The mobile marketing opportunity in the developing world

A recent Time Mobility poll revealed that 84 percent of people worldwide claimed they could not go one day without their phone in hand. While this finding suggests a general agreement on the importance of mobile in daily life, the underlying implications are vastly different. In the Western world, we enjoy the convenience of accessing information on the go and a direct line to our network of contacts via voice, message, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on. In developing nations, mobile connectivity compensates for persistent development and technology gaps. This results in widespread reliance on mobile for essential information related to societal development, sustainability, and commercial content such as entertainment and marketing. Mobile device penetration has far exceeded internet access in less developed nations -- 79 percent of people have access to a mobile device, but only 28 percent are able to go online.

This disparity presents a clear path for businesses and brands to educate, inform, and promote products and services to billions of consumers. The role of mobile technology in less developed regions of the world is evolving -- fast -- as well as creating many prospects for advancement.

Unlike consumers in the Western world, who are inundated with marketing messages from all channels and are wary of privacy invasion, consumers in the developing world are eager to receive offers and information from advertisers. A 2013 survey found that 51 percent of people in emerging market countries prefer to receive offers via SMS message. For location specific offers, the number jumps to 65 percent. At present, data plans and smartphones are virtually nonexistent. The 160 character SMS message format is used almost exclusively to access information and communicate, but there is a huge opportunity to enrich the content that is being sent to mobile devices via SMS. Marketers can better brand products and services in rich formats, gaining mindshare in regions where availability of a product typically trumps preference. Service providers capable of sending rich media to mobile devices can convey infinitely more information via image or video formats than simple SMS. For example, rich media messaging (RMM) is a platform capable of sending image, video, long text, barcodes, etc., to virtually any carrier -- or device -- with no data plan required. The implications for this type of service are enormous both for brand marketers as well as entities like NGOs and nonprofits, which are leveraging mobile to improve conditions and increase development in these regions.

JustDial is a hugely successful India-based company that exploits the need for information on the go in the absence of mobile data access. Users can dial a number at any time of day or night, speak to a live operator, and receive texts with information on the best local businesses or services to suit their needs. The company has capitalized on big trends like mobile and paid search, but its IPO success and billion-dollar valuation is a testament to an intimate knowledge of mobile usage in the developing world. The JustDial concept is rife with opportunities for advancement that could provide additional benefits to both brands and end users. Retailers and service providers can send branded, rich media messages in reply to queries -- with content like long text, image, and video -- to better promote their offering and educate consumers. Again, services exist that do not require recipients to have data plans in order to receive rich content that ultimately increases recognition, differentiation, and consumer loyalty for brands.

Introduced in 2011 by UNICEF, RapidSMS is a tool that has helped to vastly improve data collection and group communication through the power of messaging. The platform makes use of SMS to transmit data on an individual level and store data from responses on shared websites. Current adoption rates illustrate the effectiveness of messaging as a means of communication and information sharing. In Nigeria, RapidSMS was used to record 7 million births the year it was introduced -- double the rate of the prior year. Health workers use the platform's built-in feedback loop to text in symptoms and vital signs to receive prompt diagnoses. RapidSMS also aids in family tracing and reunification by uploading data to case workers that's taken from vulnerable children and other family members.

The singular platform is remarkable in its ability to merge two completely different real-time data sets -- such as child malnutrition surveillance and availability of food supplies -- by allowing dynamic monitoring and analysis of complex environments. Future developments incorporating rich media messages in the diagnosis of disease or reunification of refugees would revolutionize these efforts. Pictures or short videos of refugees could tell the real story of a human life. Long text describing symptoms or graphic images of ailments would reduce ambiguity and provide more robust data sets. The data and device limitations that exist among RapidSMS recipients can easily be avoided by leveraging services like RMM. Enabling aid workers to send and receive rich content would increase the effectiveness of these programs by way of more complete information.

Mobile messaging has made major inroads in the areas of healthcare, disaster management, banking, agriculture, and activism in the developing world and enabled progress where modern infrastructure lags. The immediacy of messaging technology is helping inform decisions and improve outcomes, but there is much more potential for mobile in these markets. The current method requires information that is often complex and variable to be distilled down to just 160 characters of text. And with the current appetite for content and the reliance on mobile devices for delivery, the opportunity for marketers to use rich media formats is immense.

In order to leverage mobile as a means for brand communication, it is essential to employ solutions that supersede current device and data limitations by sending more information via rich media, but with the same speed and efficiency as SMS.

Cezar Kolodziej is president, CEO, and co-founder of Iris Mobile.

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