Mobile Marketing in Emerging Markets – What You Need to Know

I was in Jakarta last week and the market probably epitomizes all emerging markets – young, vibrant, bustling with action, an emergence of new tall buildings, swanky cars (more of SUVs), and the never-ending traffic jams. All emerging markets are synonymous with growth, improving lifestyle of consuming middle class, and rise of disposable incomes. One thing that stood out during the trip was usage of the mobile phones and access to Internet via mobile devices. A casual visit to any local café would show consumers deeply engrossed in their phones.

Mobile in Indonesia goes far more with people consuming news, sports, horoscopes, games, comics, and every other kind of entertainment content on mobiles. More often, this is delivered via mobile content providers through the network operators. I imagine Facebook and Twitter are probably universal with almost everyone accessing it through their mobiles and most people we met asked us about the Twitter handle.

This just sparked a simple question – how are emerging markets different in their terms of mobile usage or consumption. What are the marketing and media implications, and how should marketers leverage mobile in their marketing plans when it comes to emerging markets?

Here are five things that every marketer should know about mobile in emerging markets:

1. Emerging markets are pre-paid. Indonesia and Vietnam have 90 percent subscribers as pre-paid while India is 82 percent. Most emerging markets vary from 70 percent to 90 percent (chart 1). This is in line with lower per capita income and implies that most consumers don’t get any handset subsidies, pay in full for the handset, and are extremely value conscious. The cost of data remains expensive in many markets and consumers are extremely selective about what kind of mobile content they want to consume.

Chart 1

This will play a huge role in planning and activation of mobile campaigns – audience profile, message relevancy, creative formats, content association, and tactical initiatives.

2. All phones are getting smarter. Specifically, if we look at the stats – markets like Indonesia, India, and Vietnam and are mostly 90 percent feature phone markets (chart 2). At the same time, we all know smartphones based on Android and iOS are surely growing at a phenomenal pace. Depending upon the brand objectives and audience, it is critical to address both the segments.

But really, the distinction of smartphone vs. feature phone is more relevant for industry than for consumers. Today, all phones are getting smarter and consumers find the best pick for the price they pay. Most feature phones come packed with all the apps that they need like Facebook, Twitter, mail client, games, information/news apps, and functionality that a user expects.

This is important, as all mobile users today have started using mobile for entertainment and content consumption that makes it an ideal platform for marketing brands to consumers.

Chart 2

3. Mobile Internet = Internet access. Mobile is not only the preferred source of Internet access. In many cases, it is the first port of call to access the Internet. Consider this, 61 percent of all Internet usage in Indonesia comes from mobile devices. Also, 44 percent of all mobile web users are mobile only, meaning they only use their phones to access the web.

Some other interesting stats on mobile Internet in emerging markets are as follows:

  • Mobile-only Internet penetration is 59 percent in India, 70 percent in Egypt, 57 percent in South Africa, and 32 percent in Thailand.
  • 40 percent of Internet users in Vietnam have used a mobile device to access the web.
  • According to a recent note by Google, mobile Internet is ramping up eight times the desktop Internet.

Let me just repeat that statistic again. The mobile web is growing at eight times the desktop web.

The implications are wide and far reaching. In the next few years, it might seem ridiculous if the business is not accessible and visible on mobile. Needless to say, emerging markets are leading the way in this space given lower PC and broadband penetration. If it continues to gain at that speed, emerging markets would probably soon take the position of the “mobile first.”

4. Apps ecosystem for emerging markets. We all understand the impact of the iPhone on the apps ecosystem. Android has also gained significant traction with over 10 billion downloads. There is a similar ecosystem for feature phones to satisfy the demand for mobile content in emerging markets. The Nokia Ovi store alone attracts 13 million downloads a day – that’s almost 400 million downloads a month. Then there is mobile content being distributed other alternate stores such as GetJar and Mobango and operator stores like Vodafone, Singtel, etc. OEM tie-ups with publishers to in-built apps in the feature phones are another common practice in emerging markets.

Apps are certainly the preferred way for the users on mobile to consume entertainment content, access information, and communication/networking. Some of the largest developers and publishers globally are now working on strategic initiatives to distribute their content via apps. So whether it is ESPN, Electronic Arts, or The Wall Street Journal, they are fully involved in emerging markets and distribute their content via their apps.

The presence of apps has huge implications on the quality and depth of content available for users. This creates tremendous opportunities for brands to connect and engage them at various levels.

5. Consumer mobile behavior. The number one activity for users on mobile remains downloads – music, videos, games, and other apps. Search, social, and email follow this. Last comes information browsing such as news, sports, finance, etc. In this sense, mobile is probably just the reverse of the desktop web – where it was information, communication, and last came entertainment. The very fact that emerging markets have lower broadband and PC penetration, and mobile has consumers in the right frame of mind – seeking entertainment content – makes this channel a very attractive proposition for advertisers.

A couple of weeks back, I attended the MMA conference in Singapore. A pertinent question that came up during one of the panel discussion was, are emerging markets different; do we need to have a different strategy?

My view is that mobile for emerging markets is strategically more critical for businesses. In some ways, there are quite a few similarities that exist with developed markets – in terms of mobile penetration and usage patterns, type of content consumed, etc. But emerging markets do have a different operating framework.

The process of planning for mobile may remain the same for both developed and emerging markets; the planning must be done taking into account the market context and actual user behavior.

But one thing is clear, as one panelist from one of the large FMCG companies summed it up nicely during the MMA conference: mobile remains an extremely large opportunity for marketers. There is no doubt about that. Anyone who is debating this point is out of sync with emerging market realities. The discussion has to be centered on how to best leverage mobile as a touch point and maximize this channel to the best of its capabilities.

I would love to hear your feedback or any experience that you may have had on mobile marketing in Asia or emerging markets.

Vikas Gulati

Appendix and Data Charts from mobiThinking:

Home page photo from Shutterstock.

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