The last few months have been extremely busy for folks in IT in Kenya.
This particular week was no different.
With a small but growing ICT sector, the Afritech summit being scheduled at exactly the same time as Africa 2.0, a top tier who’s who forum on Africa in the digital age held in Mombasa( Presidents and Prime Ministers were in attendance), and on the other side of the scale, Pivot25,a mobile Apps and Developer conference supported by InfoDev, where young entrepreneurs with exciting mobile applications pitched their concepts at the I-Hub,and where the winners had thousand dollar prizes and a trip to Silicon Valley no less, no doubt CopperBridge Media faced a challenge in attracting a capacity crowd.
Perhaps they should have named it Afritech 64.
In the light of these events, the depth in discussions that the conference aimed to generate did not fully materialise.
The Afritech Summit on digital and internet marketing, organized by CopperBridge Media, was improperly scheduled from the 15th to 17th of June 2011.
Dikembe Mutombo was to come show us how to tweet, but I guess he missed his flight.
However, they managed to table some of the most proficient and brand agnostic panellists in any forum I have attended thus far.
They collectively provided information on their areas of specialisation showing factual statistics, methodology, opportunities and shared information freely and held no reins on answers to questions asked.
In a nut shell, they brought out the following:
- When you think Africa, think Mobile, but think USSD or SMS for maximum reach or penetration.
- Content is King. We have tons of undigitised content and have the chance to get there first. (Note to self: Kenya Government Open Data Portal.)
- Facebook and Facebook pages and groups, through mobile, may have greater reach than websites.
- Infrastructure will be optimised in the next 20 years and so the web still has a place on the long term.
In a bid to attract the public, they chopped off the price tag on the erstwhile expensive seats- they were now free. Adverts on @CapitalFMKE and radio and TV interviews with Ayo Johnson, part of the Afritech Team, sought to draw in the crowds. They made sure to mention that lunch was for free to make sure you came.
Day one kicked off a bit late.
Norman Mudibo, he that you used to see on TV as a presenter, did an excellent job as an MC.
Dana Todd (@danatodd) a dapper purple haired SEO expert and co-founder of SEMPO started off the conference with a Global View on the State of Search Marketing. She outlined how nearly 40% of online marketing spend goes to some kind of search marketing activity.
At this point it felt like a first date, she asked a few questions to try and determine the complexity of the crowd so as to shelf deeper details for one on ones or break out sessions. Little did she know that Kenyans had the ingrained training (another of our peculiar habits!) since primary school (as if their armpits stank) never to raise their hands whether they knew or did not know something.
I think she decided that she was addressing a colloquia of arrogant experts, and spoke with the full force of her knowledge. She spoke of the F zone in search, the F being that top left area people focus on in a page, and gave stats on response times and how long someone is willing to wait for a page to give feedback, and for a keypad to respond to being pressed.
It hurts the brain to think what SEO engineers go through trying to get into the mind of the public.
Thereafter, Anne Kennedy,International Strategist, Beyond Ink USA, an organisation with expertise in web and search and localization came on board for a discussion session on the basis of understanding and embracing the best social media practices for your firm.
She was aided by Fady Ramzy, (Not to be mistaken for @Ramzzy_) Country Manager of Interact Egypt.
Personally, the afternoon session was when my day fully lit up, as it was most pertinent to my interests.
Christopher Harmon, (@cjharmon) founder and Principal,The BATstudio spoke on leveraging social media for enterprise level SEO.
In particular, he spoke about SaaS and the cloud, and the business operation models each favoured.
He gave intricate details on one of his clients ,Marketo, as against Salesforce, SuccessFactors, Omniture, Constant Contact,Netsuite and Taleo ( SuccessFactors, Omniture, Netsuite and taleo are his clients)automation and automated sales mechanisms and how organisations should focus their attention on the 20% that brings in the bread, whilst farming the 80%.
Due to other obligations,I did not attend the morning session and I am told I missed a lot.
The sessions themselves were disrupted by the president, all his ministers and civil service bigwigs who had descended to the KICC to unveil and review the report on the performance appraisals of government bodies.
Doug De Villiers, Group CEO of InterbrandSampson, who handles brand management for Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana and corporations like MTN,Coca Cola,ABSA,OilLibya and MNET had held court.
I sadly have no slides or info on his talk, however I caught him at the free lunch and had a chat.
