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The future of mobile? Look to India

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Mobile. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told how important mobile will be in Asia.

At conference after conference, the mobile vendors are there explaining why mobile is so important. Why internet penetration is being driven by mobile phone usage in markets like India, China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Why mobile offers the chance to target emerging consumers in geographically vast countries. Why these consumers are more receptive to mobile marketing than most others. And it all makes sense. But for a variety of reasons (lack of co-ordination, lack of metrics, all the usual stuff) nobody seems to be making big money out of it.

But there seems to be something stirring in India. There was a really interesting article in today’s FT about the Bollywood mogul Amitabh Bachchan and his new vlog. Every day ‘Big B’ will record an audio blog. Nothing unusual there, perhaps. But the way consumers will be able to access this blog is by dialling into it. So that’s a marketing channel and a means of monetising your audience all in one.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen India going its own way in the mobile sphere. At last year’s Spikes Asia, I moderated a session on mobile at which Nokia’s Sandy Agarwal talked extensively about Nokia Life Tools, a mobile phone service launched in 2008 for rural customers in India and now being rolled out elsewhere. The features are pre-loaded onto an entry-level handset and work via text message (no point making it internet-based as its target consumers are out in the middle of nowhere). It gives users information such as weather updates and market prices. He made the point that there were huge opportunities for brands to get involved in these services (though I guess he would say that).

Why is there so much innovation around mobile in India? It is huge, obviously, and internet penetration has been much slower to gain ground than in China, meaning that the gap between mobile penetration (413m) and web penetration (33m) is vast (figures for early 2009 from the ADMA Yearbook). That means mobile is almost a standalone medium, rather than an adjunct to digital, and so is more likely to develop its own marketing ecosystem. At the same time, it’s now a market with enough scale to make money out of using some sort of micropayments model. That makes it a good testbed for these types of service. Then there’s good old-fashioned Indian entrepeneurialism – as the FT story makes clear:

The Tata Strategic Management Group, a consultancy, estimates that the number of what it classifies as middle-income households – those earning between Rs110,000 and Rs240,000 per year – in India will rise from 75m today to over 103m by 2015. This would make middle-income consumers the biggest group in Indian society for the first time in the country’s history.

Products, such as Mr Bachchan’s vlog, are aimed directly at this group. In a country where internet penetration remains low but mobile phone use is burgeoning – India now has 550m mobile phone users – the vlog unites India’s fascination with celebrity and its growing communications revolution.

Going back to the FT story, it’s interesting that it’s a celebrity taking this step rather than a brand. But marketers in India should certainly be watching out for the results of ‘Big B’s’ vlogging venture. Mobile in India may not have the bells and whistles of the iPhone-crazed markets in the West, but for anyone interested in connecting with emerging consumers it is probably far more relevant.

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Written by davidtiltman

March 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm

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