Waiting for That Year of Mobile – An Indian Perspective

About 12 years ago, I joined the digital marketing industry. Two years later, there was buzz in the market that mobile was emerging as a new advertising medium and it was here to grow. Ever since then, I’ve heard that popular statement from everybody: “Next year will be the year of mobile.” I always wanted to believe it, and still do. The fact of the matter is that the year of mobile never came.

India has about 800 million mobile subscribers, making this medium comparable to TV in terms of its sheer reach in this country. Mobile has reached places where even TV hasn’t yet. Some industry reports also suggest that India has about 150 million GPRS-enabled devices. As a marketer, these figures look lucrative to me but still mobile hasn’t been able to take the position and mindshare it deserves.

Some possible reasons why mobile has not yet arrived in India:

1. India started using mobile marketing with simple text-based advertising through SMS. It was well integrated with traditional marketing efforts by brands through mention of “short codes” in print, radio, outdoor, and even TV. After seeing the initial success of this SMS platform, anybody and everybody started to send messages to the public at large irrespective of whether they subscribed to any such service or not. I still remember those days when I used to get 30 to 40 messages a day, which we can comfortably call as junk. This is where the problem started as far as SMS as a platform is concerned. Users stopped responding to these, and expectedly so. Finally, the government body TRAI had to come with a law governing SMS delivery in India. This is an example of how mobile was over exploited, to an extent where it is not generating any marketer’s attention.

2. Lack of rich media content and inability to create meaningful and relevant content for the end user is another major hurdle for mobile marketing. Mass media like TV always has this advantage over mobile. The majority of TV advertisers look for innovative multimedia solutions for their brands in the form of advertising, given the screen size and therefore content delivery becomes a problem on a mobile device. Mobile advertising is also considered to be intrusive by many advertisers. In traditional TV or Internet advertising, the user has to switch TV or PC on, whereas the mobile device is always on, which raises questions about the effectiveness of this vehicle because a message is generally delivered when user is not interested.

3. Mobile advertising in India suffers from lack of reporting and analytics. People working in mobile advertising are natural graduates of Internet advertising and they are accustomed to robust analytics of online marketing. Strong analytics is almost the starting point for these advertisers. However, many suppliers who offer mobile advertising have not yet taken a step in this direction. Mobile will not sell purely on the basis of eyeballs it generates especially when technically it is possible to measure the response of mobile advertising.

4. Marketers in India have always seen integration of mobile into the other forms of advertising as a challenge. Brands usually work with multiple agencies at a time handling different aspects like traditional media, creative development, digital media, and creative development, outdoor, events, etc., etc. Bringing them to a single table to integrate mobile is a job easier said than done. Mobile as medium is better off when integrated than purely being a standalone vehicle. Everyone understands it, but a dedicated effort is required to encourage integration.

The positive side of the story:

1. Mobile as a medium has much more to offer than only SMS and WAP. Services like mobile TV, IVR, bluecasting, augmented reality, and more are just a glimpse of what mobile can actually offer. All this has helped marketers to regularly testing tools. There are ample amount of case studies available today about how successful various brands have used these services for their marketing efforts.

2. The mobile ecosystem’s stakeholders are moving from intrusive to contextual and relevant communication on mobile for the user. We now have rich media and video content that makes this medium a constant participant in the marketing game. Thanks to the ever decreasing cost of smartphones and Internet capable devices in the country, coupled with diminishing cost of data usage, consumers are grasping the acceptance with both hands.

3. There are visible efforts by some companies to make robust analytics for this medium as well. It is a good sign that the suppliers have understood and started acting upon this bare minimum requirement from brands. And suppliers are starting to provide seamless response metrics, which will are a pillar that digital marketing rests upon. Some companies, like video networks, are trying to replicate what they did in the online space, which I believe is a good step in a direction that will put some sanity to the madness mobile is engulfed with. At least we will have some benchmarks to play around.

4. Integrated marketing efforts by the brands will strengthen the position of mobile in the overall marketing mix. Advertisers are finding newer and newer ways of including mobile in their marketing plans to make their other media work harder. Implementation of QR codes is a clear example an initiative.

Mobile is a medium with huge possibilities and scope when it comes to using it for marketing and advertising. It’s just a matter of few basics to be put in place before we start using it as a mainstream medium. If that happens, we will stop waiting for that “Special Year of Mobile” because every year, then, will be the year of mobile

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