The conversations circulated around ICT brands and the fact that in the foreseeable future, the majority of “serious”projects in Africa, shall always go to the IBMs, SAPs and Microsofts while local brands still fight to increase their global worth. He left us at table to brief His Excellency The President Mwai Kibaki on his latest plans on Brand Kenya.
I thereafter had a one on one with Chris Harmon, which highlighted the following on efficient and productive use of media and communication automation:
- Only up until recently was texting an acceptable adult practice in the US and was mostly for teens and kids. In Africa, we skipped that.
- Web is still relevant and has a place, despite the hype of mobile
- That being said, mobile and sms marketing and communication automation is where the money is.
- No major brand in the US has a firm and tested SMS strategy, and there is an opportunity for reverse aid on knowledge transfer to the first world
Norman Mudibo continued his great job of running things.
The afternoon session was packed and intense- we had four different speakers, the event closed at about 7.30 from 2.00 pm!
First on Stage was Thebe Ikalafeng, Founder of Fin Week Marketing Services and former brand manager at Nike. He is a world renowned brand specialist, with a passion for Brand Africa.
He spoke about building great African brands in the digital age.
His set might have sounded slightly acerbic to all the foreigners in the room, but he spoke with great clarity that rang true in every African heart.
He highlighted how we as a people must first be proud about who we are to effectively create global brands. taking our infamy, taking our culture, practices, our history, tales and monetising them to form global brands.
He highlighted the greatness of MTN, Safaricom, Out of Africa peanuts .
However he also stated that there are no african brands among the top 100 most valuable or most admired brands in the world. MTN is the first african brand in the Brand Finance Global 500 most valuable brands.
Next was Yaron Assabi of Digital Solutions Group. This is a Digital Solutions outfit based out of Johanesburg, with a history in solutions in electronic payments systems and electronic loyalty programs before Mpesa was Mpesa.
He spoke of mobile communications as a new way to communicate with people and connect with customers. His talk was targeted at the developer and particularly mobile dev.
He outlined the Mobile Applications Eco system and went further to show how cross platform methods of developing ensure apps have a greater reach. He also pointed to crowd-sourcing and usability as key success factors. He also gave critical figures on how freemium applications were the majority, and suggested the inroads that folks like Google Admob and Inmobi might make in the near future.
Anne Kennedy, International search strategist, Beyond Ink USA, spoke about leveraging the power of search engines and social media in a multilingual web. She shared how cultural and language differences affect searcher habits in different countries. for example in Germany, a mobile phone is a“Handy”. The search engines and regulations around them get even more complex once you get into Russia, China, and Japan. She outlined how to use search media in each country for paid Search Advertising (PPC) online public relations (ePR) and search engine rankings.
She also spoke of minimum and max keywords, legal and illegal ways of generating hits and traffic, and the new edit to the Google Algorithm, “Likes Replacing Links.” Now you know why so many websites are doing their utmost like offering gifts to get people to like their Facebook pages to up their page rank.
She however went back to basics, Content is King. Content in native terms are currently unique and thus rank highly.
Massimo Burgio (@massimoburgio) a member of the global SEMPO team and founder and Chief strategist at Global Search interactive, is an organisation specialised in social media and SEO based out of Italy. A goateed Italian with shoulder length hair and thick accent, his tatooed body speaks of a man that plays as hard as he works.
His focus, given the crazy statistics we have in Africa, was on Facebook marketing and broke it down to deep details.
He also spoke of Burning Man, ( where once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. Its an event attended by Larry Page amongst other silicon valley personalities)
At this point I thought and saw the need for event organisers in Africa to come up with ICT outdoor events that go totally wild with djs music for interaction and networking forums for “Mwonjoyo” (enjoyment) and building lifelong networks. #justthinking
He spoke of the unique connection between networking in the ICT field and how it aids one to get better leverage in progress.
This is where the forum ended for me, though there was one more day of it. For those details, check out http://www.afri-tech.com
As you would know, in most forums, the key sponsor of the conference normally dictates the tone of the discussion.After all, they are paying tons of money for the awareness, how do you expect marketing to justify the cost to finance without clear brand representation in the communication?
A Google funded forum will discuss search and SEO as though the market has no alternate needs, or as though no alternative methods exist. Same thing goes for a Microsoft sponsored conference and so on.
In this case, everyone looked at the industry factually without brand focus despite all the talks on brands.
They knocked this one out of the park. Kudos.