5 Strategies to Grow Your User Base in Africa

Growing a business is challenging in any part of the world. For the African market, we have been experimenting with these five user acquisition strategies.

5 Strategies to Grow Your User Base in Africa

1. Social Media Influencers

The promotion of consumer products, startups or apps has become a key income stream for many influencers and content creators with have a large following on Instagram or YouTube. As such collaborations have become fairly common, brands started to look beyond mainstream profiles and engage with smaller, niche content creators. While being more affordable, such “micro influencers” with a following of 2.000 to 50.000 people statistically offer a higher engagement rate. Because of the closer and more closer relationship with their audience, a bigger percentage of people engage with a sponsored post, leading to a stronger return-on-investment for brands.

In Africa, the influencer scene is rising. The Kenyan startup Wowzi has developed an influencer marketing platform that allows brands to set up a campaign form the comfort of their web browser. The platform then automatically assigns the “job” to suitable influencers which they onboarded in advance.

This makes it easier to run influencer marketing campaigns in Africa. Brands do not have to research their promoters individually and save the time and stress involved when negotiating terms and expectations directly with every influencer.

At the same time, influencer marketing campaigns help to build a growing community of professional content creators. In light of youth unemployment, we believe that influencer marketing and any type of “crowdsourced” reach has a positive impact on the economy.

2. Referral Marketing

Referral Marketing is about giving your customers an incentive to proactively recommend your product to other potential customers in their network.

In Africa, we see ride-hailing companies like Bolt giving out free rides to grow their customer base, and micro-lending apps offering KES 400 (about 3 Euros) for every new user invited. This is lucrative when the customer lifetime value is high or the product is in dealing in a sensitive vertical. When a startup was recommended by a friend, he or she “vouches” for the product’s performance.

Although it is not an African startup, the British money-transfer service TransferWise has made referral marketing an integral part of their growth story. By leveraging the satisfaction of their early adopters, the startup has managed to convince a large user base across the world to transfer money from one country to another through their platform. This shows that especially critical or sensitive products such as money-related services can benefit from a formalized mouth-to-mouth marketing, as the trust among friends is helping to build the foundation of the relationship between a brand and the new user.

3. WhatsApp Groups

In many African countries, WhatsApp is the most used social messenger. Aside from free messaging, the app’s group features have gained popularity as a data-saving social network alternative. Many users are part of massive WhatsApp groups that unite strangers who share a common interest. This can be farmer groups, online business groups, woman groups, furniture marketplaces or university groups.

Many small businesses have discovered these groups as a marketing channel for their products or services. Messages posted directly reach all members of the groups (unless they muted it, of course), while interested leads can ask questions or reach out directly to the sender. For businesses, WhatsApp provides some degree of security, because any request comes from a real phone number — a basic identification. This comes in handy when looking at Instagram, where phone numbers are not visible. Many scammers happened to publish pictures of with well-priced products, only to ghost hopeful customers who made a down payment after being told the item will be delivered to them.

Although WhatsApp gives some protection for the involved parties, businesses we interviewed in Kenya reported that the WhatsApp groups can be difficult to keep track of. When many players fight for the group member’s attention or people start to ask questions in between the messages of other businesses, the conversation quickly becomes messy — especially when businesses are active in multiple groups at the same time.

Nevertheless, we believe that marketing in WhatsApp Groups has potential and can also be scaled for larger campaigns or businesses. In this case, a team of brand ambassadors who take care of groups in their area or demographic can make this channel manageable. WhatsApp Groups can also unlock audiences that are less approachable through traditional online advertising, because of limited or no activity on other platforms.

4. Field Sales Teams

When your business has exposure to the “offline world”, for example in the case of startups that are digitalizing the informal sectors in Africa, field sales teams might be something to look at.

In a video about supply chain innovation in Africa, we previously shared the example of TradeDepot in Nigeria, which uses sales agents who walk from small shop to small shop and onboard them on their procurement platform.

Going to the physical locations where potential customers already are, allows companies to reach and directly engage specific and niche target groups. Doing so would often be difficult or ineffective through other marketing channels.

For example, a furniture trading startup could walk in areas where there are many workshops, and invite carpenters to download their app and register. In early stages, this is done by the startup’s founders and designers in person, as the opportunities for conversation and product insights are invaluable.

At later stage, businesses can look at platforms like MarketForce365, to manage a larger field sales team and collect data through mobile apps that digitalize the transactions and data gathered in the physical space.

5. Facebook Ads

The last strategy might sound disappointingly obvious, but we believe that Facebook Ads have a huge potential in Africa. The social network has over 200 million users on the continent. However, compared to the Western world where Facebook generates the majority of its revenue, the adverting pressure is lower in Africa. This reflects in low costs of running campaigns and getting your brand in front of a large number of people.

We have been running campaigns where the cost-per-click was as low as $0.01 for a young audience in Benin, or $0.02 to $0.05 in Kenya. When fewer brands “bid” for the user’s attention – companies can benefit from affordable traffic to their website.

Considering that the global youth is shying away from Facebook nowadays, it remains unclear how effective the channel will be in the future. But based on the interviews and surveys we have been running on social media usage in Kenya, many users stated that Facebook is a good place for them to look for opportunities, news and access marketplace features.

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