What makes Asia Pacific the most exciting mobile market in the world? Interview with Rohit Dadwal, MD Asia Pacific, MMA
With an eye-watering 2.9 billion mobile subscriptions, Asia Pacific accounts for half of the world’s mobile population. This diverse region boasts the world’s largest mobile market, China, the fastest growing, India, the most advanced, Japan and South Korea as well as some of the most undeveloped. But one thing is for sure across Asia Pacific, nothing rivals mobile as the medium for marketers to reach their audience.
In the first of three Q&As with the Mobile Marketing Association regional bosses, mobiThinking catches up with the MMA’s MMA’s Asia Pacific managing director Rohit Dadwal to get the low down on the region.
• Also get the North American perspective from Michael Becker, MD, North America, MMA.
• Also get the European perspective Paul Berney, MD Europe, MMA.
• The MMA Forum Asia comes to Singapore on April, 23–25, 2012. Find out how to claim your mobiThinking discount in the Events section.
Q1. What makes Asia the most exciting mobile market in the world?
The first thing that makes this the most exciting market is the staggering and continuous growth of mobile penetration in the region. At the end of 2010, according to The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates, there were 2,897 million mobile subscriptions in Asia Pacific, compared with 969 million in the Americas and 741 million in Europe. Much of the growth is coming from the world’s most populous nations India and China. The second thing is the willingness of consumers to experiment with new technologies and the various types of content these technologies can deliver. Many of the innovations now being tried out by marketers in the West, such as Quick Response (QR) codes, were born in Asia.
Over the next few years, Asia Pacific is expected to overtake North America and Europe in mobile advertising revenue. Informa, for example, believes that in 2015 Asia Pacific will be the largest market, accounting for 30.9 percent of the global mobile ad market (mostly due to strong growth in China and India).
The mobile ad network InMobi is reporting strong growth in Asia Pacific – where monthly ad impressions grew by 4.3 billion between October 2010 and January 2011, that’s more impressions than the InMobi network receives in the entire European region.
Nowhere is mobile established as more of a mass-market medium than in the Asia Pacific, highlighting the region’s importance to the global mobile ecosystem.
Q2. What makes mobile such an excellent channel for brands to engage Asian consumers?
It’s the reach – 2.9 billion mobile subscriptions – and the readiness of the audience to engage that makes mobile such a great channel. In some countries, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai (and much of the Middle East), there are already more mobile phones than people. Across the region mobile penetration is 74 percent. Mobile phones in the region outnumber landlines 5:1 and outnumber fixed broadband 12:1, according to ITU figures.
We’re also seeing a trend towards greater adoption of smartphones. This has led to an increase in the demand for cheaper data plans. As competition among operators drives the prices down even further, mobile Internet adoption will continue to increase, making it an ideal medium for reaching the always-on-the-go consumers of today.
Recent research has also shown that Asian audiences are open to receiving relevant, useful content on their mobiles and are willing to engage in mobile experiences that add value to their lives. Combining mobile with traditional media gives marketers the opportunity to extend the reach of their campaigns far beyond what was initially imagined.
Q3. Would it be a mistake for a global brand to assume that what works with a US or European mobile audience would also work in Asia? Why?
See next answer.
Q4. What are the main differences between the Asian mobile market and a) North America; b) Europe?
The online Web is less advanced in Asia than in North America or Europe. Broadband connections per 100 people in Asia are only 6 percent, compared to 26 percent in Europe and 15.5 percent in the Americas (ITU). This means that mobile is THE mode of communication across key Asian markets. Millions more Indian consumers can be reached through mobile than through TV, for example. Even in the most developed Asian countries, such as Japan, there’s a whole class of people living in mobile who don’t ever touch a PC. Meanwhile in the developing countries, there’s a whole class of people who don’t have access to bank accounts, and the needs of this unbanked sector are being met through mobile – it is a great example why mobile innovation and advances in Asia really matter – it’s just not the same in North America or Europe because the same needs do not exist.
In the US and Europe, where the online Web is much more established than in Asia, mobile marketing has struggled to gain its fair share of the marketing budget. In 2009, US marketers spent US $25 billion on digital advertising – of that only $400 million was mobile advertising, according to Forrester Research – just a fraction of marketers’ overall budget. That’s starting to change now, but most US marketers are trying out mobile for the first time, often just targeting a particular audience, such as iPhone users.
