Michael Ebia is the CEO and co-founder of ADE, a digital marketing firm in Lagos. In this interview, he talks about ‘Free Digital’, a social initiative that promotes the possibilities of digitasation. He also talks about the ups and downs of digital marketing in Nigeria. Excerpt.
What prompted your decision to establish ADE Digital?
ADE Digital was born out of the hungry desire to solve marketing inefficiencies, and also to deliver marketing campaigns that is of interest to millennials. Also, we wanted to help increase performance rates for digital marketing projects, help brands understand and drive meaningful conversations with their audience, create digital solutions and products for our space as well as explore trends and the opportunities they present for business growth. ‘Next level’ and ‘truly relevant’ innovation were major keys in our approach to create solutions that emerged through the clutter. Also, for the clients, campaigns and the projects we work on, we needed to deliver tangible growth and profitable returns on investments for the clients.
What would you say your main challenges are within Nigeria’s digital marketing landscape?
One of our biggest challenges in the tech industry is skillset. There is a huge demand for people with certain digital skills and understanding of tools and platforms. Not a lot of people are versed in very niche categories within the digital marketing spectrum. There is also the issue of metrics, it is so recurring to hear clients say they cannot make any correlation between their digital marketing efforts and impact on bottom line objectives. In our industry, we do not have a lot of professionals; permit me to say, we just have a lot of people appropriating titles. The fact that you can set up ads doesn’t necessarily make you a digital marketer. – even though we understand that this is quite common with a growing space. ‘Professional’ doesn’t mean certificates in the bag; it would mean as little as how much do you follow through on global best practices, while considering local realities. We still have a lot of practitioners who would rather cut corners and overpromise unachievable KPIs. These things dent client’s perception of the industry and we can do better. Data is also one worthy of mention. Most of the investments we make and the products we try to build are not well informed, causing tech businesses to suffer a lot. In most recent times, we have had some brands sell out, some merged, and some failed out rightly, while others haven’t turned over a profit in years. We have struggled because we do not have granular data – we are misinformed. The Nigerian market is special and very diverse. I also think that our approach to Funding is a big problem. Many businesses can just bootstrap and learn a lot as they go, rather than pick up funds. So, not funding in terms of available money, but our approach to it. Some ideas never got off the table because funding didn’t come through; some died; some achieving ‘slow growth’ from ‘too much’ funds received from investors.
What strides have ADE Digital made in the industry since its establishment?
Proudly, we have executed over 60 digital projects, about half of which are with multinationals. We have been quite fortunate to work with forward thinking brands like; Peugeot, Interswitch, 9mobile, Access Bank, Quickteller, Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation, EMC2, Oracle and Skye Bank. We are humbled that in many instances, we have been able to contribute to their business growth. We currently have two products; Sandy, our media buying agency focused on reaching digital natives and today’s online audience with our full-suite data driven programmatic platform for Africa. Also, we have Eventiso, our end-to-end event management platform. Recently, we launched our animation studios; ScamStudios, a full-service design-centric 2D/3D animation studio combining creative artistry and resonating storytelling powered by technology. While most of our products are in their early stages, the growth and adoption have been on a steady increase. We are quite optimistic they are all performing well in the market and we believe there is always room for improvements.
What is the motive for launching the social initiative – ‘Free Digital?
We are always trying to defy the odds and just create! Create, that’s the keyword for us. So we started asking ourselves, how we can democratize digital especially in our space, and questions led to more questions and the answers did come. Technology has a huge role to play in achieving the 17 sustainable development goals of the UNs agenda 2030. While Africa has made significant strides in digital technology adoption; to fully take advantage of it, we need to expand the current demographic scope for digital. In line with this, we launched ‘Free Digital’ as part of our 3rd year anniversary in December 2017 where we rolled out Free Digital’s plan to promote an understanding of the possibilities digital provides in improving the socio-economic possibilities of Africans, accelerate digital inclusion, provide a platform for Africa’s digital citizens to experiment and create innovative solutions that are commercially viable and improve human development outcomes. Free Digital’s goal to educate and inform yielded the ‘Nigeria Digital Outlook’, our annual compendium of trends, insights and perspectives on digital in Nigeria.
More insights on the Nigeria Digital Outlook
Interesting things are happening in the markets we operate in and it falls on us to make meaning of them. The Nigeria Digital Outlook does just that. We took the time to look at locally relevant insights through four broad lenses; Trends to watch, projections, landscape and market opportunities. We are brimming with expectations of the conversations and innovations it will spark. On internet economics, we have the fact that the internet has the potential to contribute as much as $300 billion a year to Africa’s GDP by 2025. This is contingent on Governments and the private sector building the right foundations across various sectors; ranging from healthcare, agriculture and retail. On governance, the collision of digital and new technologies is creating new possibilities. According to the CIA Fact book for 2016, total government spend globally is about $25trillion. Nigeria’s contribution to this was about $21 billion dollars. Globally, governments stand to gain 3.8% savings on annual expenditure by digitizing public services. In Nigeria, this brings the potential savings to about $805.9million or around N290 billion.
Running a tech business in Nigeria, what unconventional lessons have you learnt about the consumers?
Firstly, tech adoption is still very tough. A lot of marketing and promotion would have to go into literally any tech product to gain great traction – still not a guarantee. Secondly, a larger percentage of Nigerian consumers are still not as tech savvy as we assumed or thought. As a basic example, we still have more feature phones than smartphones. We are still largely influenced by the west, the more reason why we could build a local streaming app for movies and for some reason, there is still a lot of buzz on the foreign ones even with a solution closer home. This influences how we build as well. Thirdly, our space and challenges are unique. For me, the Nigerian consumer is typically ‘abusive’ and would explore opportunities to cut corners on a product. Our effect on platforms and products is a reflection of who we are; advantageous. While this is not typically a bad thing, product designers as well marketers need to arm ourselves with these realities. Fourthly, the Nigerian market is still not very sensitized. We still thrive on incentives and promos rather than brand loyalty and this is exciting to watch when you take a laid back and realistic view of things. This is the reason why a good number of brand campaigns or even patronage on products and platforms come from promos. This comes with its positives and negatives, but again we expect that for the big brands that have been here for so long, there should be some sense of loyalty from the consumers.
What advice do you have for tech startups operating in today’s market?
Taking a look backwards and how far we have come, I’d say passion is the true startup capital, it is a priceless currency in business. Your passion has to be in excess, it has to consume you, it has to intoxicate you so much that it rubs off on your team. On funding, only go for it if you ‘really’ need it. You must be able to distinguish between the hypes and realities if you want to get it right in today’s tech industry. Also, you have to truly understand the market, it is a marathon, just keep at it! The Nigerian market is unfolding, so build products and businesses with that in mind. We are not a sudden change market, in fact, very few markets are. Notice the incremental growth as well as opportunities and hedge your business to take advantage of them. Lastly, stop prioritizing technology over the business in itself, technology will make more businesses fail than succeed, especially when it isn’t viewed as an enabler, see technology as the bridge.
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