Purpose – Platform – Price: 3Ps for an African Mobile App

By | April 1, 2011

The competition is increasingly about the customers, and what tasks they seek to complete on their devices. Simply building the right apps/content/service to meet that need won’t be enough: it will become a matter of getting the purpose, the platform and the price just right for each demographic. Market creation and customer education will drive each other in tandem. ~ Mobile in Africa: From SMS to Android

Now that Muchiri has spoken at Strathmore University’s Innovation Week on marketing tech innovations where he used this framework to analyse the example of mPesa in Kenya, we thought it was time to flesh it out a little more and share it on the blog for your thoughts and feedback. We are looking at this now specifically from the point of view of a service or application available on the mobile platform.


What is the task that your customer wants to complete successfully? This is an entirely different question from What is the task you want the end user to complete successfully?

And it is this thinking that makes the difference between creating a product or service that customers need and want and making something technically advanced and cool but may serve no discernible purpose.  The interesting thing about the example of mPesa that Muchiri used in his talk is that its original purpose was to facilitate repayments for microfinance loans. That there was a vacuum in the market for money transfers between people who tended not to have bank accounts but had access to phones meant that customers repurposed the tool for their immediate needs. What is critical here is that Safaricom did not impose any restrictions on what or how their service should be used and instead changed their advertising messages in response to this new ‘purpose’ – many companies feel that if they have created a product or service to serve a particular purpose, that alone is what it should be used for or that they know better what the customer wants or needs to do.

You can either start with which customer demographic you wish to target and seek something that they would want to do – say migrant workers might want to look up others from their village when they reach the city or Mama Boi wants to make sure that Boi passes his Standard 8 mathematics exam – or you can see the opportunity for a service (like mPesa) but cannot predict who will end up using it in the end.  Another such broad based example is that of health insurance or prepaid health vouchers like they have launched in South Africa.


Which platform to use to deliver the service can now be evaluated based on knowing either which target audience (and so what kinds of phones are most popular there) or if its something that has a very wide reach across the population, then what are the most widely used means of communication. There is no point, for example, making an iPhone app if you are seeking the mass majority customers in Africa, realistically speaking. On the other hand, there is certainly a market for iPhone apps but what kind and for whom and where.  Knowing the answers to these questions will help ensure that the solutions designed and developed are appropriate to the audience.


Finally, once you know what purpose you are serving and how you are distributing it, is your customer able and willing to pay for it? Often the decision is made based on how much is the payment and how will it be made. This is where the idea of being able to purchase a basic dentist visit or doctor visit when cash is available or a visit for someone in the village to use makes this service concept so useful. Business models cannot be tucked on afterwards but are part and parcel of the purpose and platform decisions from the very beginning.

However, just getting one or two of the Ps right isn’t enough. The 3Ps are a harmony that must be right for your app or service to gain widespread adoption. Whereas the first two Ps contribute to a product’s performance and make it attractive, price or the underlying business model can easily put it out of reach or make it easy to adopt.  All three elements:  Purpose, Platform and Price must be balanced in order to obtain the most relevant and useful service.

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