Whereas in Asia, where mobile has been the number-one digital channel for years, marketers adopted the mobile medium much earlier. Marketers have been through the period of trial and error – in the early days mobile strategies lacked direction and were hampered by the limitations of mobile technology and consumer awareness and companies’ mobile activity tended to be sporadic and disjointed splashes of mobile activity. Today mobile technology has evolved and consumers and marketers have both become more comfortable with it as a medium, leading to the industry adopting a more focused approach that helps to facilitate innovation while safeguarding consumer rights. Marketers of the East have, therefore, been there, done that and are now seasoned professionals spearheading mobile innovation.
In the United States, mobile channels such as SMS and MMS are not being totally explored for marketing needs, but in Asia, marketers have long since recognized the importance of these mass-market communications that reach all customers, whatever their handset or however mobile savvy the consumer might be. SMS has become the lowest common denominator – the starting point – for mobile communications and many marketers are successfully running creative text-based campaigns. Equally more sophisticated techniques such as QR codes have only recently started to take off in the US – in Japan marketers have been using them for years and Japanese handsets come with pre-installed code scanning capabilities.
Another key lesson from Asia is that marketers now recognize and sell mobile as an important and indispensible extension of traditional brand marketing techniques. While mobile is a separate medium and can be used effectively as a standalone channel, it is especially beneficial when used in conjunction with other branding and marketing strategies. Most marketing efforts in Asia now include a mobile plug – print and electronic ads direct consumers to text for more information or to visit a mobile Website. This gives marketers the opportunity to reach out to a larger target audience than was possible with print or Web alone.
Q5. Is it a mistake to assume that what works in one Asian country might work in another? Why?
Yes, because the Asian market is very diverse. The more advanced economies, such as Singapore or Japan have the necessary infrastructure and savvy consumers to allow brands to roll out much more sophisticated campaigns than other countries. In markets like India, Indonesia and the Philippines, we will continue to see a lot of text-based campaigns for the foreseeable future, while we wait for improvements in the telecoms infrastructure (which are underway) and consumer knowledge. Asia also is home to a huge number of developing nations – from Bangladesh to Mongolia – where mobile is yet to gain a significant foothold.
Q6. Which Asian countries are at the cutting edge or mobile? How come?
Japan and South Korea are the most sophisticated mobile markets in the world (not just in the Asian region). Japan has always been way ahead of the mobile curve. 3G networks and handsets, use of the mobile Internet, unlimited data plans, mobile email, QR codes and many other mobile services were pervasive in Japan, while they were still in the unavailable or in the early adopter stage in the rest of the world.
South Korea also introduced many firsts for mobile technology powered/inspired by a cutting-edge high-speed wireless broadband network, including the success of mobile music. It had somewhat fallen behind on the smartphone trend, but that has all changed over the last couple of years with successful smartphone launches both from local manufacturers and from overseas including Apple’s iPhone.
While Japan and South Korea are still years ahead as far as usage of mobile services is concerned, the market conditions have now become conducive in several other Asian countries. Everyone is watching China and India particularly, where at the current growth rates mobile usage in the leading Chinese and Indian cities (though progress in rural areas is a totally different story) could overtake Tokyo or Seoul.
Q7. Which Asian countries show the greatest potential? Why?
India and China are the markets to watch – in 2010 there were 339 million new mobile subscriptions in 2010 in these two countries, that’s more than the total mobile subscribers in the US, the world’s third biggest nation, with 279 million, according to ITU statistics.
China is the world’s largest mobile market with 859 million mobile subscriptions at the end of 2010, that’s 112 million more than 2009 (National Bureau of Statistics China). The availability of 3G (which enables mobile broadband) is expanding rapidly in China – there are currently 47 million 3G mobile phone users – which offers tremendous potential for growth of mobile Web and mobile advertising. The number of mobile subscribers in China surpassed the number of fixed-line subscribers back in 2003.
India is the second largest and the fastest growing mobile market in the World with 752 million mobile subscriptions at the end of 2010, that’s 227 million more than in 2009 (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). Mobile operators in India are now rolling out 3G, which will provide mobile Web and other data services to this vast mobile nation. Already InMobi has witnessed a huge increase in the number of Indian mobile users who see mobile ads on its network – it saw 1.5 billion (27 percent) more ad impressions in India in January 2011 than in October 2010.
