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Home BEA Throwback Terragon Founder, Elochukwu Umeh Talks How Big Data Can Supercharge Marketing in Africa
BEA Throwback - October 5, 2022

Terragon Founder, Elochukwu Umeh Talks How Big Data Can Supercharge Marketing in Africa

Data and marketing technology expert Elochukwu Umeh saw how little Nigerian businesses were doing with big data. And in 2009, he launched a cutting-edge data analytics company, Terragon.

Terragon is helping to drive enterprise marketing across Africa. The company collects and makes meaning of difficult-to-source consumer data for telecommunications companies, banks, and other top brands. 

I had a session with Umeh that provided some interesting insights on data analytics in marketing on the continent and a lot more.

BEA: Where is Africa with data analytics in marketing?

Elochukwu Umeh: Africa is still an emerging market in this space, but a lot is happening, and the industry is expanding. A few years ago, no one cared about the power of data or even made data-driven decisions. Today, businesses in Africa are becoming increasingly focused on the importance of data for business businesses.

We see businesses make informed decisions based on the data they collect. Thank you to the mobile revolution, which has made market research even easier. Brands can now easily collect information, analyse it and act on it.

A lot still needs to be done. Yes, the continent has potential that has not been fully leveraged, but we must give some kudos for the little developments. The future seems bright, especially as we enter the next normal. Across Africa, we see businesses speedily adopt a digital transformation model. More companies will definitely move towards analysing the data they collect and making their marketing decisions based on such data.

BEA: How can data security and consumer privacy be better managed in Africa?

Elochukwu Umeh: You will agree with me that data has become a high-priority asset in today’s information era, and the next few years will see an even greater upsurge in this fast-paced digital transformation. However, there have been serious concerns as regards data security and consumer privacy in recent years. We have seen several cases of data breaches and misuse of consumer data.

Data protection has become very crucial, especially as most countries classify personal data protection as a fundamental right. Data protection is a gateway issue for trust in the digital economy, even in business. In recent years, some top global brands have been singled out for failing to provide users with transparent and understandable information on their data use policies.

We have also seen that data privacy has become a huge public concern. In fact, the year 2019 saw an increasing focus on data privacy globally, including various new government regulations. The reason for this is not far-fetched; attacks are increasing in size, sophistication, and cost, and data breaches expose the personal data of millions of people.

In 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) went into effect. The GDPR compels organizations to prevent data from getting into the wrong hands and ensure that it is obtained through consent. It also places a strong onus on companies to respect the rights of individuals as data owners, such as adhering to requests for access.

Here in Nigeria, we have the Nigerian Data Protection Regulations (NDPR) instituted by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in 2019. The NDPR prescribes the minimum data protection requirements for collecting, storing and processing personal data in Nigeria, in accordance with a lawful purpose content by the data subject.

For us to better manage data security and privacy issues, businesses must operate within the scope of necessary regulations. Consumers, too, must be aware of their privacy rights. In a survey we (Terragon) conducted earlier this year with over 100 respondents, 85% of them indicated that they were aware that their personal information was collected through their online activities. 95% further pointed out that they see notifications on cookies/privacy policies whenever they visit websites but only 4% care to read those policies or adjust their cookies settings always. So, while companies must play by the rules, consumers must know their rights and act accordingly.

In terms of data security, companies may need to appraise their existing data governance strategies to ensure regulatory fit. Data governance requires constant attention across major business functions — from the marketing department pulling through to both legal and finance teams. In order for organizations to protect themselves against data threats, they must develop and implement suitable data policies, procedures and plans.

It goes without saying that Terragon is both compliant with GDPR and NDPR. We also take leadership roles in various regional and global bodies to add our perspective on these issues, with the goal of contributing to robust discussions and outcomes focused on moving the industry in the right direction. 

BEA: How can customers in remote areas be intelligently reached by companies?

