Africa is a continent of innovators.
To be more precise, a continent of innovators whose innovations scale...rarely.
Does that shock you?
It is time that we wake up to some though realities and face them head on.
We know there are many challenges that need to be fixed and many of of us are pouring our heart and soul into innovating solutions that create a better future for ourselves and those that come after us.
Some of us are working to improve the health-care system, others the education system and yet again others are pioneering ways to create work for the economically marginalized.
Yet as former McKinsey consultant and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader Ndidi Nwuneli articulates in her latest book "Social Innovation in Africa" very few innovations in Africa have created systemic change. In other words, very few innovations move the needle in any significant way.
That is quite sobering. Sadly, many innovations are supply and not demand driven. This means somebody comes up with a great technical solution without taking the needs of the community it should serve into account. As a result, a potentially great innovation never has its intended impact.
So what has Digital Marketing got to do with this?
Actually, a lot.
You see one of the fundamentals of direct marketing states that one should always start with the prospect, not the product. This means finding out what the market wants not what you think might be a great solution. Related to this is also the question of how big that market is and whether it's worth your effort?
As Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators we should not waste our energy and precious resources on solutions that do not satisfy any sort of existing market desire. Otherwise, we end up with innovations that at best do not move the needle.
Understanding our audience and our prospects is absolutely essential. We need to know about the challenges our prospects are facing, why they are facing them and what is holding them back from overcoming those challenges and the cultural values that influences their behaviour.
As Ndidi Nwuneli articulates in her book the cultural heterogeneity in Africa is one of the biggest challenges innovators face. The diversity of languages, customs and cultures make it hard for an innovation to scale. That is why it is so crucial to really understand our audience, because as we scale across the continent the needs of our audience will change.
Also, many innovations are supply-driven instead of demand driven. Some innovators come up with some great solutions, often involving technology, that nobody wants or understands. The result? The innovation never scales all because nobody took the time to understand the needs of the audience.
This means as innovators adopting the attitude to start with the prospect and not the innovation will works wonders for us. This needs to become a deeply ingrained philosophy for every Social Entrepreneur and Innovator in Africa.
Another essential element of digital marketing is its focus on driving revenue. Traditionally, addressing social ills has been seen to be the responsibility of the government, churches or non-profit organizations. And even today, many social enterprises prioritize creating positive impact over profit.
In theory, that is noble. In reality not so much. Nobody can create sustainable impact if you can't keep the lights on. Actually, you might be creating more harm than good. You are raising the hopes of a community that you have a great solution for them only to shut down a year or two later because you have not been able to operate sustainably.
This needs to change if our social innovations are ever going to scale and reach millions of people across our continent. And for this to happen we need to drive revenue.
And for us to drive revenue we need to change our thinking to embrace driving revenue. Traditionally, serving society in addressing social ills has been regarded as something noble and it was (and still is in many parts) frowned upon if an organization providing solutions to social challenges would be deriving any profits from it.
Social Innovation should not just refer to finding new ways to address social challenges. The innovation part should also extend to developing a whole new philosophy and mindset that embraces driving revenue and by extension the self-reliance of socially-minded organizations.
Otherwise, social impact organizations will forever be dependent on donors. Looking at Africa's history we know how toxic a dependent donor relationship can be. In fact, the African Union's vision for Africa 2063 clearly states that Africa should be a prosperous, strong and self-reliant continent.
In a capitalist world, self-reliance happens through driving revenue. That is why in the 21st century driving revenue should be embraced by all Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators - guilt-free!
In the 21st century, Social entrepreneurs and Innovators should realize that the social value we create is a form of value. It is in fact a very important value. It is up to us to use our powers for innovation to show to our communities and countries that it is a value worth investing in and paying for.
This is another reason why (digital) marketing is such an essential skill. Marketing is about finding ways to communicate value. You know the value that Social innovators have created over centuries has never been communicated as effectively as it should have been when societies across the world think it is okay that bankers who caused the financial crisis make millions by compounding social problems further whereas those working to solve social ills can barely sustain themselves.
The reality is nothing will change if we don't change and learn how to communicate the value we create. Communities and countries with a functioning education and health system are surely much better off than those without. So, clearly those working towards creating functional education and health system are creating a lot of value .
This is why as Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators we need to learn how to communicate the value we create and persuade others that the value we create is worth investing in. Luckily, with today's technological tools we do not depend on having to persuade some powerful media moguls to spread the message for us.
We can do it for ourselves. We can take to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or start our own blog.
Many of us have chosen to become engaged in social innovation for a particular reason - to create positive impact that will change our communities and countries. Yet according to Ndidi Nwuneli a key component of businesses that scale across Africa is that they create measurable impact.
This brings us back to Digital Marketing. One of the key strengths of Digital Marketing is that you can track and measure most things. You can measure how many people you have reached with your campaigns or how many people have taken a particular action as a result of your marketing.
As you know we are transitioning towards a digital economy very fast. More and more people will be connected to the internet in the coming years, the internet of things economy will ensure that online and offline activities can be measured through sensors while mobile phones become ever more powerful and widespread.
Imagine you have created a mobile health app like Mobicure co-founder Charles Akhimien that targets mothers of babies. You can track what actions your users are taking as a result of information you provide. You could track whether they are buying a particular medicine, consulting a doctor or perhaps doing particular exercises to improve their health.
With the rise of the Internet of Things, Wearables, Big Data, sensors and the continued spread of more powerful mobile phones and the interconnection between all of those technologies a lot of the impact you create can be measured much more accurately compared to a few years ago.
Consider, for example, how tracking the spread of a disease like the Zika virus with the assistance of Big Data contributes to mitigating the spread and impact of the virus significantly. Knowledge about diseases and how they spread is becoming more readily available than ever before. And the more is known about diseases, the better one can develop strategies to combat them.
The power of Big Data enables us to learn more about the diseases than was possible before and anticipate where it it is likely to go next. As a result, more effective strategies can be developed to combat these kinds of viruses.
This means that a lot of the impact we seek to create as Social Innovators will be online with trackable data. In other words, in order to understand the impact you are creating and to scale it you will need to understand what the data is and is not telling you.
What does this have to do with the skillset of a Digital Marketer?
You guessed it. A lot.
Any Digital Marketer worth his or her salt needs to be able to interpret and analyze a large set of data in order to execute profitable digital marketing campaigns and optimize those that are not working as planned. This ranges from analyzing traffic acquisition channels, to time spent on site, acquisition costs and many other things that are constantly changing.
Perhaps a Data Analyst needs to have more sophisticated skills including mathematics and statistics in order to calculate complex models in light of Big Data. Nonetheless, as a Digital Marketer you need to be familiar with Big Data and as a result you will give yourself a good basic understanding of how to analyze the impact you are creating in an increasingly digital economy.
Developing Digital Marketing skills and mindset is something more Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators should adopt in order to thrive in an increasingly digital economy as part of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The domain of Digital Marketing has a lot to offer to anyone involved in Social Innovation in building a thriving and vibrant Social Business.
Digital Marketing may just be a skillset that will allow your social business to scale across Africa and impact the lives of millions!
What do you think? Leave a comment in the section below.
Rise Africa Rise is your online guide to tech entrepreneurship and (social) innovation for African entrepreneurs, startups and businesses. Our aim is to provide you with valuable digital strategies, tools and insights to support you in building a world-class and competitive business in the 21st century.