Q8. What companies have had the most success with mobile marketing in Asia? What are they doing?
So far, we have seen a lot of innovative mobile marketing campaigns from fast-moving consumer goods brands. A number of magazines, TV channels, banks, restaurants, automobile companies, satellite television providers, mobile device manufacturers and service operators have also created a significant mobile presence. A number of consumer brands have come out with innovative mobile outreach programs. However, the medium can be used by businesses across the board irrespective of size or vertical. From software and services providers to soft drink manufacturers, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has been educating global businesses on mobile marketing guidelines and best practices that will help them set a roadmap for their mobile strategies.
As the technology evolves and becomes more interactive and accessible, it’s no longer about treating mobile as just another screen to put your messages on. It’s about creating an integrated communications platform with each campaign wherein each element of your marketing mix can interact with the others. The most successful marketing campaigns are the ones that combine mobile technology with other traditional and digital media.
For examples of cutting-edge Asian mobile marketing campaigns, please see the winners/runners up of MMA awards winners for 2011 and 2012. These include campaigns from Vodafone (India), Busday (India), Idea Cellular (India), MTR (Hong Kong), Maruti Suzuki (India), Tui (Australia), Aircel (India) and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, as well as Asian campaigns from international brands such as Nokia, Coca-Cola, Clinique, North Face, Cadbury, Pepsi and Sprite.
Q9. What are the most popular mobile sites? Are many local, pan-Asian or multinational?
The most popular categories are search, email, social networking, banking, shopping, news and blog sites. A number of mobile sites offering content of local relevance see tremendous success within local markets. There are many sites that offer special deals or discounted packages for a range of products that are very popular with local consumers.
There are no obvious pan-Asian mobile sites – so the international players here are the same as in America or Europe, i.e. Google/Gmail, Facebook etc. But in each country there are very successful local players, such as QQ (mobile portal, games and mobile IM) and Sina (mobile portal) both in China, and Network 18 (Indian broadcaster and mobile content provider). In Japan the three leading mobile social networks Mixi Mobile, Mobagetown and Mobile Gree have over 15 million users each, according to data from Infinita.
Q10. What are the most successful mobile commerce sites – what makes them so successful?
Clothing retailers, movie ticketing services, food delivery services etc have found success with mobile sites. Again, local sites that offer special deals and discounts are also tremendously popular, along with classifieds and other local listings. What makes them successful is convenience and relevance. With consumers being mobile, it makes sense for these businesses to have their services accessible via mobile.
Again there are no pan-Asian m-commerce providers – so the international players here are the same as in America or Europe, i.e. eBay, Amazon etc. But with many Asian countries being vast mobile markets in their own right, the local players are forces to be reckoned with. Taobao Mobile (part of Chinese Web giant Alibaba Group) has 60 million users and processes gross merchandise volume of RMB 180 million (approximately US $28 million), according to company officials. In Japan, Rakuten is the main m-commerce player, according to Infinita.
Q11. Which are the most prominent creative or mobile agencies or ad networks?
The agencies behind Asian campaigns that won awards at the MMA’s Global Mobile Marketing Awards in 2011 and 2010 were Affle (India), Cherrypicks (Hong Kong), The Hyperfactory (New Zealand), Iconmobile (China), Madhouse (China), Maxus (India), Mindshare (India), TELiBrahma (India) and UM/McCann Worldgroup (Hong Kong). There are video case studies for many of these campaigns here.
Q12. What are the major hurdles to exploiting the mobile channel in Asia?
1) The varied/diverse set of audiences across Asian countries.
2) Lack of infrastructure in certain developing markets – mobile browser constraints, data charges, patchy coverage or delayed 3G rollouts etc.
3) Knowledge gaps among consumers in some regions when it comes to more sophisticated mobile technologies as well as the concept of mobile marketing.
4) Lack of regulations and guidelines that marketers should adhere to, which could lead to the risk of mobile-phone spam and the danger that consumers lose trust in mobile marketing.
The biggest challenge remains education and awareness. Marketers need to be educated on producing relevant campaigns that offer value to consumers while respecting their privacy.
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Over half of the world’s mobile subscribers are in Asia Pacific. China is the world’s largest mobile market, India is the world’s fastest growing and Japan and South Korea are the most sophisticated.
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