Feature phones fuel the race to emerging markets

Direct access to billions of individuals in emerging markets is no longer an item on a wish list for companies. It’s a reality so unassuming, its impact is surreal. Take for instance Unilever in Vietnam. Although Unilever’s brand awareness in the region was not lacking, the company recognised the untapped potential of social media in the Vietnamese market.

Unilever aimed to reach out to 15-30 year olds in a campaign centered on social media. In less than 24 hours, Unilever’s “Social Media Focus Group” of 20,000 Vietnamese was formed through an online viral campaign. Besides the enormous amount of valuable data acquired that will be used in future marketing strategies, there was a notable benefit for consumers.

Each respondent was rewarded with mobile airtime for their feature phone which saved them money that could be used for other expenses.

The potential of these markets is now being harnessed through feature phones.

Opening the door for direct access to consumers in emerging markets is vital for the advancement of global businesses and this international economy in which we operate. The once-prohibitive cost of smartphones in poorer areas is falling fast. Simultaneously, feature phones with mobile web capability are becoming increasingly available to individuals from every background, with inclusion of small villages where access to mobile devices is greater than any other technology.

With possibilities such as these, an opportunity is provided for companies to interact with consumers in resourceful and imaginative ways.

Organisations are rapidly racing into the future of communication with consumers while those undervaluing Asia Pacific’s emerging markets begin to slip behind. There are no set guidelines here. Older technology does not equate with underperformance, nor does customary consumer interaction run parallel to protection against risks.

Reluctance to transition from traditional advertising, such as television commercials and outdoor banners, to digital advertising via feature phones could potentially be detrimental to a business’ sustainability. At the moment, $117.2 billion make up the amount spent on traditional advertising in Asia Pacific, while digital advertising stands at $12.2 billion. This disparity coincides with the lack of market penetration.

While many businesses are at a loss for ideas on what needs to be done in order to reach consumers in Asia Pacific’s emerging markets, other companies are sprinting ahead, as well as reaping the benefits that come with leading this creative new wave of customer interaction.

There are a staggering percentage of mobile subscriptions seen in emerging markets of Asia Pacific. In Vietnam alone, mobile subscriptions are at 175.3 percent, Indonesia stands at 91.72 percent and India at 70.89 percent. With these numbers, it is clear to see that if a company is seeking a channel for communication, which includes engagement and even feedback, mobile should be the first place they look.

Recent successful outreach through feature phones to consumers in emerging markets by companies in Asia Pacific has generated motivation for other businesses to follow suit. In Indonesia, a country valued for its economic potential, Danone, a global producer of yogurt, embarked on a campaign through feature phones to promote their Milkhuat and Activia products.

Influencing consumers who were loyal to local brands was the primary goal, which provided a challenge that fueled the development of a vigorous campaign. The end result was a 27 percent boost in sales in addition to 99 percent of respondents expressing interest in re-engaging with the brand in future campaigns. This shift away from a one-way channel of communication allows for companies to better gauge the impact of their activities while readjusting strategies.

As an increasing number of businesses enjoy the similar successes garnered by companies such as Danone and Unilever, emerging markets in Asia Pacific will continue along the path to resilient economic progress. Often, the first leap of faith taken by companies seeking to expand their reach is the most difficult. In this case, though, utilising feature phones to accomplish this goal and overcome the initial barrier of consumer accessibility has never been easier.

The key to unlocking the value of emerging markets is in the hand of almost every individual in Asia Pacific’s emerging markets. Now is the time for companies to capitalise on the opportunity feature phones provide while concurrently impacting the future of B2C interaction.

Anurag Banerjee, is the APAC managing director at Jana.

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