Elochukwu Umeh: I take it that by remote areas, you probably mean customers who use feature phones or mobile customers who are not always connected to the internet because they live in areas without good internet, irregular power supply, low purchasing power, unstable income sources etc. The best way to reach this segment will be through USSD and SMS.

Today through technology, people in supposedly remote areas can be reached at scale through USSD and hyper-targeted messages. Brands can even get real-time customer insight from these offline customers. As I mentioned earlier, there are over 700 million mobile connections in Africa, most of which are feature phones. How do you reach them? You certainly cannot reach them online, so the best way to get your message across to them or get them to talk to you is through offline channels such as USSD and SMS.

I’ll like to add here that even in reaching them through these offline channels, it is also important to employ personalisation. If you need to reach them intelligently, then personalisation is key. Through Technology, you can send personalised messages at scale.

BEA: In the efforts to serve brands across Africa, does your company form strategic partnerships with tech companies, startups, SMEs, etc.?

Elochukwu Umeh: Yes, we do. Our Services are tiered to allow us to serve various customers based on their capacity. From Telcos to SMEs. These partnerships are for either Data Provision (Supply) or for Insights needed to enable effective marketing decisions and campaigns (Demand).

Over the years, we have partnered with Telcos and other relevant companies to drive our goal of enabling super-charged connections between brands and their customers. We believe in strategic partnership and we go all out, home and abroad, to forge strong partnerships.

BEA: How can Small and Medium-sized businesses in Africa benefit from big data?

Elochukwu Umeh: It is not enough to have access to big data. You have to harness it for better decision-making. If MSMEs properly use the data at their disposal, they will be better equipped in basic areas such as product packaging, introducing new products, pricing, placements, etc. 

Also, in the aspect of cross-selling and upselling, small and medium-sized businesses in Africa can benefit very well from big data. The insight from such data can also hint at their typical customer and help them drive customer acquisition through look-alike modelling techniques. With big data, MSMEs can also better engage with their customers. They can drive proximity marketing and deliver personalised customer experience at scale.

However, the adoption of data analytics by small and medium-sized businesses in Africa is quite slow. Most MSMEs see the big data phenomenon as something for only large corporations, which is wrong. They too can benefit so much from big data.

These MSMEs collect data, too, both offline and online. From sales forms to site visits, they collect data on a daily basis. They need to now weave in data analytics and extract meaningful value from the data they collect. 

BEA: How do you see Africa’s data analytics market evolving over the medium to long-term?

Elochukwu Umeh: Many businesses in Africa are already buying into the idea of data analytics. The COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated digital transformation for most businesses. So, I think that the data analytics market is set for massive growth in the long term.

Businesses are already embracing digital transformation as a medium for customer engagement. The world is facing disruption as a result of the pandemic. Consumer behaviour is changing rapidly, and brands are turning to data analytics to get answers on new habits, touchpoints and best ways to reach consumers in today’s changing world. 

Certainly, businesses that will win in the next normal are those that invest in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics. Many businesses understand this now and turn to data analytics companies like Terragon. 

BEA: Tell us about Terragon.

Elochukwu Umeh: Summarily, we enable super-charged connections between brands and their customers. We are an enterprise software business. We help consumer companies in Africa connect at scale to their customers on mobile using the power and possibilities of data analytics and artificial intelligence. We use online and offline data aggregation and predictive scoring to help brands, marketing agencies, and platforms accurately target people across channels and devices. We aggregate and enrich difficult-to-source consumer data, generating measurable outcomes for our clients.

At Terragon, we believe that genuine customer relationships can be built only when the brand knows all there is to know about the customer and so we exist to help build genuine customer relationships for businesses.

BEA: What path led to where Terragon is right now?

Elochukwu Umeh: Terragon began as a mobile ad network and broad digital media agency in 2009, delivering digital marketing campaigns for top brands in Nigeria. However, due to market demands, the business has morphed into an enterprise software business that leverages artificial intelligence, mobile marketing channels and data analytics to deliver connections at scale for mobile-first markets.

