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Mobile-First Strategies Take Hold in Emerging Markets
Improving technologies and economies enable marketers to connect with hard-to-reach consumers
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Businesses in emerging markets such as China, Latin America, and Southeast Asia are skipping over many of the more seasoned forms of advertising for a mobile-first approach. In some of these areas, print and billboard advertising are used to help drive mobile advertising and mobile economies.

In 2014, mobile advertising expanded faster in China than in any other country, according to eMarketer, and was on track to become the nation's largest digital advertising channel by 2016, and to reach nearly $50 billion in value by 2019.

"In Southeast Asia, marketers are increasingly focused on mobile as a highly effective form of customer interaction and engagement," says Siva Ganeshandan, director of Adobe cloud marketing for Asia Pacific. "Research also shows that the mobile-first business transformation in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole is outpacing the United States in smartphone business."

According to Ganeshandan, Southeast Asia saw an 18 percent increase in smartphone visits for top Web sites and an 11 percent visit for average Web sites between 2014 and 2015. Web site visits from tablet devices increased 9 percent in the same period.

"The incredible growth in mobile Web consumption has created a core opportunity for businesses to reach their audiences on more platforms," Ganeshandan says.

Those figures are expected to increase as the user base continues to expand. According to eMarketer, the user base in the Asia-Pacific region grew by nearly a quarter in 2014, and more than 40 percent of Twitter users will be in the region by 2018.

The Asia-Pacific region is not alone in seeing such growth, eMarketer suggests. The market research firm says that more than 227 million people in Latin America—nearly a third of the region’s population—are on social networks.

TECHNOLOGIES, ECONOMICS ALIGN

Mobile-first marketing has emerged in the past few years due to a combination of legacy factors and new economic developments.

Cable and landline technologies, prevalent in the United States and other developed countries before wireless technologies evolved to the point where they could handle data-rich communications, never gained a foothold in emerging markets. Emerging markets effectively bypassed the older technologies to quickly adopt mobile devices and connectivity, with smartphones gaining traction with the growth of 3G/4G connectivity.

According to eMarketer, there will be 2.51 billion mobile phone users in the Asia-Pacific region by 2016, representing 62.5 percent of the population. Nearly 41 percent have smartphones. China has 1 billion mobile phones in use, with a little more than half of those smartphones. Mobile phone penetration for the region is expected to reach 69.4 percent by 2019.

"Due to the transient nature of many communities, the congregation of many others, and the sporadic availability of postal service and hard-wired technologies, prepaid mobile was huge," says John Timmerman, global marketing manager for Teradata's marketing applications. "I noticed this on a trip to India. Since it was so difficult to get adequate landlines run to so many different residences, it was much easier for the community to purchase highly mobile cellular technology. You didn't need a physical mailing address or a phone hanging on the wall. All you needed was a SIM card and a relatively inexpensive handset."

Most of the emerging markets have huge mobile penetration and sharp smartphone adoption in areas like Latin America and India, says Alberto Pardo, CEO of Adsmovil, who sees plenty of opportunity to further expand mobile marketing in emerging markets.

ECONOMIC CONDITIONS IMPROVE

Emerging markets are also enjoying improving overall economies, leading to emerging middle classes. Improving incomes mean improving discretionary incomes for items like smartphones, and prepaid plans are prevalent, rather than the subscription model that dominates in the U.S.

While incomes are increasing, the cost of wireless devices is falling due to the rise of device makers such as Qmobile in Pakistan, iMobile in Thailand, and other local brands providing inexpensive smartphones. Qmobile sells phones ranging from $143 on up to $255, depending on features and functionality; iMobile offers smartphones for as little as $125.

Beyond those smaller, nation-specific manufacturers, Xiomi of China is offering inexpensive smartphones throughout the world, including a small initial penetration into the U.S., according to Cobi Druxerman, cofounder and chief marketing officer of Taplytics. This has driven other device manufacturers, notably Apple and Samsung, to develop lower-priced devices targeting these markets as well.

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