Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Interactive Marketing in Africa

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with two people that I have a lot of respect for in the interactive marketing space in Africa. First was Rob Stokes, CEO of the well known Quirk marketing firm in South Africa. Later in the week I got to catch up with Joshua Wanyama of Pamoja Media.

Before I get into that though, you should take a look at these numbers.

Africa’s exploding internet growth

Currently, Africa is the second fastest growing internet market after it was passed with the Middle East in terms of connectivity. The growth rate is 1,100% with only 5.6% of Africa’s 975 million people online.

The 10 largest internet markets in Africa are seen below. These 10 countries account for a staggering 86% of the 54.2 million Africans online:

1. Egypt – 10.5 million
2. Nigeria – 10 million
3. Morocco – 6.6 million
4. South Africa – 4.6 million
5. Algeria – 3.5 million
6. Sudan – 3.5 million
7. Kenya – 3 million
8. Tunisia – 2.8 million
9. Zimbabwe – 1.4 million
10. Ghana – 0.9 million

(Research number are from the Internet World Stats)

Education and Charlatans

Quirk is successful, and they’re looking to expand into other parts of Africa. However, one of the hurdles that they face is that there just aren’t that many people who understand why web marketing is needed, and that there is a need for a real strategy behind everything from your website to links to emails. It’s a problem of education in the business sector, and it comes with two problems.

Rob Stokes of Quirk in Nairobi

First, low-bandwidth has caused most internet usage to be lower than normal in Africa. So, a lot of businesses don’t recognize the value of good web marketing, since most of the executives never get online to see their work anyway. For instance, think about the tourism industry in Africa, it is plagued with slow, ugly and hard to find websites. Most of them don’t even realize the business they’re missing out on.

Second, there are any number of people who will tell you that they can do your internet marketing or help with your online strategy and execute upon it. However, that’s simply not true for many claimants. There are likely only a handful of real experts in online marketing in any sub-Saharan African country. In Kenya alone, I can only think of a couple firms or individuals who really know what they’re talking about, and even fewer who can execute upon what they speak.

So, Rob has a challenge in addressing this market in Africa. It’s a big market if it can be cracked, but it takes more than just sales skills, it takes someone with the patience to educate and grow an industry.

Redefining yourself for the market

Joshua Wanyama found himself in a bind. He had just moved back to Kenya after growing a successful web firm in the US. Now he wanted to put Pamoja Media on the map in Africa, and he realized quite quickly that there was a major knowledge-gap in the interactive marketing space. How could he sell the connections that his ad network gave him if the very people he was selling to didn’t have an online strategy at all?

Joshua Wanyama of Pamoja Media

This realization caused him to change his strategic direction of the Kenyan operations to gain a customers. He changed it from being just about his ad network, and added on 5 more areas of expertise that would really give his clients positive returns:

  • Interactive strategy – how to scale a company’s operations and marketing online
  • Creative Development – Interactive ads, landing pages, enewsletters & micro sites
  • Placement – We run ads on the Pamoja Media Network, Yahoo, Google and Facebook network of sites
  • Social Media Marketing – This works for clients seeking long term social engagement with customers. We handle blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other accounts for such clients
  • Online PR – We also handle online PR for companies seeking to grow their reputations outside of advertising African Market online

It’s a lot of work to sell yourself into new accounts and then keep up with the demands of high profile clients. I know, I’ve been there. I know Joshua, and I know he’ll be successful with this.

What I also know is this, it’s terribly hard to scale a service organization. It takes more people. My hope is that Pamoja Media will be able to gather enough clients in the ad network space so that that remains the core business. This can scale, and it can be done efficiently.


  1. Great Post hash. A new world era in marketing.
    I am a huge fan of Quirk and pamoja!
    Best wishes

  2. This post is right on the money. Most of my clients have no idea what I’m going on about when I mention online marketing. So it’s definitely hard, you have to educate them. The good thing, though, is that once you educate people and they get it – you have a sale.

    I’ve particularly noticed that most people are of the opinion that “if you build it, they will come”. it is not uncommon to hear such statements,”There are 6 billion people in the world, my site only needs to get x% of those.” Not many people understand that it takes hard work to get even a few hundred people to come to your site.

  3. Erik, as always, you did a great job encapsulating the dynamics at play. You got straight to the crux of the challenges faced by interactive ad firms in Africa. Additionally, the scalability question that you made is highly relevant and I am glad that you pointed it out as it has been on our minds a great deal lately.

    Really nice photo of Joshua too 🙂

    On Quirk, I find it so interesting given South Africa’s role as one of Africa’s largest tech hubs that tech oriented firms there are having to face some of the same issues that similar companies in Kenya face-with respect to the low talent pool in technology sectors. i.e. having to do hard core education for both clients and employees on how and why the technology is important.

    Excellent piece all the way around. BTW, are you going to be in Atlanta this August?

  4. Thanks for the piece Erik. You covered some key things happening within the market. I once talked to someone who was part of developing Yahoo in their formative years and they were of the opinion that it is not the job of marketing firms to educate potential clients but rather those already with an inkling to get online. You will have to teach such clients how to work effectively online, but you won’t have to educate them on what is the web and how one can use it.

