Emerging markets call for mobile services from brands and operators

Marco Veremis, CEO of Upstream, reveals the advantages of looking to new markets for app developers and mobile services providers.

Mobile has been the hot topic for quite some years now especially with the smartphone revolution and constant developments from apps to mPayments.

But have we in the West reached that mobile milestone where the advancements and the monetisation opportunities have started to slow because consumers are nearly at saturation point? Last year, we conducted research that showed two-thirds of consumers in the UK and US were exasperated by the amount of digital marketing they received and marketing over mobile has exponentially increased in these markets.

While this is quite a controversial statement, for now the Apples and Googles of the world would agree that a challenge has been set and each will be thinking about how to make their ‘next billion’ in order to keep shareholders happy. However, the answer may be as simple as looking further afield to the new lands of opportunity, the emerging markets.

It was released recently that Wikipedia is aiming for a billion mobile users  with the help of consumers in developing regions, where both operators and brands are realising the opportunities for reaching new consumers with smart partnerships and products.

Wikipedia has partnered with mobile operators to provide free mobile access to its site and has already achieved an impressive 3 billion monthly mobile page views during its quest for the holy grail - reaching a billion mobile users.

The reason why partnering with mobile operators in emerging markets is attractive, and why third parties and brands will want to in the future, is because of the direct relationship they have with consumers and the unique billing relationship with customers.

It was forecast for 2012 that 1.7 billion in emerging markets would have a mobile phone but no access to banking services. Since many consumers don’t have credit cards, paying for a product via their mobile services provider via pre-paid credit – which doesn’t necessitate credit card or bank details, is a much more trusted and efficient way of making purchases.

The Trojan horse model that has been adopted in the West where a phone is pre-loaded with apps/services which the customer then pays for by credit card simply isn’t an option. So both brands and operators now have an untapped opportunity to provide new services that allow consumers to pay via their mobile bill in new markets.

It makes sense to look to the markets where the feature phone has already proven incredibly successful and smartphones are rapidly on the rise. Consumers are increasingly dependent on their mobile devices for access to email, the internet and social networks and with the right billing mechanic, there are ample opportunities for brands and mobile operators to create the services that are not yet accessible to consumers in these markets.

There is certainly an appetite for applications in these regions that are more wide-ranging in content from popular apps in the west such as gaming and music applications to healthcare and educational apps more relevant to individual audiences.

We’ve already seen handset providers including HTC, Apple and Intel leading the way by developing handsets for emerging markets, so mobile marketing initiatives and over-the-top (OTT) services, such as instant messaging services like WhatsApp, are sure to follow suit.

Major brands may be the ones to provide and create these OTT services, such as what Facebook has recently announced it is planning to do, however, there is an even greater opportunity for mobile operators themselves to create their own versions of Spotify/iTunes/app stores – as they already have a certain amount of reach and established relationships with consumers in these markets.

By doing so, operators would stand to generate massive revenues, by providing these much sought-after apps and services that are simply not accessible to the customer base in these markets due to the current billing set-up.

Whatever marketers, operators or brands choose to do, you can bet a big chunk of those who don’t have a smartphone or feature phone will have one this time next year, so the time to act is now.

One example of someone aggressively tapping into this new customer base is China’s search giant Baidu, who has already partnered with Orange to develop a mobile browser for users in Africa and the Middle East. The service will be pre-loaded on phones sold through Orange in Africa this year and gives the rapidly growing number of internet users easy bookmarks to popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia.

The feature phone and smartphone customer base is rapidly expanding and the geographical shift in the revolution has brought with it a host of new benefits for today’s consumers in emerging markets who will be able to use their mobile device in place of PCs, laptops and TVs.

Now marketers need to take advantage of the growing mobile market by providing the services customers want with a realistic billing system and perfecting their marketing strategy over the personal but multifunctional mobile device.

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