The latest data released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India puts the total mobile subscriber base in India in May 2012 at over 900 million. Add to this the staggering number of users accessing content on their mobile phones and the galloping growth of technology; many brands are gradually seeing mobile marketing as a potent alternative to the existing advertising platforms.
Until now a relatively unchartered space, several mobile marketing agencies and companies are now setting up shop in India and bringing in innovative mobile marketing initiatives encompassing both intrusive and non-intrusive methods of advertising for brands to connect with their consumers. According to sources, mobile advertising spend is expected to increase from 400 crore to around 2000 crore by 2015.
Customer initiated mobile advertising
One such new entrant, who is banking on a differentiated mobile marketing strategy, is GullakMaster, a mobile advertising network. It is a customer-initiated form of advertising in which a customer sends a message to GullakMaster and checks-in his location. GullakMaster, in return sends in advertisements, discounts, and promotional offers via SMS to these customers from its network of merchants in that specific location.
The word Gullak essentially means a cash-box in Hindi, and from the companyâ€™s standpoint, the name has been incorporated to communicate the two prime aspects of its business, Savings and Good-Luck.
GullakMaster claims to customise the promotion that each brand sends out to its customer base. The merchants are asked to set up customer profiles on GullakMasterâ€™s platform, and on the basis of these pre-defined profiles, the mobile advertiser issues a different promotion for each customer.
â€œMost marketing firms use the same ad creatives for different consumers. We bring in the customisation angle and are among the first ones to do so,â€ says Abhishek Dadoo, the founder of GullakMaster.
Dadoo finds the closest competitor in FourSquare, a location-based social networking website for mobile devices. However the value proposition of FourSquare is entirely social, and with GullakMaster, Dadoo is introducing advertising in return for checking in.
It is essentially targeting young customers between the age group of 18 to 30 years, and is targeting merchants in the apparels and the hospitality sector which cater to its intended target audience.
Dual Marketing Approach
With services such as DND (Do Not Disturb) bringing in a much welcomed respite to customers tired of pesky calls and messages, SMS advertising in the country has certainly taken a hit. It is this hindrance that GullakMaster is looking to convert into an opportunity. â€œWith GullakMaster, people can initiate and request for ads on their own. Besides, we have already got a transactional gateway, much like how banks work,â€ comments Dadoo.
Dadoo also feels that smartphones are not a mass model in India at present, and advertising via SMS still remains a powerful tool that can be exploited.
Another mobile marketing agency, which is leveraging both smartphones and SMS services to appeal to different customer segments, is ad2c (the recently set up JV between D2C of Japan and Affle group of companies, Singapore).
Some of the agencyâ€™s recent mobile marketing campaigns include one for Samsungâ€™s latest range of Smart TVâ€™s wherein consumers can experiment with gesture control by dragging and dropping features on the television to see how they work. It has also created a gaming application for Samsung S3, on the lines of the popular Pictionary game in which consumers have to guess the particular phone feature that is being drawn out on the screen.
SMSing a solution?
According to Madan Sanglikar, CEO, ad2c, mobile marketing in India is driven by two parallel worlds, smartphones and feature phones. While there are a fast segment of consumers moving from feature-based phones to the next level of smartphones, there are many others who are upgrading from basic phones to ones with some form of internet connectivity.
He further adds that while it is difficult to ignore any of the two, and both hold potential, SMS has become more of an enterprise solution as opposed to a marketing solution and dependency on messages as a push medium is going down. â€œWhile a store may resort to advertising via messaging about deals and discounts, messaging has lost its sheen from a brandâ€™s perspective,â€ he says.
One of the inherent advantages of mobile advertising is that it helps in targeted and pointed advertising. ad2c is also using handset profiling to promote this new marketing tool in the country and to effectively reach out to its intended target audience. It uses different mobile platforms and different forms of mobile marketing to engage with different consumer profiles. For a consumer segment which is not literate, it would pursue voice-based advertising. Similarly, if the target audience is the young teenager, the agency would look at a using a feature-based phone, like a gaming phone for better results.
On the limited appeal of marketing centring on smartphones, Rohit Khurana, CEO and Co-founder, Technixmedia feels that smartphones are gradually becoming more affordable, and with the entry level price barrier for the device slowly becoming minimal, mobile internet access will become many folds. He points out that most youth buyers are opting for touch screen based smartphones that are available for as low as Rs 4,000.
While both Khurana and Sanglikar seem to sense potential and scope in smartphone-based mobile marketing, Dadoo feels it is still some time before the smart device can penetrate into mass markets in India. â€œWhile more people might be buying smartphones, very few of them subscribe to monthly data plans because they still remain an expensive proposition. This renders smartphone as a simple phone with communications via SMS. The challenge facing merchants today is how to provide intelligent advertising through messages, and thatâ€™s what we offer,â€ he explains.
Key Trends & Challenges
Sanglikar highlights some key trends in the mobile marketing industry that point to the growth of both feature-based phones and smartphones.
He appends that while on one hand brands are upgrading to the iPad and the Tablet inventory, in Tier 2 cities, there is a great traction being seen in social networking services in feature-based phones. Several brands are now beginning to use the location-based platform and connect to the usage patterns of consumers and offer pointed advertising.
In terms of the challenges, Dadoo finds it a task when it comes to convincing marketers about the underlying dynamics of his business model. Marketersâ€™ prime concern is to generate footfalls, but GullakMaster can only draw customers using customised promotions but cannot guarantee conversion into actual sales.
However, with plans of reaching an end customer base of 1.5 lakh in the next 6 months and hopes of generating close to half a million dollars in funding, GullakMaster certainly seems to be unfazed by these challenges.
What also helps is that with very players in the mobile marketing space at present, there is room for each player to grow on account of its unique, differentiated value proposition.
â€œI think there is lot of space for new entrants in this field and since this is an emerging area, there can be many more business models based on mobile SMS service, data service and other services which will gradually evolve in this field as data access becomes more affordable on mobile phones,â€ opines Technixmediaâ€™s Khurana.
While all this optimism certainly points to the lucrative future for mobile marketing in the country, the treatment of this marketing platform from a marketersâ€™ perspective needs to change for it to become more effective. Sanglikar feels that one of the biggest challenges comes from the fact that marketers see mobile as a sub-set of digital, and with digital receiving only 10 per cent of the marketing budget of a company, mobileâ€™s share cannot grow beyond a mere 4-5 per cent.