    I think there is a distinction between the two. The moment we direct all our resources to start teaching everyone about the web, we become too overextended as growing companies. Pamoja Media seeks to work with companies who understand that there is great value with being online, they want to discover what are the possibilities and are ready to commit to a specific strategy and execute on it. Hopefully, there are enough such companies in Africa as those will lead the development and relevance of the web within the continent.

  5. Thanks for pointing that out, Joshua. That’s a very profound observation.

    Once someone gets over the hump of understanding the web and at least some basic understanding of how customers can be engaged on line then we are able to speak the same language with them, which makes it mutually enriching experience both for our clients and for us.

    Thanks again Hash!

  6. Hey Erik, great post and thanks for your time last week – it was really useful.
    I’ve just arrived back in JHB and I’ve gone from poor internet too poor electricity. Such is life in Africa 🙂
    I must say that trip was really eye opening. I need to put a post together, but the honest truth is that the gap is huge. That said, there appears to be a real desire to close it and of course that’s the most important thing.

    @Joshua I think as an agency you need to decide which way you want to focus and build that into the way you do business. 10 years ago I had no choice in SA, but to try and explain SEO and the like to every marketing manager in the country – not an easy task back then!! But the knowledge has grown substantially over the years and we rarely need to have those conversations any more. I see East Africa going through the same cycle and I want to be a part of that education process again.
    Would be great to meet up next time I’m in your city 🙂

  7. Great article

  8. Rob, great advice. I think that we have always had a clear vision as to where we wanted to go. But you are right, we have faced some challenges in terms of how to get to where we want to go.

    And to me this is ok, because sort of like how you have done in S. Africa we find ourselves at the start of a new industry in Kenya and the other countries that we are doing things in. The best analogy that I can use is this: running a company that operates in mostly unchartered territory is probably a lot like being at the helm of a ship that’s travelling in unmapped ocean territory. In the beginning, one may think that they have things figured out and that they know where they are going and which route to take; but only after the storms and waves have hit do the shipmates really begin to know the temperament of that unchartered territory. This is when the captain and the shipmates are in the best position to map the way forward. And having hit a number of bumps very early in our journey to the point that we are now seeing some straight away road just ahead of us, this is where I’d say that we are right now.

    BTW, congrats on being one of the key people to pioneer the interactive marketing industry in S. Africa. You guys at Quirk are doing some great things.

    Finally, let me say that I have just posted a response to this blog article on my personal blog.

  9. This is definately a great conversation and thanks Hash for the post.
    I have been fortunate enough to see most of whats is being talked about from start and now flourishing while ofcourse overcoming challenges like anything else in life. Pamoja Media have been extremely helpful to our company so am very optimistic and sure of the direction they are headed. As for educating the market, that will must happen inorder to penetrate that market. Most of us have a very limited application for the web and espcially when it comes to businesses. The better understanding the customer gets, the the higher the ROI per customer since one will be able to convert revenue from multipe revenue streams.

    Looking at MPESA; they came up with a prosduct which basically been on fire for the last 3 years and still growing. Thats the potential I see for Pamoja Media and ofcourse many others will leverage their efforts and as whole the continent wins.

    With Fiber landing, I would expect Kenya and the greater East Africa to tripple the web usage in the next 1-3 years which by itself shall provide enormous opportunities as badwidth cost comes down.

  10. We need several interactive Agencies in Kenya to manage the education part. I believe this is currently in the works as I read some emails from Lowe. Secondly we need to work on local business models and stop applying US Ad initiatives on local markets. ROI on display advertising is still an area of concern in the US markets, why would we focus on expanding that area of advertising in Kenya? Similarly – we also don’t have a significant amount of portals that conform to IAB standards – there is a lot of work to be done…

    How are we working with Mobile networks? Are there any mobile Ad networks? How is targeting being done on Mobile vis a vis the web to connect the dots? This fibre thing is a smoke screen – I say it over and over again, NETZERO in the US had a business model based on AD revenue only – before they started subscriptions. You want to tell me immediately we get cheaper internet, and easily accessible internet – we will adopt these technologies?

    One area I am keen on and I totally agree with Joshua is the Creative development. Kenyans dont need 40 page websites, Kenyans just need internet presence of any sort. LANDING pages will be the key to cracking the local internet in East Africa or Africa as a whole. Building Utilities around landing pages – Louis wrote something about this on this blog ( http://louismajanja.blogspot.com/2009/05/restful-apis-and-sms.html and on http://louismajanja.blogspot.com/2009/02/information-utiity.html) There is a need to bridge the gap between information and technology. And until Kenyans realize that there is a need to have information available then the whole website thing will just be what it is today… ” where I need a website just because everyone is getting one”

    Kenyans access the internet to get foreign content – Kenyans dont access the internet to get local content. So it would be difficult to convince Unilever to invest in online advertising considering half the page requests will be made to sites outside Kenya – Maybe Pamoja can buy inventory on these US portals and Geo target them for local users 🙂

    I dont know am just saying!!!

    Nice post though I enjoyed it.

  11. Quite rightly – presumably with an objective and research insights like this – http://researchist.info/; hopefully, companies in Africa will have to be pushed to rethink.

  12. hi, my question is what are the causes of low usage of online advertising by advertising companies in nairobi? please someone be kind enough to email me their views and give info.

    thanks a lot

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