According to Gartner Dataquest, wireless phone subscribers in Asia reached 230 million by the end of 2000, a 52 percent increase over 151 million subscribers in 1999. The region was led by China, which had mobile subscribers totaling 85.3 million in 2000, up from 43.3 million subscribers in 1999.
The number of mobile phone subscribers in other countries also grew, with subscription rates in the Philippines at 6.3 million mobile subscribers in 2000, a 132 percent increase from 1999. In the Indian cellular market, subscribers surpassed 3.1 million, up 97 percent from 1999 results.
The Yankee Group has forecasted that the number of mobile phone subscribers in the Asia-Pacific region will reach 575 million by 2005, surpassing the European market.
By 2010, 50 percent of the world's mobile phone subscribers will be found in Asia, up from 35 percent in 2000. And China will lead in the market. Currently, it has more than 130 million mobile phone users and is adding five million a month.
Leveraging the mobile phone seems like the most ideal way for marketers to reach out and connect with millions of consumers anywhere, anytime.
Said Chung Sin Ling, managing director of Portelco (Asia) Limited: "With mobile marketing, personalized automatic messages can be sent to individual consumers, or broadcast to thousands of consumers within minutes. In addition, messages can be adapted mid-campaign in response to customers' behavior. Mobile marketing messages are fast to create, so you shorten the selling cycle while marketing executives can record a voice message and send it to a database of thousands of potential customers within days. The cost of deployment is also much cheaper than alternative forms of direct marketing."
Although marketers may cheer over the new potential revenue channel, consumers who are mobile subscribers may not. Who wants one of their most personal items, the mobile phone, to be plagued with spammed content? Haven't they got enough of that on all other traditional medium such as TV and radio?
This is where marketers have to provide unobtrusive, relevant and interactive messages to consumers instead of bombarding just anyone with unsophisticated bulk messages through a one-way message, say via Short Messaging Service (SMS) or voice, on their mobile phone. The latter will certainly heightened the negativity of the mobile or wireless marketing concept in the consumers' eyes.
Said Chung: "Mobile marketing definitely has a place in Asia, although forecasting the uptake in percentage terms is difficult. Generally, most research shows a fairly high tolerance for limited advertising in return for lower tariffs on the subscriber's mobile phone, but that advertising has to be relevant. If not, the benefit of cheap phone calls is outweighed by the nuisance of irrelevant advertising."
By being relevant means that marketers should spend time on research as to what or which database to use and target which specific groups of mobile phone users for what particular product. For instance, a bank may screen through what some of its customers are interested in and then send information on a new product that is relevant to the customer via a two-way personalized marketing message.
"A two-way message allows the recipients to interact with the company and will dramatically increase the chances of the messages being acted on. And in Asia, we are seeing response rates of between 10 percent and 20 percent for campaigns that are relevant to the target audience, at a cost about 20 percent that of a direct mailing campaign," Chung explained.
Some of Portelco's clients have managed to stay relevant and attained success with their mobile marketing campaigns. One of its customers in the banking and finance sector in Asia has managed to generate a 14 percent response rate via a cross-selling campaign through their customers' mobile phones. A mutual fund company promoting a new fund has also achieved 12 percent response rate, while a client in the travel industry managed to get a response rate of between 12 percent and 26 percent.
Although the response rate may not seem that impressive at first glance, every one of them counts in this competitive market as they can be translated into actual sales.
Besides having relevant targets, Chung also advised marketers to consider having a mobile marketing platform that is capable of supporting all current and future technologies, including SMS, voice, General Packet Radio Services (GPRS) or 2.5G and 3G so as to continue with their specific marketing efforts with the least disruptions when technology changes.
Chung will share more on how marketers can integrate mobile marketing technologies with online strategies to generate higher and better returns at the e-media marketer conference to be held on 9 April at The Oriental Singapore.