African tech startups need to have offline presence

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African tech startups cannot neglect the value of offline marketing given the unique peculiarities of marketing on the continent.

This is according to the team at Nigerian online hotel booking startup Hotels.ng, which says marketing in Africa is unique and involves factors startups in the West have almost never had to deal with.

Though internet penetration in most parts of Africa continues to grow, many potential customers remain offline and therefore inaccessible to startups through online channels. This will increasingly change for the better, but the fact of the matter is online businesses still need to leverage the offline market.

Hotels.ng believes it does exactly this, combining a strong online presence with an offline element. Visitors to the site are connected to a customer support agent, with the startup saying effective customer support is a crucial aspect of its conversion funnel. Some bookings have occurred entirely offline.

Usually, businesses looking to break into offline marketing would employ traditional media such as billboards, TV and radio adverts, and bus adverts, but these are often expensive for startups and the average return on investment often turns out negative.

Startups, therefore, need to explore offline marketing intelligently or else find themselves stuck with an unjustifiable return on investment. For Hotels.ng, this had led it to “T-shirt marketing”. A team from the company recently handed out branded T-shirts to bus conductors and street traders within the Yaba area of Lagos, and saw the effect almost immediately, receiving new phone calls daily from people who had seen the phone numbers on the shirts and learned about the platform for the first time.

Hotels.ng head of customer support Moses Nmor said people who discover Hotels.ng through offline media are often curious about how everything works.

“We are always happy to help,” he said. “Especially if making an online booking is a new experience for them.”

Head of digital marketing Justin Irabor said the startup had received “keen insight” into user behaviour from how visitors interact with Hotels.ng as soon as they come in through any of its online channels, information that has helped the company improve its user experience.

In a similar way, the results of the T-shirt distribution campaign have proven valuable information about a section of the Nigerian market and the value of Hotels.ng to it.

“The offline experience follows the expected pathway: when people first see the Hotels.ng T-shirts, they are initially curious, and enter the awareness stage,” Irabor said.

“The T-shirt idea was a good one because the people who are now wearing them are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who are itinerant and they tend to interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. That’s a lot of eyeballs daily.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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