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Interview with Elo Umeh, CEO of Terragon Group

Elo Umeh

Elo Umeh

  • Tell us about your journey to Terragon. How would you describe the company now relative to the future you envision for it?

Terragon currently isn’t too far off from where we envisioned it to be when it was founded 12 years ago. We started as a digital media Agency in 2009; while pioneering digital media advertising on the continent, we figured early that value creation in digital will be incomplete without mobile telco integration in Africa. In 2011, we launched Africa’s first mobile advertising network, which has since evolved to a programmatic platform. Today we are firmly positioned as the leading data and marketing technology Company on the Continent. 

Two Key events shaped the trajectory of the company – the launch of the iPhone in 2007, and the explosion of m-Pesa. I was based in Kenya doing some work for the IFC at that time and I knew for a fact that mobile was going to be a major transformational device for Africans as soon as I saw the smartphone. The plan was to ride that wave and key into this transformation.  As time went on, the world began to change and so we changed with it. We  could see clearly that data, analytics and mobile technology was going to change the way businesses operate. We reacted to these shifts by positioning ourselves at the intersection between smart, semi-smart and dumb data through the aggregation of heterogeneous sources while using relevant software technology to harness the power of data to help companies prepare for the future. Driven by market demand, the business morphed into an enterprise software business that leverages mobile marketing channels  and data analytics science to deliver connections at scale for mobile-first markets. 

Elo Umeh
Elo Umeh

Today, we are leading the data and technology space in Africa, and even solving for cookie-less advertising. So as an entrepreneur, whenever I think of the future and what it could bring, I think of an interdependent mix of partner ecosystems working to organise the massive data opportunity in Africa to enable intelligent customer connections at scale. 

Through the evolution of the Company, the common denominator has been “mobile” which is at the heart of our Business to date even though our product offering has evolved significantly. I am immensely proud of how far we have come, the hard work the team has put in, and the various Multinational brands we count as Partners and Clients such as Facebook, MTN, Nigerian Breweries, Access Bank and a whole lot more – it’s no small feat.

I see Terragon as a company that will stand the test of time as we are always ready to adapt to whatever changes the future brings. 

  • In connecting brands to African consumers at scale, how would you say Terragon’s solutions have evolved? What are you particularly excited about?

When we say, “No one knows Africans as we do”, we ensure that we continue to grow that superior knowledge of African consumers through the quality of our partnerships. In the past, we used to have access to less than 100m African profiles on our Customer Data Platform (CDP). We have partnered with leading Telcos on the continent and with leading social media giants and are now able to help brands reach over 350m African consumers, offline and online. Our Data Platforms was recently verified by the Globally renowned (customer data platform) CDP Institute and is currently the first and only African Company on their Directory. Our  Data Team works round the clock in tandem with our Engineering Team based out of Bangalore, India to ensure that the data that we process meets the requirements of the 4 Vs of Big Data – Velocity, Veracity, Volume, Variety.   I am particularly excited about the Interests we are generating from Global Tech players like Facebook. When Google announced that it was phasing out third-party cookies by 2022, the industry went into panic mode as it should as it affects the entire advertising ecosystem. Facebook – one of the world’s largest walled gardens with over a Billion 1st  party data profiles came up with a solution to help brands  prepare for this new reality and selected us as their African partners for the Facebook Conversions API turn key solution. We currently are the only African-founded data company listed. What this means is that our Clients who already have our CDP don’t have to worry about this, as they can carry on Facebook advertising seamlessly even after 3rd party cookies are extinct; as this solution is a functionality of our CDP. Being able to help brands solve challenges such as this excites and motivates me. 

  • Can you share an example of how you are using an existing Terragon solution to provide a solution for businesses?

Our business caters to both large enterprises as well as SMEs, and I would like to shed a bit of spotlight on what we’re doing for small and medium-sized businesses. 

SMEs are the largest contributors to the economy, in the areas of jobs, Gross National Product etc.  In Nigeria for instance, SMEs contribute 48% of GDP, account for 96% of businesses and 84% of employment. (According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics.) These are staggering numbers!. What this means is that empowering this sector can transform our Continent. Unfortunately, they are plagued by several challenges such as access to funds, infrastructure etc. which makes it difficult for them to invest in the Technology needed to scale. This is why we are turning our attention to this critical Sector at this time, not limiting our efforts to big-ticket Enterprises. By supporting SMEs, we help solve some burning socio-economic issues such as youth unemployment which then by extension help contribute to solving the challenge of insecurity, inadequate education, market development etc. We want to make a difference which is why we have introduced our enterprise media and customer data solution in partnership with a Leading Telco and a global social media giant. With this partnership, we will be able to help SMEs harness the power of data and technology to improve their business outcomes – specifically in the area of driving visibility, acquire more customers, facilitate transactions and lots more. Expect our announcement with more details on this soon.

