21 June, 2022

Africa: The data lockout

Bet9ja’s Senior Marketing Manager, Olufemi Osobajo, talks to Trafficology about the operator’s position in the Nigerian market and how the Nigerian market sits within Africa as a whole

Hi Femi. Can you give us an introduction to Bet9ja? How have you grown since you were founded? 

Bet9ja started 10 years ago; we were the fourth operator to enter the Nigerian market. The company started as a grassroots movement, meaning it was an offline business, operating in shops and through TV channels. Since then, to recruit more customers, our online offering has been developed and it’s going really well, in both offline and online areas. 

With the business operating in Nigeria, there were a lot of hurdles to overcome. Many people don’t accept gambling and look down on it; it’s seen as taboo. So that becomes a marketing challenge, which constantly evolves over time. The main issue for us at the time was how to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, as everyone was advertising the same sort of things. The perception was that all operators were one and the same – so how we’ve grown bears direct relevance to this differentiation. How do we stamp our own authority? How do we stand out from the noise? These are the questions we ask to set out our pathway for evolution. 

Today, the market lacks data. It is still relatively new, and we are behind other international markets because the market here lacks enough data. For example, I can’t tell you how many sports betting customers there are in Nigeria in total; we don’t have that information. We have our own data, of course, but in terms of data industry wide, we cannot get that kind of information just yet. 

We’ve started to shift messaging away from functional messaging, which is what you’d normally see in messaging containing the best odds, best cash out rates, etc. We’re starting to develop something more emotional, to appeal to people. Because in Nigeria, a bet placed is not just a bet, but it represents an opportunity to change a bettor’s life. So tapping into this hope and sharing in a customer’s emotions is how we are differentiating ourselves from the crowd. We’ve been running this new marketing campaign successfully for three years now. But, of course, we are always trying to expand, to bring in more customers. We’re currently developing our VIP section, too, to appeal to more affluent customers.

We’ve developed competition over time, but it’s about handling that. One of the ways to get above the competition is by best exploiting television. Big Brother has a cult following in Nigeria, everyone watches it for some reason! So, by having our ads play during the show is a big boost. We’re able to get our message out and everyone sees it. 

We understand Bet9ja has some CSR Initiatives that help the community. Can you give some examples of these initiatives and explain how they help?

We have an extensive agent network. So what we do is tap into our agents who operate in different local communities. We have over 30,000 agents in Nigeria now, so they’re always looking for opportunities throughout Nigeria. This helps us establish a master brand campaign built up from grassroots. I wouldn’t personally know the needs of people throughout Nigeria in local regions, but my agents will. So what we do is give a budget for every agent to come up with an action plan initiative, to provide more support for the local community. 

In the master brand which I’m involved with, we try to fight the stigma against sports betting. We try to frame it as a lifestyle choice, tapping into things the average consumer likes. For example, in Big Brother, if you take the fashion and lifestyle choices of the housemates, we can supply clothing to housemates featuring our brand. This is great for promoting the business. In Nigeria it’s music, fashion, lifestyle and comedy that consumers follow, so positioning our brand here is great for us. It’s a good way to face up to the stigma, as if you’re attending a concert, show or sports match that we sponsor, you are somewhat endorsing the brand, without even knowing it. These are the kind of things we do with people on board in our business.  

There has been a rapid rise of internet users in Nigeria, particularly over the last few years. This has obviously helped your online offering, but how has it impacted the business as a whole?

This is really helping the market. What’s really made an impact is the growing number of smartphones in Nigeria. The incremental rise in smartphones is remaining steady. Once you have a smartphone it’s hard to go back! You have data automatically; you can network and create your own betting community. Social media offers an introductory means, particularly the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp which advertise sports betting. So the rise in internet use has had a huge boost.

In fact, I don’t think we’re tapping into the online market as much as we should yet. We’re really just scratching the surface; there’s so much room for improvement in our online offering and one of our tasks is to take it to where it really should be. 

Would one of the next steps to your online offering be the better implementation of data?

