The insider’s guide to mobile Web marketing in India

With 525 million mobile subscriptions and rising India is the world’s second largest mobile market after China. Cell phone penetration dwarfs both landlines and PCs, making the mobile channel the obvious channel for meeting the growing digital information and entertainment needs of this vast market.

In India mobile phones now outnumber landlines 14:1 and are used by about 45 percent of the population. The sparseness of landlines, particularly in rural areas, coupled with the expense of PCs, has kept Internet use very low, with less than 6 percent of Indians (age 12 or above) accessing the Internet once a month.
Sandy Agarwal, the author of this guide, believes that mobile will help to bridge the digital divide, becoming the obvious channel for Indians to access information-based services essential for their work and education, as well as providing entertainment.
Agarwal is the head of Nokia Interactive Advertising (NIA) in Asia Pacific and he is on the Mobile Marketing Association APAC board. Previously he held roles at Discovery Channel, ESPN and Star TV (Newscorp). For more information, please see these profiles of Agarwal for a detailed and NIA.
Rajiv Hiranandani, co-chair of newly founded Indian chapter of the Mobile Marketing Association India and co-founder of mobile entertainment company Mobile2Win has contributed some additional fascinating facts and figures to help us understand more about Indian mobile consumers.


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How big or advanced is mobile Web in India v rest of world? What is the potential?
The mobile Web is alive and kicking in India, largely because for many it is the first screen they will use to access the Internet. The majority of Indians can’t afford PCs, so mobile can help to bridge the digital divide.
The potential is huge. Mobile phone penetration is growing rapidly at 3-4 per cent per month. At the end of 2009, there were 525 million wireless subscriptions, that's over 45 percent of the Indian population (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India compared to 37 million landlines and 8 million broadband connections.
According to Sanjay Kapoor, deputy CEO Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile operator, the bulk of Indians now make their first phone call on a wireless device, rather than landline.
Currently PC Internet penetration among Indians of 12 years-plus is only 6 percent and less than 1 percent in rural areas (The Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI)), so this prompts us to predict that for the majority of people their first experience of surfing the Internet will also be on a wireless device.
Mobile Web users in India access the Internet on their mobile on 2.4 days per week, almost as much as they access it on the PC Web on 2.7 days per week (TNS/Nokia).

What is driving growth? What's holding it up?
The availability of a browser even on the lowest specification handsets means that many more people now have access to the Web. Cost of browsing is still a hurdle to growth, but there is still dramatic growth in mobile impressions both on Nokia’s mobile ad network and partner sites such as Airtel. The introduction of affordable flat-rate plans should help drive growth.

Which industries/sectors have shown the most interest in mobile marketing in India?
Major brands – both international and national ones – are leading the way. Travel, finance, automotive and fast-moving consumer goods [FMCG] are particularly hot areas. See these case studies with Ford and Indonesian airline Garuda for example.

Which brands are the most innovative and which spend the most on mobile marketing? Who isn’t interested, who should be?
FMCG brands are hugely interested in mobile, as they recognize how important the mobile channel is to consumers – for many consumers, the mobile device is now their most valued device, above television and PC. Companies such as Unilever and P&G have shown innovation and leadership in their mobile campaigns.
For brands that struggle to reach the hundreds of millions of Indians that live in rural areas mobile provides great potential for penetrating this untapped market. According to Bharti Airtel’s Kapoor, India's rural markets remain under 20 percent penetrated by big brands.

What are they doing – mobile Web site; banner ads; text campaigns etc?
It's a mix of all of these. In fact the variety of options available to marketers can be bewildering – so it’s important to be mindful of which is the most appropriate channel to engage consumers. For an auto brand or a finance company targeting high net-worth individuals, banner advertising and micro-sites can be very effective, whereas for a FMCG company eager to tap new, rural markets, an SMS-powered app embedded on low-end devices might be the way forward.
Just as important as reach, is using mobile for ongoing engagement with consumers. Brands are investigating how to use mobile as a communication channel for customer-relationship management and to help drive sales.

Do campaigns tend to be long-term or short-term; standalone or integrated into other media?
Most major brands now have long-term mobile programs. Several specialist agencies have worked with brands to ensure that mobile is integrated into other media channels to enable maximum touch points for the campaign. Garuda is a great example, using TV advertising to create awareness of its promotion – offering free music and branded ringtones – and using mobile advertising both for further advertising and to fulfill the offer.