Elo Umeh
  • Partnerships are often touted as key to success in business. What partnerships drive Terragon? 

In fact, “partnerships”  is one of our 3 strategic pillars. It’s what differentiates us from other Data and Marketing Tech companies; it allows us to proudly state the fact that no one knows Africans as we do.  Our double-sided platforms serve what we call our Data Supply Side and our Enterprise Client Demand Side. The Supply Side  is what powers our Insights generation capabilities as well as our online and offline activation channels and enables us to serve our Demand Side clients. That is our Business in a nutshell – therefore our Business depends on the strength and network of key partnerships we forge; which is why it is a key Pillar. 

Currently, we are the only African-founded CDP partner for the Facebook Conversions API in Africa. The Facebook Conversions API allows brands to track, segment, retarget and send personalised ads without third-party cookies. What this partnership means is that we can help companies in Africa easily come on board Facebook’s solution, providing 24-hour technical support for these brands.

Recently we also got listed on the directory of the CDP Institute as a verified CDP company. This makes us the first and only African company (At the moment) to be listed by the Institute. 

We have also partnered with the Regional arm of the Mobile Marketers Association (MMA) and would be launching what we call a “knowledge series” aimed at improving awareness and driving the adoption of data-driven marketing in Africa.

All these give credence to the work we do and the fact that we do not compromise on critical things such as data governance, product quality, customer success/relationships and talent. For us to have attracted the sort of partnerships we’ve gained so far speaks to the  level of dedication and excellence the team puts in. We recognise that for us to continue to attract top global and regional partners we must strive to maintain our leadership status on all fronts; as we are only as strong as the partnership ecosystem we have been able to build through our double-sided platform. 

Martech is relatively obscure in Africa as conversations mostly focus on things like fintech, how do you see this evolving in the future?

Africa is still an emerging market in this space but a lot is happening and the MarTech industry is expanding. Brands are beginning to recognise and appreciate the value of data-driven marketing in achieving  better Returns on their Ad Spend and increased conversions and sales with lower costs. With accelerated digitization coupled with shrinking marketing budgets caused by the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, Brands are now more than ever keen to leverage data to gain a better understanding of their consumers, intelligently reach them and reduce Customer acquisition Costs; these are the inherent benefits of Data-driven marketing and  what our solution solves for. These goals are not going to change and we see more and more enterprises interested in  investing in our solution to help them achieve their business goals. These reasons contribute to why the Data MarTech Industry has been experiencing steady YoY growth (25.5% growth in 2020 according to chiefmartech.com). 

A lot still needs to be done though; the continent has enormous potential that has not been fully exploited but we must give some kudos for the strides that have been made.

  • From Terragon’s unique insight into the market, what’s one thing that is unique about the African consumer?

What we have learned from our consumer engagements over time is that African consumers are “aspirational”; they aspire for more, they seek new opportunities. When we run campaigns with reward offerings tailored towards support for businesses, for instance, we see conversion rates of up to 8% which is much higher than industry standards.

Also, There’s no gainsaying that Africa is a mobile-first market with a projection of  50% penetration by 2025 (according to GSMA). From our experience of running various campaigns across several use cases for different verticals, one thing that has remained constant is the high conversion rate via our offline Channels –  i.e. mobile of about 70% compared to online campaigns –  this buttresses the mobile-first narrative. The fact that our CPD comes equipped with the ability to reach over 350m profiles, gives Brands a head start among their competitors.

  • Do you have any takeaways for marketing leaders and CMOs in 2021 and beyond: for example, top factors they should keep in mind as they plan for the rest of the year, innovate and expand their teams?

If they are not already collecting first-party data and building a database, then they need to act fast. Third-party cookies are going away by 2022 and amidst the plethora of solutions that will come, first-party data remains a major asset when it comes to customer engagement, irrespective of which part of the Data-driven marketing journey a Business finds itself in. Those who have built a database need to think about data enrichment, gaining insights and the ability to activate across online and offline channels – these are functionalities Terragon is capable of delivering at scale.  We are at a time where investment in data and technology should not be an afterthought, but part of Business strategy. CMOs must work to get cross-functional buy-in when thinking of investing in data analytics, as it can help various teams achieve their objectives. 

When it comes to expanding their teams, I’ll urge CMOs to ensure they, as well as their teams, take full advantage of our forthcoming Data-Driven Marketing “knowledge series”, which we’ll be launching in the next few weeks in partnership with the Mobile Marketing Association; and will be certified by the Continuous Professional Development Institute. 

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