How to use WhatsApp to Reach New Customers in Africa

It’s been more than 10 years since WhatsApp made its debut and conquered the market. From a simple messaging app, it has evolved into a multimedia platform.

How to use WhatsApp to Reach New Customers in Africa

It’s been more than 10 years since WhatsApp made its debut and conquered the market. From a simple messaging app, it has evolved into a multimedia platform where one can make video/voice calls, share QR codes, make payments (in select countries), shop, share photos and videos and create accounts for business. There are over 2 billion WhatsApp users worldwide in 180 countries.
And now that we have witnessed a global pandemic that tore through even the strongest of economies in the world, it is safe to say that technology is the answer to the barriers presented by time and touch.

Internet and Africa


Number of internet users in selected countries in 2020
Africa: number of internet users in selected countries 2020 Published by Joseph Johnson, Feb 17, 2021 As of December 2020, Nigeria had more than 203 million internet users. Second-ranked Egypt had 54.74 million users. The majority of web traffic in leading digital markets in Africa originated from mobile devices - in Nigeria, one of the countries with the biggest number of internet users worldwide, 74 percent of web traffic was generated via smartphones and roughly 24 percent via PC devices. This is connected to the fact that mobile connections are much cheaper and do not require the infrastructure that is needed for traditional desktop PCs with fixed-line internet connections. Number of internet users in selected countries in Africa as of December 2020, by country

(Source: Statista, December 2019)

Nigeria has the most number of internet users in with 126 million internet users, followed by Egypt with 49.23 million users and Kenya with 46 million users (Statista, December 2019). South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan made up the top 10.

As per the 2020 Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa report by Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), mobile services in sub-Saharan Africa alone will hit the half a billion mark in 2021 in sub-Saharan Africa and predicted “a 50% subscriber penetration rate by 2025.”

This reflects in the mobile apps that have found success in Africa. As per SimilarWeb, Facebook, Likee, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter and Snapchat are ranked as top Mobile Apps in terms of usage in African countries at Google Play Store. However, it is WhatsApp that scores.


Market share of WhatsApp in Africa

WhatsApp is “absolutely dominant” in the African continent as per the Quartz Africa report in 2018. And this hasn’t seemed to change either.

Kenya topped the list with a massive WhatsApp penetration (97%), with South Africa (96%) and Nigeria (95%) ranking second and third respectively (GlobalWebIndex, 2020).

There are around 22.86 million internet users in Kenya with about 8.80 million social media users, as of January 2020 (Simon Kemp, Digital 2020: Kenya).

In South Africa, WhatsApp was the top popular mobile apps used – beating Uber, YouTube and Facebook. (Statista, Feb 2020). Same in Nigeria where WhatsApp beat Facebook and YouTube to be the most popular mobile apps used. (Statista, November 2020).


Who uses WhatsApp? Why use the WhatsApp Business app?

Even with Facebook’s data harvest fears, it seems unlikely that African users would dump WhatsApp (Quartz Africa, January 2021)

As per Quartz Africa in 2018, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa were the first one in the continent where WhatsApp Business was rolled out. For Africa, this can translate into an efficient marketing tool for small businesses and enterprises in Africa.


Because the highest global levels of WhatsApp penetration is found to be among internet users aged16-64 years in Sub-Saharan African markets (GlobalWebIndex, 2020).

WhatsApp Business app and WhatsApp Business API have been around for a couple of years helping businesses of different sizes manage their chats.

It has also been found that over 175 million people message on WhatsApp Business account every day (WhatsApp, October 2020). The Mark Zuckerberg-led company has said that there research concluded that people preferred to “message a business to get help and they’re more likely to make a purchase when they can do so.”

This has allowed many businesses to make WhatsApp their store counter “to discuss products and coordinate sales.” This means that now users are potential customers as they can see “catalogs” of what’s available from the business directly on WhatsApp without clicking an external link.

This also means that more and more businesses can have one-on-one contact with their customer with the help of WhatsApp which is now increasingly becoming the most engaging marketing channel on the planet.

And this is not an experiment!

Indonesia-based sustainable herbs and spices business – Agradaya – was given early access to WhatsApp Carts. WhatsApp Carts enabled its customer to order with no “back and forth communication” (WhatsApp, December 2020).

