of course, inbound marketing is the growing norm in promoting your business and services. But what challenges to business owners and entrepreneurs face in Africa?

 Due to the lack of online activity, Africa faces a lack of understanding about the benefits of digital marketing - especially in small markets. In bigger markets like Nigeria, there is still a lack of knowledge and understanding as to how inbound marketing works, and there isn’t the help or guidance of local digital marketing agencies either. 

“Digital Marketing is still a mystery to many companies in Africa – some think it is only about creating a website – that’s just the start. Some turn to their agency for help, only to find the same old answers: print, outdoor and TV (if the budget is big enough). Others take it a step further to add a Social Media presence on Twitter and Facebook or even building brand awareness via banner ads and lead generation via Google AdWords. The digital marketing picture in Africa is very fragmented at the moment, but that’s completely normal at this stage of development of Digital Marketing in any country.” - Mike Berry, Digital Marketing Conference 2.0; Deploying Digital Marketing for Competitive Advantage

Facebook is the main platform for what is considered to be a marketing method in Africa, although Facebook alone won’t generate the amount of traffic required for success. As well as Facebook platforms, digital marketing refers to SEO, content marketing, email marketing etc.

Another major issue is the size and diversity of the continent. Africa comprises of 54 countries in total, and it’s estimated that within these countries, up to 3000 different languages are spoken. With so many language barriers to overcome, it is difficult to source out the correct communication in order to attract the right audiences, and it poses the threat of ideal consumers failing to discover products or services through SEO, content marketing, online blogs, social media and more. To communicate effectively with African consumers marketing agencies must deliver messages in a wide range of languages, and this is no easy task.

Change is Happening

There is good news, though. Change is happening.

Despite only 27% of Africa being online, this is changing. Figures show a huge growth rate compared to other continents, and this could mean efforts are being made by businesses to undertake digital marketing strategies.

“Approximately 4.5 million Africans had internet access in 2005 and that this number has grown exponentially to approximately 340 million as of 2016. Where does your imagination take you if we jump to the year 2020 or 2025?” - Anders Jacques Poulsen, 2017.

 

20 years Internet Growth in East Africa

The majority of internet traffic in Africa comes from mobile phones, and as a result, this aids mobile-friendly website and apps. The biggest platforms in Africa consist of chat apps, including Facebook (where most digital marketing attempts are made) with a market share of 75.8%, and 15.8% originating from YouTube. Other popular channels include WhatsApp, Messenger & Viber. For instance, in Nigeria, 81% of traffic originated from mobile phones and only 16% originated from PCs in 2017.

Top African countries on the internet by number


With the increase of online presence, we can expect new markets to emerge in upcoming years, as more and more devices and platforms become connected. This opens new doors to opportunities for digital marketers, who will surely see success when they discover just how viable online marketing to be.

In summary, the African market is very different to every other market out there, and it’s too big and growing too quickly to overlook. Africa is a market to keep a close eye on in upcoming years, and could just be, perhaps, the beginning of a new digital era.

Alberte Touani