The obsessive focus on apps in the last year and a half is starting to experience some natural and overdue blowback. More and more of my contacts in the industry are questioning whether applications represent the future of mobile content and marketing, even though this platform generates tremendous activity. There have been a ton of numbers floating around regarding mobile app usage, user drop-off, and the cost of marketing. I have no idea yet which of these companies has a broad and deep enough sample base to make their numbers meaningful. The latest round of analytics comes from Flurry, which announced yesterday that app loyalty is often dependent on the genre and shows a wide range of return users.
At OMMA Mobile in L.A. on Oct. 29 we will be taking up the debate over app development and whether the mobile Web is a better focus for some marketers' time and money.
One of the areas that gets short shrift during this era of app-mania is the global mobile market where literally billions of users wait to be addressed on phones that never saw a downloadable program. One media buyer once joked to me that every mobile ad network in the U.S. seems to have the same metrics. "They will all tell you about the one billion ads they serve every month," he told me. "It is the same statistic."
How about another statistic. "We serve over 5 billion ads per month," claims Naveen Tewari, CEO of international network inMobi. Tewari says he operates in 24 countries with large footprints in Asia and Africa as well as emerging presence in Europe. Almost all of inMobi's inventory is from the mobile Web in emerging markets. The company is helping bring U.S. firms like Hi5 and MocoSpace into these markets where mobile phone usage is radically different from the U.S. and brands especially have a unique opportunity to penetrate new audiences.
The emerging markets have two types of users, says Towari. The "mobile-first" or "mobile-only" users probably have not been exposed to the Web on any other platform than mobile. For brands, this can be their first opportunity to address a new range of customers digitally. These users are drilling deeply into a broad range of mobile content because the handset represents their primary digital tool. The other contingent are the more advanced users who, like their U.S. counterparts, are using the handset for content snacking on headlines, stock prices and sports scores when away from their desks.
For both audiences, and even at a scale of billions of impressions, Tewari says the click-through rates on their ads is five to ten times the rate of Web ads. "In some emerging markets the brands have taken up the mobile Web at a far stronger rate than we would have expected," he says. "The ad dollars are still skewed to direct response, but in some markets like India in the last three months we have seen 30% of dollars coming from brand advertising." In Africa between 20% and 25% of the spend is from branding.
The key challenge for content moving into the international market is cultivating local languages and local ad dollars. inMobi targets down to the country level in most areas, which is sufficient given the geography of many of the areas it serves. Tewari says that in many of the Asian markets like Malaysia and Thailand, there is one major city and then a lot of countryside. But there is a tremendous opportunity here both for the publishers and the marketer to establish an early chunk of mind share. Brands like Hi5 and Friendster that fall beneath the radar among many on these shores have enormous followings overseas. For U.S. companies, "this is not a PC Web sphere where international traffic will be 5% to 10%," says Tewari. "If you can get into an international market early you can be a dominant player and accrue audience."