A new way for SA corporates to communicate
The South African retail space is incredibly competitive. New players are entering the market all the time, even as customer wallets are squeezed tighter than ever. In this environment, it's vital that retailers be able to talk to their customers in a way that's engaging, relevant, and hyper-personal.
One South African startup which is helping retailers innovate in that direction is the Cape Town based Mobiz. In the five short years since its founding, Mobiz has attracted an impressive client base that includes the JD Group, Woolworths Financial Services, Old Mutual, and Momentum.
Mobiz is a mobile customer engagement tool which helps bring brands closer to their customers so that they can tell them the right story at the right time. Essentially, it brings together the ubiquity of SMS, customer insights, and the power of the web. In doing so, it allows brands to speak to their customers as individuals rather than an analogous whole or as predefined segments.
Mobiz was founded in Cape Town in 2014 when founders Greg Chen and Clark Lin (CTO) saw several major trends coming together. Firstly, internet access was becoming increasingly affordable and ubiquitous amongst all handset types (feature and smartphone), meaning that the web would play an ever more important role in the lives of ordinary South Africans. Second, people were demanding more personalised experiences in every aspect of their lives.
"We felt that any organisations which catered to those demands in their customer messaging stood to see serious gains," says Chen. "Finally, when the two founders looked at the options available on the market at that point, they knew that, "there was a gap for a product that utilised SMS and the web to provide the kind of experience customers wanted, and which allowed organisations to provide that experience as simply as possible."
Mobiz's core function is to help bring brands closer to their customers so that they can tell them the right story at the right time. It does this by allowing retailers to easily create and deploy SmartSMSes through its easy-to-use online platform. Marketing departments use Mobiz to create messaging that combines feature-rich landing pages with a combination of text, videos, surveys and polls, and voucher redemption.
So, where a retailer might once have sent out a standard set of messaging detailing their specials, it can now provide each customer with a unique landing page based on who they are, previous purchases, spending patterns, and several other factors.
Collections departments, meanwhile, utilise Mobiz to deploy its SmartStatement product that takes the hassle out of invoicing, reducing the costs and workload for an organisation's finance department. The Mobiz team can also fully manage and automate this solution for clients.
The South African context
Having worked in the mobile space for some years before launching Mobiz, Chen and Lin fully understood that Mobiz would only be successful if it took the South African context into account. Initially, this meant ensuring that SmartSMS and SmartStatement worked as well on feature phones as they did on smartphones.
But as smartphones have become more affordable and increasingly ubiquitous, that's become less of a worry. Instead, it's had to pay increasing cognisance to the everyday struggles South Africans when it comes to data affordability. For millions of the country's citizens, it is a precious resource, used sparingly. As a result, Mobiz knew it had to think differently when it came to ensuring people see the messages its customers send out.
"A key obstacle we overcame was businesses worries about data cost for their customers when engaging with the SMartSMS," confirms Chen. "In 2018, we partnered with all South African network providers to make our technology zero-rated for consumers".
Another major challenge that Mobiz has had to overcome is internal resistance in the organisations it works with. In any organisation, there will be gatekeepers who need to be convinced that your technology is better and more effective than the one they're using at that point.
"That's understandable," says Chen. "Gatekeepers are there to keep the organisation safe. And the larger an organisation is, the more resistant it's likely to be to change. But it's still frustrating when you know you've got something that could help them".
That said, the caliber of clients Mobiz has assembled is a major ally when it comes to convincing large organisations to switch over. Another interesting challenge, Chen points out, has been educating organisations on the benefits of a self-managed solution like SmartSMS.
"Despite the fact that it can be as simple or complex as the organisation wants, many would rather have someone else manage it for them," he says. "However, it always a super rewarding experience when our customer realise how easy Mobiz is to implement in their operations. As an additional service, we do offer fully managed solutions if using Mobiz on a day-to-day basis is not possible for the enterprise".
An eye on the future
While much of Mobiz' success has been built on enterprise-sized retailers, Chen believes smaller players will have a much bigger role to play in its future:
"Although our current focus is on large retailers with only a minor footprint in small business utilising our technology, we would like to see small business around the world using Mobiz as their platform of choice to innovate their unique and personalized way to engage with their customer base."
Chen also believes that the market, both in terms of customers and investors, is much more receptive now than it was a few years ago.
"Mobiz was not our first product, my business partner and I started this journey 14 years ago with a concept very similar to Whatsapp," says the Mobiz CEO. "The VC scene back in the mid-2000s was much more risk averse than it is now, and so creating a sustainable business with just initial angel funded seed capital has been an interesting struggle. I think we were able to turn our struggle into our major highlight today, being able to use our knowledge and capital accumulated to create Mobiz. Things are very different today," he adds. "Retailers have realised they need to stay abreast of technology to avoid being disrupted and investors are seriously interested in any tools that allow them to do so."