Marketing through cell phones

About a decade ago, not many would have imagined that a little palm-sized gadget would become the symbol of ubiquity across India. Yet today, every fourth person or about 25% of India flaunts a mobile phone. Indeed, it would not be wrong to say that the cell phone mania has spread like a virus. In most cases it is not a mania but essential requirement for instant and required communication.

Today, as the mobile technology readies for another leap, the gadget’s utilitarian virtues and its involvement in consumers’ lives will get a boost in several ways. One such area is that of m-commerce, use of the phone as a payment device for travel ticketing, utility services, merchant payments, P2P transactions and even banking.

The fact is that though the mobile is referred to as the 3rd screen after TV and computers, at 4 billion units, it has, in fact, become the biggest screen in terms of volumes worldwide, ahead of TV (1.6 billion units) and PCs (800 million units).

Mobiles will see usage developing for microfinance payments, m-banking and mobile money transfer, and pointed out that the mobile is used for transactions as varied as buying groceries and sending remittances in the Philippines. Recently, Idea and UAE based Etisalat have tied up for what it claims to be the first live trial of mobile money transfer in India. While brands like Tata Sumo and Yamaha have started using mobile advertising on Yahoo.

The security or the perceived lack of it, rather surrounding mobile transactions is the biggest hurdle in m-banking. Also, since it’s a small screen, filling out information might be a problem for users. So the handset will have to facilitate simplicity of interface. Another concern pertains to compatibility of handsets adoption will be dependent to a great extent on the capability of different types of handsets to access services.

For mobile marketing to pick up, the digital medium itself has to improve in leaps and bounds. The cell phone companies have to first start spending on running a better website. Once a consumer clicks and comes on to a site, what then? If the consumer is not happy with what he sees it will be a complete turn-off. The numbers may be small, but gaming is a highly engaging medium and gives more bang for the buck to advertisers as long as the game is relevant to the brand. For example, if HUL is part of a game of car racing, it will not work. There are 12-15 million WAP users in India, and WAP may contribute about Rs 25 crore in terms of ad revenues, but the challenge is to convince advertisers and improve RoI, which currently ranges between 3%-8 %.

Advertisers subsidising costs for the benefit of consumers is another option. If one was a student and didn’t have money for making calls, one could send a free advertiser funded SMS to ones parents asking them to call back.

Needless to say, the mobile ad network play will get more prevalent as the concept of mobile TV catches on. Mobile TV will increasingly become primetime during ‘breaks’ and ‘free time’ of the working population which, in turn, will bring in an influx of advertising.

There is a need to create content specifically for the mobile. Star’s mobile entertainment division creates about 30 minutes of fresh content per week for mobile. Whether a customer is willing to pay for the content depends on its premium. If there is a general cricket schedule that customers can look up elsewhere, customers might not want to pay for the information. But if there’s a cricket game happening right now, they might be willing to pay for the updates. Live streaming of events may also become popular.

However, like every other medium, the trick in advertising lies in content and creativity. As the mobile medium gains currency, brands will increasingly resort to creative and sometimes bizarre ways to engage mobile users.

As mobile handsets often double as alarm clocks for many mobile users, Axe allows users to choose a ‘hot model’ from the Axe database. This model appears on the user’s screen as the alarm goes off. The alarm ends with the message ‘Don’t forget to use Axe today’.

Slightly modified, that message could read: don’t forget to use some creativity in mobiles today. As a wake up call, that would work some minor wonders as well.