Using USSD to break marketing barriers Part 1

Isolezwe – a case study

Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) is a protocol used by the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications cellular telephones to communicate with service providers’ computers. In plain English, it means this: If you have ever topped up with airtime by dialling the “*100# “number, you have used USSD. It offers a simple browsing experience through a menu system on your mobile device.

USSD is supported by all handsets and networks and requires no internet connection or application to be installed. It costs approximately 20 cents per 20 seconds, and is therefore an affordable and user-friendly way to communicate with clients.

Whereas USSD is usually used to provide information to clients and offer support services, it was recently used in quite the innovative way, with striking results.

The Isolezwe case study

In November 2014, Zulu-language newspaper Isolezwe had audited circulation figures of 110 000. Yet the Durban-based newspaper wanted to reward and engage its loyal audience while aiming to increase its circulation even further.

But how can a daily newspaper grow its circulation in a world where print media is strongly challenged by digital media, and many print newspapers and magazines are battling dwindling circulation figures?

Isolezwe decided to introduce an element of mobile gamification of the Premier Soccer League (PSL) to their audience, with the aim of creating sustained mobile engagement over a period of seven months.

Research on past promotional campaigns indicated that basic and feature phones dominated Isolezwe’s audience. This tied in with industry research estimating that only 48% of South African adults own a data-connected mobile phone. As such, the campaign was run over USSD, which works on all mobile phones. It is also very familiar to Isolezwe’s target audience, who use USSD to recharge airtime and send “Please Call Me” SMSs.

In November 2014, Isolezwe introduced the Asidlale (“Let’s Play”) competition to their readers, which ran through to May 2015 in conjunction with the PSL.

Bringing an element of gamification to life, readers could purchase a Tuesday or Thursday daily edition and enter the Asidlale competition, using a unique code printed on the front page of each newspaper.

With a copy of Isolezwe purchased, entrants would simply dial the USSD number, enter their unique code and, once proof of purchase was confirmed in real time, they could make quick predictions for each of the eight games scheduled. Predictions were kept simple with the choices being “Team A Win”, “Team B win” or “draw”. All screens during the USSD session appeared in the isiZulu language.

Each round had a prize of R5 000 for anyone who correctly predicted the results of all eight games. In the case of there being no winners, R2 000 was carried over to the next round.

The results were astounding.

For the amazing and ground-breaking outcome of this innovative campaign, read Part 2 on next week’s blog!

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