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Gemalto’s Sherry Zameer has an intriguing idea: what if enterprises paid for A2P messages based on the value they deliver, rather than merely the volume of texts?

The last time Sherry Zameer was stuck in traffic in Lagos, someone tapped on his window and tried to sell him an ironing board.

Zameer, senior vice president for Africa at Gemalto, recalls the incident as a fine example of the desire among Nigerians to shop – wherever and whenever they are.

But what has this to do with mobile messaging? Well, Zameer believes it’s inevitable that this instinct for commerce will go digital – and that messaging could be the key to making it work. Not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa.

Zameer’s reasoning is based on first hand experience of African purchasing behaviour. “People here love to shop, like anywhere,” he says. “I’m convinced that it’s a matter of time before there’s an Amazon for Africa,” he says.

“But the big problem at the moment is the payment part. There are e-commerce companies, but they work on a cash-on-delivery model, which is unsatisfactory for obvious reasons. They’re waiting for a solution that can ensure payment at the point of shopping. And I think this solution will be mobile messaging.”

Zameer is speaking specifically of a kind of smart messaging product that Gemalto has helped to create. The tool plugs into Gemalto’s security and big data skill set to let brands create richer messages for highly targeted recipients. The key features are:

  • Reach: compatible with 100% of handsets
  • Always seen: displayed automatically on the idle screen so the end-user doesn’t need to check the inbox
  • Easy to use: requires one single click to reply, without any short codes
  • Engaging: innovative types of messaging campaigns, with multiple screens and decision trees
  • Personalised: messages match the profile of the end-user
  • Free of charge: for end-users to reply back

Crucially for the African market, these messages can connect to the new breed of mobile money wallets used by unbanked mobile customers. And this opens up a huge range of possibilities.

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 18.03.18Zameer says: “Brands can send targeted texts and get instant revenue. Obviously, that’s great for e-commerce. But think about bill payment for example: pay your bill now and get 10 per cent off. There are so many applications.”

Interestingly, Zameer argues that this new kind of messaging activity – based on ROI and not mere volume – could herald a twist on the traditional business model. It will be more like digital advertising, and brands will pay for engagement rather than quantity of messages sent.

“The volumes will be lower because the messages are more targeted,” he says. “But I see this as lead generation. A message could invite a user to watch a promo video or call and agent or make a payment. This happens all the time in the physical world. Why not digital?”

In a world where user acquisition can be more of a priority than income, it’s easy to see the appeal.

“Look at Uber,” says Zameer. “It has one milestone and that’s for people to download its app. Without that, no cigar. Uber will pay for that. And they might even subsidise incentives like offering free data. So they would not only provide operators with revenue, they could help promote operator bundles too.”

This may be the clincher for the whole idea. Smart messaging gives operators a means to capitalise on their two key assets: knowing the customer and having a billing relationship.

Zameer says: “SMS is not the market it was. The OTT apps have arrived and the networks are no longer at the centre of the value chain. Here’s a way for them to make the most of their strengths and play a part.”

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