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Why SMS tactics are music to the ears of marketers in Asia

Why SMS tactics are music to the ears of marketers in Asia

By Jill Franklin, CEO, Franklin Rae

July saw the opening of the world-famous BBC Proms. As part of this prestigious event, The Royal Albert Hall will be welcoming back China’s biggest cultural export, the ‘hottest artist on the classical music planet’ and one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World - Lang Lang.

He is so revered that Steinway broke their 150-year-old practice of not using an artist’s name to endorse pianos, by launching five versions of the “Lang Lang™ Steinway”. 

Lang Lang is also a global brand ambassador for such big name as Sony Electronics, Audi, and Aegon's worldwide financial services. Then there is the Lang Lang-inspired iPhone and iPad app, Magic Piano, which received its best piece of PR when the piano master himself performed at a San Francisco concert last year, using the app to play Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee as his encore. 

The launch of his app might have been music to the ears of Lang Lang wannabes in the west, where smartphones and tablets are becoming the norm. However, it would have meant much less to Lang Lang’s fans in Asia, where featurephones with limited capabilities still dominate the market.

Many brands in the west, whose recent activities have almost exclusively targeted apps, are having to have a change of mindset when launching campaigns in Asia. When Gavin Mehrotra, director of international media for the Coca Cola Company announced at Singapore’s MMA Forum that SMS is the number one priority at Coca Cola in mobile, it was reported as being received with “shock and awe” by the audience. 

But as Mehrotra added, SMS is the only mechanism which reaches just about every person on the planet. "Just about every person will have mobile in one hand. We hope they will have a Coke in the other hand," he says. Importantly for marketeers, SMS has mass penetration right across the hugely divergent countries of Asia.

Asia Pacific accounts for half of the world’s mobile population.  At 2.6 billion mobile subscriptions, mobile phones in the region outnumber landlines 5:1 and in some countries there are already more mobile phones than people.  Nothing rivals mobile as the medium for marketers to reach their audience in this diverse economy. The sign-up statistics are staggering – in India and China there were 339 million new mobile subscriptions in 2010, that’s more than the total mobile subscribers in the whole of the US. But, at the moment, only SMS offers a pan-Asian mobile marketing platform – unlike smartphone apps.

As Rohit Dadwal, MD Asia Pacific, MMA said: “Even in the most developed Asian countries, such as Japan, there’s a whole class of people living in mobile who don’t ever touch a PC. Meanwhile in the developing countries, there’s a whole class of people who don’t have access to bank accounts.  The needs of this ‘unbanked’ sector are being met through mobile – it is a great example why mobile innovation and advances in Asia really matter.  It’s just not the same in North America or Europe because the same needs do not exist.”

Changing to an SMS strategy may be a step too far for some western brands – or perceived as a step backwards.  However, in addition to high market penetration, SMS can provide more measurable results than other more divergent technologies.

Many Asian marketers are successfully running creative text-based campaigns which really engage with their customers.  For example, the use of short-codes in offline commercials and on radio SMS marketing has taken off in a big way.  Of about 30 million messages exchanged in India every day, an estimated seven million SMSs are exchanged between short-code operators and consumers daily. Rajiv Hiranandani, CEO, Mobile2Win, says, “The advantages of mobile marketing are manifold - it's an intensely personalised medium, it attracts immediate response, it brings interactivity to new levels, and it tracks response by the hour for any marketing campaign.”

After many years of waiting, it seems that mobile advertising across the region is coming of age. And until smartphone ownership moves away from the 25% mark in Asia, the platform of choice for reaching them still needs to be SMS. Like Lang Lang, this will enable marketers, wherever they are based, to strike the right note.

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