Yes, the business as a whole – not just online. If you look
at fintech, that is huge in Nigeria. Every day there are new things that spring up. Investors are banking on fintech. Let’s say, for example, a consumer spends 30% of their income at Bet9ja. The remaining 70%, we don’t know how they spend that money; we haven’t got the data from other markets. If we were to know how customers spend the remaining 70% of their money, we could better market to these industries and subsequently drive customer numbers up. We can go to a popular store, drive up traffic in partnership with them by offering 10-20% discounts on meals for customers. So, with this more accurate data, we’d be able to better augment this, rather than going to the biggest consumer draws. So we want to offer customers more than the competition, by giving them discounts on things they actually want/like. When we do get more accurate data, the opportunities will be immense.

Are there any other marketing strategies you’ve introduced/adapted to get ahead of the competition? What has helped you grow as a brand?

For me personally, in the first year I joined Bet9ja it was all about sponsoring with Big Brother and getting that deal over the line. Since then, it’s been about developing the new marketing campaign, a fresh campaign which is more personal and taps into other things consumers like. If you were to look at our commercials, it doesn’t look like a sports betting ad, only at the end do you realise the ad is for Bet9ja. This is how we are differentiating ourselves from the market, by being unique and original; it is definitely a sign of modernisation.

Everything in Nigeria is becoming more modern: modern banking, modern engine oil, modern football applications such as LiveScore. Everyone is trying to latch onto the bandwagon of what is modern, so it’s important to stay relevant by evolving constantly. We have to constantly seek out new opportunities so we don’t get stuck in the mud. One of the best ways to do this and stave off competition is to strike exclusive deals, in such a way that no other betting platforms can access the same space we occupy. So it’s not only about selecting exclusive deals but also the right exclusive deals, to best benefit Bet9ja. Exclusive deals help us to shut out competitors and dominate in a certain space. This helps us to thrive freely.  

Our esports platform specifically also has a great market entry strategy, which is to make odds slightly higher to those playing on Bet9ja. But placing live odds slightly higher than the competition draws customers, as people are always looking for the best deal. This has helped us become the most popular betting platform in Nigeria. Our instant payouts show that we are financially stable as a business, even on really high payouts.

Picking up on what you said about the importance of exclusive tv deals, how important are social media channels becoming now, with the rise of smartphone use?

Yes, we are building partnerships. We’re actually speaking directly with Facebook to build our relationship. We already have a couple of promos out on Facebook as we speak, so now it’s all about building on this relationship. We’re also in partnership with Google, so we’re currently in the process of building a relationship with them too.

We’ve invested a lot into the online space, particularly recently. It has almost become a meme here, where if you click on any given website, the links eventually take you to Bet9ja! So, we’ve invested a lot in this space to drive up our esports offering, as Nigeria as a whole becomes more modernised.  

We’ve spoken about Bet9ja within the Nigerian market. How does the Nigerian market as a whole compare to other African markets, and how does the African market compare to other markets internationally? 

In Nigeria specifically, the people who gamble see it as a side hustle, for better or worse. A lot of people see it as a second job, an avenue for making money. This can be problematic, which is why we are personalising the experience, so people will truly feel whether they would like to gamble or not. So, there are a lot of issues with regard to keeping but also banning gambling; as so many people depend on it. 

There was talk a few years ago that the Government was trying to ban gambling. There was outrage at this, which actually trended on Twitter, people were saying that they can’t ban Bet9ja. People were saying they need gaming, as the Nigerian Government do not provide many employment opportunities. So people were taking to the streets as they sadly rely on successful gambling to make ends meet. Soon after, however, the Government announced they were not going to ban gambling. So that is the strength of feeling for regulated gambling in Nigeria. 

In terms of Africa at large, Kenya in particular has a huge gaming market. The Government had banned gambling in Kenya, but once they saw the losses to revenue and tax income, inevitably the decision was reversed. I think Kenya is the perfect example to show that sports betting is never going to die in Africa, as it has a huge following. Sports too, particularly the Premier League, has a massive following across Africa. LaLiga is gaining traction, the NBA and UFC too. So there is a huge sporting environment and it’s only getting bigger.

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