Now, Africa has over 700 million connections, and nearly 70% of them are feature phones. Those buying data buy it sparingly, making it difficult for brands to reach most of their customers through only online marketing platforms. We decided to create software that can help us intelligently understand the customer and know the best way to reach him at any given time. 

We discovered that in a world where business growth is limited by the superficial understanding of the customer across channels, deep, personalised insights that enhance customer experiences could be the game-changer for big brands. This is the gap that Terragon fills in a way no other data company in Nigeria can. After years of research in Nigeria and India, we built our proprietary software stack to achieve this. 

BEA: What would you say is the greatest strength of Terragon?

Elochukwu Umeh: Our People – the brains behind our products. At Terragon, we’re a team of smart, driven, fun-loving people. Our people are very enthusiastic and passionate about helping businesses connect intelligently with their customers and improving themselves continuously while at it. We have a data-driven culture; as free as we may seem, everyone knows their responsibility and puts in 101% to ensure that we serve our clients and deliver the best products. So “Terraformers” (Terragon Staff) are our biggest strength.

We also have a deep knowledge of the African space. Companies across Africa choose to work with us over global players because no one knows Africans as we do. Also, our deep focus on data-driven solutions and artificial intelligence rival what you can get anywhere in the world. 

Q: Tell us about Terragon’s services?

Elochukwu Umeh: With our proprietary software, we help leading brands across verticals to deliver personalised customer experience at scale and in the areas of customer retention and acquisition, customer engagement, precision targeting, location-based messaging, etc. Data is at the heart of what we do, and so with over 108 million unique profiles, we help brands intelligently connect with their customers.

Our platform unifies your customer data from various sources and enriches with contextual and behavioural attributes to derive insights and recommendations. We enable you to reach your customers across all channels, offline and online, with personalized and consistent messaging at every stage of their journeys. We also provide dedicated assistance that informs your marketing strategy and supports you every step of the way to ensure your business goals are met. 

Over time we have used our proprietary software to help leading banks and FMCG companies in Nigeria and Africa achieve their marketing goals. When we handle a campaign, oftentimes, we exceed the objectives set by the client for such campaigns.

Only recently, one of our clients, a leading bank in Africa, wanting to meet with the financial inclusion mandate of the CBN, engaged us to help drive customer acquisition through USSD. They already had great products tailored for customers who were not into online banking. So, with most of the 60 million unbanked Nigerians offline, they wanted to acquire 10,000 USSD customers weekly.

We took on the project, and with our software, we identified the target audience that fit into the bank’s vision for their USSD product and segmented the customer profiles matching this target audience. Our machine learning model further qualified the individuals from this audience with the highest propensity to take up the bank’s offer. We leveraged offline marketing channels to reach the target easily and also match the offline user journey of the bank’s USSD channel.

We acquired 18,000 USSD customers weekly for the bank, as opposed to the campaign target of 10,000 USSD customers weekly.

We have helped drive app installs and account reactivation for some other clients. One of our clients, another bank, wanted to reactivate accounts of customers who had not used their accounts for 6 months. We uploaded the profiles of the dormant accounts into our software to generate each demographic and behavioural attribute. We further segmented the customers into smaller groups of similar attributes and then conducted some A/B multivariate tests. In the end, over 70,000 transactions were generated and over 16,000 accounts were activated.

On the data gathering aspect, we also help leading brands generate consented first-party data to enhance their marketing activities. Recently, we helped a leading beverage brand get over 100,000 consented first-party data from events organized by the client. We uploaded the data into our Customer Data Platform for enrichment and segmentation. The client can now get real-time insights and make data-driven marketing decisions. In addition, our results are always at least 5x better than any market competitor.

BEA Throwack is Business Elites Africa series where we recall powerful stories from our archives.

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