Mobile pips radio, and why this is important for marketers

We’re regularly throwing around stats providing evidence for just how much South Africans love their mobile phones, but this latest stat from Nielsen on the size of the South African cell phone market demonstrates a pretty significant shift, and should make marketers sit up and take a lot of notice. And then take a close look at their current marketing mix to make sure they are taking advantage of this new media dynamic.

According to Nielsen’s recently released Mobile Insights study in South Africa, more South Africans (29 million) use mobile phones than listen to the radio (28 million). This is a profound shift, as radio has always been seen as the darling of both South African advertisers and PR folks, thanks to its massive reach and excellent results.

TV comes in third, with 27 million viewers in South Africa. DSTV/M-Net viewers are at 5.5 million and internet users at 5 million. The report doesn’t say, but based on other industry numbers, this is most likely desktop internet users.

Now of course this doesn’t imply advertisers should abandon radio and TV in favour of mobile devices, but it does indicate that savvy advertisers and marketers have the opportunity to up their game and steal the march on their competitors with compelling multi-channel campaigns, leveraging the distinct benefits of mobile.

Speaking at the Mobilize 2011 conference last week, another Nielsen analyst, general manager of digital Jonathan Carson, pointed out that based on their tracking of how people use smartphones and tablets, it becomes very clear that tablets specifically are used while doing other things, especially watching TV. This, said Carson, provides TV companies with both an opportunity and a challenge: while their audiences might be highly distracted, they also have the opportunity to present more of a surrounded environment for their audience and advertisers.

The same can be said about mobile’s surging ahead of radio and TV in South Africa. It is highly, highly likely that very often cell phones are being used while people are listening to the radio and watching TV. So if brands aren’t considering digital and especially mobile at the outset of any campaign, these stats should be a big wake up call. While your consumers are listening to and watching your beautifully crafted traditional advertising, they are holding in their hands and engaging with a cell phone – the ideal time to get them to take the next step and deepen their brand engagement via a device they love.

Or if, as a brand or agency, you are thinking mobile from the outset, what are you doing to use the platform to make this most of this multi-tasking media dynamic in new, clever and appropriate ways? SMS shortcodes are still one of the easiest and most effective (when done right) ways to bridge the gap between traditional media and more interactive, digital media. But depending on your brand and your customers, the sky is the limit when it comes to gaming, augmented reality, QR codes and user-generated content, to name a few.

Mobile is also the bridge to social media. Nielsen says 11 percent of South Africans use their mobiles to go online, and consumers aged 25-34 are the heaviest users. Facebook is the most popular social media platform, used by 85 percent of mobile subscribers and half of all users of Facebook in South Africa access the site via their mobiles.

No doubt in a few years time we are not even going to be having this discussion: mobile, social and digital are going to be just another line item in a multi-channel campaign, rather than an afterthought or a crazy new idea we’re “just trying out”. Until then, though, forward-thinking brands have the chance to break new ground – it’s where your customers already are, after all.

First published on Vomo.