Re-envisioning advertising for Nigerian SMEs

Of course, Nigeria is the place where nothing can be certain without being tested in the wild, so it remains to be seen whether Atmosphere for Business will deliver on its promise

Six years ago, I quit my last full-time job and dived headfirst into the crazy, uncertain world of entrepreneurship. I had the skill set, the passion, the equipment and the time required to make a success of the fully formed business proposition I had in my head.

To my naive self back then, these ingredients were all that it took to get a multimedia content creation agency off the ground, in the middle of a recession no less. Of course, the fact that I’m writing this article says it all about how that worked out.

Putting aside my earnest naivety for a second, however, a major point of asymmetry that I observed in that and my subsequent attempt at entrepreneurship was that letting people know about my company’s existence was, to put it politely, rather difficult. More than a few solutions came my way, marketing themselves as publicity and advertising solutions for SMEs, but almost invariably, they turned out to be either empty social media echo chambers with no potential customers paying attention, or well, well out of my budget.

Customer acquisition cost asymmetry – life and death for Nigerian SMEs

This problem that my 26-year-old self stumbled into while trying – and failing – to get my first business off the ground is a problem that continues to stalk just about every growth-stage of Nigerian SME.

This is the problem of needing significant monetary amount to place the brand before a large audience of potential paying customers, while needing a large base of paying customers to be able to afford such eye-watering amounts in the first place.

It is the classic Catch-22 that often ends up locking unfortunate SMEs into a death spiral, as it did mine.

Existing solutions and workarounds simply do not do enough to solve this problem at a high level. In my case, I found lots of “social media influencer” types who promised (and delivered) hundreds of thousands of impressions, views, likes and other social media platform vanity metrics.

The issue with this of course, was that since banks will probably never redeem retweets and likes for naira and kobo, such metrics, while nice to have, are essentially useless. The solution to this of course, is to spend more money to spread the dragnet even further – money that a young SME simply does not have.

What a hungry, growth-stage Nigerian SME needs above all else is paying customers. Unlike other environments where businesses have access to venture capital and private equity funding, the default mode of a Nigerian SME is to bootstrap itself from 0 all the way to 100.

This makes the asymmetry between the need for customer acquisition and the cost of customer acquisition a potentially deadly one for business survival.

It also makes this problem an important one to solve in our context, and as ever, there are businesses out there that are specifically trying to solve this problem.

Using tech to reduce customer acquisition cost

Atmosphere for Business is one such business. Founded by Wande Adalemo, the company bills itself as a “digital advertising platform for small businesses (SMEs) underpinned by a pervasive Wi-Fi network.”

What this means in English is that the company provides free high speed Wi-Fi connectivity at strategic public locations, and permits users to connect provided they view a couple of adverts while signing in. In tech terms, this is bundled advertising over what is known as a “Wi-Fi as a Service” platform.

What makes this especially intriguing for an outsider with a marketing perspective is that this simple solution appears to have unintentionally cracked the everlasting problem of advertising practitioners – how to get people to knowingly and willingly watch advertisements, and thus engage more productively with them.

Read also: How E-commerce supports entrepreneurship and growth of SMEs in Africa

Adverts are typically seen as little more than a necessary evil by the audiences that sit grudgingly though them. That could change significantly in a situation where audiences are receiving actual material value – such as high speed Wi-Fi access in return for simply watching ads.

It will be interesting to see the audience conversion data for such scenarios where ad viewers are significantly more receptive.

How it works is that the SMEs sign up on the Atmosphere for Business website, create their ads and upload them on their atmosphere dashboard from the comfort of their homes.

Once that is done, users who connect to the free Wi-Fi get to see and interact with the ads before they connect to the free Wi-Fi. In doing so, SMEs are potentially given access to millions of prime Nigerian audience eyeballs for as little as $1.

According to the company, it intends to eventually expand across Lagos and potentially cover all 18.9 million residents with free high-speed Wi-Fi available at the cost of viewing and interacting with a few ads before connecting.

Of course, Nigeria is the place where nothing can be certain without being tested in the wild, so it remains to be seen whether Atmosphere for Business will deliver on its promise.

If it does so, advertising and marketing practitioners may someday come to think of it the way modern carmakers think of Henry Ford’s auto assembly lines of the 1930s – the long-overdue democratisation of digital advertisement in Nigeria

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