Moreover, WhatsApp says that 80% of small businesses in India and Brazil reach their customers using WhatsApp Messenger – both India and Brazil are WhatsApp’s biggest markets. These two markets are quite similar, considering the Motorcycle-hailing startups model being copied in Africa from the former.


How to establish an online presence and reach new audiences in Africa?

The above stats present quite a clear picture – WhatsApp is the top social media app across the continent and it has the right demographic too. And using India and Brazil as case studies, it can help grow businesses and reach new audiences using WhatsApp.

So what does it mean for business in Africa and WhatsApp marketing in the continent?

Even without the WhatsApp business account, the free multimedia platform tied to the user’s phone number gives access to features like group chats, voice notes, messages, videos, images, voice/video calls, images, status, documents  and whatnot. These enable just some of the popular WhatsApp marketing ideas. In fact, the broadcast lists features is one of the most popular WhatsApp marketing hacks for bulk messaging. Another is advertising on WhatsApp status through various media.

So, what are the other ways to leverage these tools?

How can WhatsApp be used for business promotion?

Source: Globalwebindex, 2020

  1. Run promotions through visuals, QR codes, animated stickers, Catalog, Carts, voice notes, and videos directly or using WhatsApp broadcasts feature
  2. Do branding using the Profile picture, ‘About me’ or WhatsApp Status for offers, sales, discounts and coupon codes and what’s new in the product inventory
  3. Create group chats for similar interests and start discussions to target large segments
  4. Customer support and feedback
  5. Run an ad campaign through WhatsApp

While these WhatsApp marketing strategies may be interesting but they have to be implement as per business needs. For instance, not every customer may like speaking one-on-one on WhatsApp. Not every customer would answer your surveys or give feedback.

But there are creative ways to get your customer’s attention and time.

The following are some of the Whatsapp Marketing Case Studies you can use for your small and medium businesses:

  1. Saffola’s ‘Beat the Crave’ WhatsApp Campaign by WATConsult won the ‘Best Use Of WhatsApp’ Award in 2019 and received huge media attention in India. The Beat The Crave campaign increased the sales of its Nutri-Shake by 483% within the first month.
  2. For Cardex Autoteile OHG, WhatsApp Business app helped in about 90% of in sales and over 15,000 customer requests were received and in less than a year through integration of the app. They received 10 orders via WhatsApp Business daily.
  3. Cupcakes by Isa in 2018 increased its sales by 37 %. The businesswoman closed 60 % of her sales through WhatsApp Business app.
  4. Banco Santander Bank’s WhatsApp customer service number allowed customers to chat with the bank, ask queries and make peer to peer (P2P ) payments with WhatsApp. In the pilot done with 17000 users, 99% of consumers said that the service useful with 98% saying they would continue with it.
  5. BBC Africa’s an WhatsApp series named ‘Young, Angry and Connected’, gave the marginalized young Africans a platform to use social media and messaging apps to get their stories heard.
WhatsApp marketing strategies and business – The Future 

Source: Globalwebindex, 2020


It is to be noted that WhatsApp Pay has yet to roll out in the continent. But chances are that day is not too far.

WhatsApp Pay enables P2P (Peer to Peer) Transfer and Merchants Payments.

In Kenya and Zimbabwe, USSD-based mobile money services such as EcoCash (Zimbabwe) and M-Pesa (Kenya) are big players. On the other hand, mobile-banking apps and “agent-modelled” Fintech businesses like PAGA are big in Nigeria.

If WhatsApp Pay does roll out in Nigeria, it is likely to work with existing payment processing companies such as Flutterwave, Interswitch, and Paystack.

Shopping is in the pipeline for the Facebook-owned company as it plans to expand paths for users to see available products and buy right from a chat. WhatsApp has said that it wants to find ways for businesses to integrate its features into their existing commerce and customer solutions.

As the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp Messenger is now integrated, it will be easier for the company to funnel user data, although it has postponed the update citing privacy concerns and “misinformation”.

Remote work is another area where WhatsApp can prove to be quite the game changer. Facebook Hosting Services is where the company plans to help small and medium-sized businesses in getting started, hosting and managing customer communications, sell products and keep inventory.

The Mark Zuckerberg-owned company also plans to expand their partnerships with business solution providers.