Commentary

Engage Your Next Billion Consumers

Whether you’re a global consumer packaged goods company, a pharmaceutical giant or an automobile manufacturer, you know that your best prospects for future revenue and earnings growth will come not from North America or Europe. Rather, it will be generated from India, Brazil, China, Russia, Indonesia, Colombia, Vietnam, South Africa, Mexico and Egypt.

In this time of such extraordinary economic flux, both brands and marketers need to find a new form of engagement with their next billion consumers.
 

The rapidly expanding purchasing power in these emerging markets, coupled with the near ubiquity of mobile phones, presents a new and powerful opportunity for global organizations to engage  directly with these consumers.

When I lived in Kenya in 2006, I could visit my local vegetable market and purchase produce by transferring 20 Kenyan shillings of air time from my phone to the vendor’s phone. On the consumer end, mobile airtime is a hot commodity in emerging markets, where consumers spend upwards of 10% of their annual income on airtime, measured not in ‘minutes’ or ‘text messages’ but in local currency.  

How do shifting economies and prepaid mobile airtime change the scenario for the next generation of marketers?

The world will look incredibly different over the next 40 years.  Expert global economists forecast world GDP rising from $72 trillion in 2010 to $380 trillion in 2050. However, this explosive economic growth is not being driven by the U.S. or Europe. In fact, by 2050, not one European country is projected to be in the top 10 largest economies. The countries that will become the world's dominant players may be surprising to some.

India is expected to have overtaken China to claim the No. 1 position, while Indonesia, Nigeria, Egypt and Mexico will all make it on the list of the10  largest world economies. Indeed, Nigeria is projected to be the fastest-growing economy in the world over the next 40 years.  Further, the developing economies within Asia Pacific will double their contribution to the world's GDP to almost 50%. In short, the world of global marketers will be flipped upside down.

What are the hurdles that global marketers face now as they begin to engage their next billion customers?  

Inability To Target

In high-growth markets, where only a small percentage of consumers have e-mail addresses and credit scores, targeting is impossible because there is simply no consumer data available. This limits advertising to traditional mass media channels: billboards, TV and radio.

Consumer Insights

Essential to smart marketing, market research in high-growth markets typically consists of flying a team of researchers into the country and then driving into the field to conduct face-to-face surveys interviewing women about what laundry detergent they use, or the price of rice. A very costly and inefficient solution.  

Lack Of Mechanisms Or System

Many products in high-growth markets tend to be sold in extremely fragmented, small, owner-operated storefronts. This makes offering a nation-wide discount extremely challenging. Additionally, there generally is no technology at the point of sale that can enable couponing.

Mobile technology can now surmount those hurdles.  

While  U.S. based marketers are scrambling to reap the benefits here, the potential in growth markets where there are 4 billion phones is beckoning  In Russia, Brazil and Vietnam, mobile penetration is approximately 100%; in Colombia, Egypt and Indonesia, it’s over 90%. This level of penetration creates a huge opportunity to use the mobile channel to connect emerging market consumers to Western brands, which are highly regarded and eagerly sought in many markets.

Solutions.
How can we implement programs to give marketers quick and accurate information, while also opening opportunities to drive sales?


Research.
Because air time has quickly become a currency in most emerging markets, marketers can gain insights quickly by rewarding people with free air time in exchange for answering surveys. From young men in India to moms in Vietnam, the opt-in approach yields high response rates. Providing free air time in exchange for insights and opinions increases the purchasing power of people. Air-time rewards free up money spent on air time and/or provides consumers additional currency to make purchases.
 
Purchase incentives
Marketers can offer mobile coupons, deals for products or services, group buying promotions, or customer loyalty programs directly to mobile phones.  Best of all, since air time is a currency, discounts can be applied straight to the phone. Instead of trying to figure out a way for a customer in rural Indonesia to receive the 1000 rupiah discount for a can of soda,  the 1000 rupiah credit can be sent directly to the buyer’s phone on behalf of the brand.  

The world is shrinking as technology access opens and emerging markets continue to grow.  Mobile technology is now not just the best way to reach your next billion customers -- it’s the only way.  Four billion people await.

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