What mobile sites are most popular?
The operator portals remain hugely important: on Airtel’s portal, for example, images, video and games prove very popular. Popular off-portal (independent) destinations include CricInfo (cricinfo.mobi), Indiagames (m.indiagames.com), Moneycontrol (m.moneycontrol.com), Nokia (nokia.mobi) and Yahoo (yahoo.mobi).

Who are the most innovative/powerful players in terms of agencies, content providers and advertising networks?
• Mobile and creative agencies: Group M, Ogilvy, Quasar, The Hyperfactory.
• Content providers: Hungama Mobile, India Games, Mauj, Nazara, Neo Mobile/Arena Mobile.
• Ad networks: AdMob, InMobi, Nokia Interactive Advertising.

What is the most exciting thing about mobile in India?
The most exciting thing about mobile is its ability to change lives and improve livelihoods. As mobile devices become increasing capable and affordable, they will open up the Internet to those who can’t afford PCs, with all the benefits that this brings.
Mobile is the obvious medium for getting information and entertainment to the masses, through a mix of mobile Web, SMS-based services and automated voice portals. According to India-based OnMobile, 34 million unique users each month access interactive voice response services).
The ability to access information changes people's lives and livelihoods. In rural areas, it’s still hard for many Indians to get access to services that are taken for granted elsewhere – such as the latest on the weather or health services. For example, farmers who used to be cheated by unscrupulous buyers, now have access to the latest prices, meaning they can negotiate the best prices for their crop at market.

Where should people go for more information on mobile in India?
• Brand managers should challenge their creative agencies to come up with concrete mobile strategies.
• Mobile specialists such as NIA.
Mobile MarketingAssociation (regional office in India).
Internet & Mobile Association of India.
TRAI (Indian regulator).



Here are some additional facts and figures on Indian mobile consumers, contributed by Rajiv Hiranandani, co-chair, MMA India and co-founder, Mobile2Win.
His sources are: MediaMania; TRAI; Emergic; Trek.in.

  • In urban areas mobile penetration is almost at saturation point with 270 million mobile subscribers, so growth (3-4 per cent per month) is predominantly from rural areas.
  • There were 101 million handsets sold in the year to June 2009 (an increase of 6.7 percent on the previous year). Nokia dominates handset sales (56.8 percent), followed by Samsung (7.7 percent) and LG (5.4 percent), according to IDC India.
  • When choosing a mobile-phone package the two most critical factors are: a) unlimited Internet access and b) more SMS-based value-added services.
  • The most popular mobile search provider is Google followed by Yahoo. Of the 18.5 million urban mobile users who use search, 5.76 million use Google and 4.58 million use Yahoo.
  • The favourite social network is Orkut (visited by 11.4 percent of mobile users), followed by Facebook (6.7 percent) and hi5 (6 percent). Mobile social networking is most popular in Delhi, followed by Mumbai and Chennai.
  • SMS contests are very popular. 59.5 percent of female and 49.1 percent of male mobile subscribers have taken part in one to three SMS contests; 25.1 percent of men and 19.7 percent of women have taken part in four to five, and 25.7 percent women and 20.8 percent of men have take part in over five. These SMS campaigns are mostly TV related – all reality TV shows and song/dance contests choose their winners via SMS. 86.3 percent said they’d entered a TV-based SMS campaign; followed by newspaper-related campaigns (50.3 percent) and Internet-related (48.9 percent).
  • The most popular SMS-based services are jokes (accessed by 52 percent of mobile users), astrology (48 percent), news updates (44 percent), jobs (43 percent) and sports updates (42 percent).
  • Yahoo Messenger is the most used IM application. Of mobile IM users, 18.3 percent use Yahoo and 17.8 percent use Google Talk.

  • Comment below or email editor (at) mobiThinking.com.



    See The insider’s guide to mobile Web marketing in:

  • Japan
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  • Germany
  • USA
  • UK
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  • Mobile guides homepage


  • Further reading:

  • Global mobile stats: all latest quality research on mobile Web and marketing in one place
  • Why Asia will (continue to) dominate the mobile Web – it's not just about Japan
  • Why mobile is imperative for brands in Asia: interview with Marco Gavin, Procter & Gamble
  • Mobile: it's about the consumer, stupid: interview with Barney Loehnis, OgilvyOne, Asia
  • Mobile marketing to teens: an Asian perspective from Ian Stewart, Friendster
  • mobiThinking guide to mobile ad networks (2010)
  • Conferences & awards for mobile marketers, with offers
  • mobiThinking’s page of essential links
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