Back to the Future: The Untapped Potential of 2.5G

It is interesting to look at some of the hottest trending topics in tech and marketing. Put Apple, Android, and social in a tweet and watch the re-tweets soar. However, while it would appear that the iPhone has taken over the world, beloved by everyone from bankers to housewives, the reality is even in one of the most digitally connected markets on earth, Korea, smartphone usage is still less than 20 percent.

Now whilst you only have to listen to Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt bang on about their relative successes in the smartphone market to know that a) it won’t be at less than 20 percent for long and b) the rate of growth in the smartphone category is exponential, it was also interesting to hear Jobs mention that unlike Nokia, Apple doesn’t have the capacity currently to produce a $50 phone.

Why is this important? Well because despite the heat in the top end of the market, there is still a huge demand for lower tech mobile devices, particularly in Asia. While Nokia does have its share of challenges, their preeminence in market share is down to the simple fact that a substantial portion of the world is still not carrying a smartphone.

What is the opportunity for marketers? Once you get over the excitement of developing branded iOS or Android apps, is the simple reality that Asia Pacific is home to potentially a billion plus consumers accessing the Web via a GPRS network on a 2.5G device.

The critical question is can marketers overcome the supposed barriers to building compelling engagement between brands and consumers in this environment? A bit of myth busting is required.

Myth One: You Can’t Be Creative if it Isn’t 3G

Claro Telecom in Guatemala is a fantastic example of an idea that works brilliantly despite the supposed limitations of the medium. With over 70 percent of the Guatemalan population relatively recently urbanised, there is a strong sense of nostalgia for the rural villages that many people grew up in before moving to the city. Tapping into this, Claro created ringtones, or more specifically Ringtowns, reinforcing the message about the breadth of Claro’s network coverage every time a customer received a phone call or text message.

Along similar lines, SMS was used as the primary method of engagement with a campaign for vodka brand 42 Below. In a world-first, an actor was beamed onto the billboard in real time, asking passers-by to use their mobiles to text him actions to perform. Whilst the reach was nowhere near as great as the Claro campaign, the resultant publicity served to reinforce the eclectic nature of the brand.

Myth Two: All Commercial SMS Is Spam

People do not regard SMS messages as spam; people regard irrelevant, uninspiring, and easy to ignore SMS messages as spam. If marketers can develop Twitter-based campaigns in 140 characters, they can develop a campaign with the considerably larger scope of a text message.

A key thing to remember with text communications is to be interesting. If you simply send them information, particularly if they haven’t asked for it – they will simply ignore it (credit card issuers and telcos are especially guilty of this). But if you offer a compelling reason for people to pay attention, you are suddenly connecting with people via their most personal device, their mobile phone.

Pepsi Co attempted this with their Lay’s crowd sourcing contest “Give Us Your Dillicious Flavour” that ran in India earlier this year. Lay’s invited fans to submit their new-flavour ideas of which four were selected to go into commercial production and launched into the market. Consumers were then asked to vote for their favorite flavour – via SMS – and the winner received 1 percent of overall sales.

As the old Chinese proverb goes: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand,” and hopefully buy!

Myth Three: 2.5G = SMS

2.5G is more than just SMS. Despite the relative bandwidth constraints, marketers are able to leverage a host of alternative mobile technologies, including MMS (multimedia messaging), interactive SMS, and location-based services.

McDonald’s in Australia have been particularly innovative in its use of 2.5G network capabilities over the past decade. In 2000 it ran a location-based, time-based offer to drive sales in the relative off-peak trading period in the morning between the breakfast and lunch shifts. Whilst not as accurate as GPS, they were able to use the triangulation capabilities of network base stations to deliver the promotional message to consumers (who had previously opted in) to drive a substantial increase in sales. They took this further in 2003 by integrating an on-pack promotional mechanic with a SMS submission to provide their customers with the chance for instant reward but also to enter the draw for major prizes. Sip N Flip 2 Win as the campaign was called ended up being one of Australia’s most successful ever mobile campaigns with over 4 million entrants of which 2.2 million were unique players.

At the end of the day, marketers will always be attracted to the shiniest, newest opportunities. For many, the potential of SMS marketing is about as exciting as hearing about the branding potential of radio. But find a way to create brand engagement with the enormous number of consumers with relatively ancient mobile devices and you will be able to buy all the iPads and Android tablets that you could ever wish for. Try something old; you may be surprised at the results.

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