The sleeping giant of Asian mobile internet

The latest statistics from the Mobithinking’s Mobile Guide to Japan have entranced the West’s mobile providers who are keen to advantage on the massive Asian expansion in mobile internet usage.

The future of mobile web lies in Asia and this trend shows no signs of shifting. With advanced mobile markets like Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, the region’s first-world infrastructure is ripe for expansion: The technology-hungry developing countries in the region are huge with growing populations and low PC penetration. The mix is ripe for mobile phone and service providers. It also opens the door to questions of best practice in the Asian evolution of social media and mobile marketing.

For one, Asia is the world’s most populous continent with the largest nations. China and India have populations of over a billion and are four and three times respectively larger than the world’s third largest country — the USA. In China, where the market is relatively still in its infancy, 227 million (of the world’s 420 million internet users) hit the web using their mobile phones.

Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russia and Japan are also in the top 10. At this moment, there are already far more mobile subscriptions in China and India than there are people in the US.

Several Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Turkmenistan and Bangladesh, currently hold around 15% of the world’s mobile web usage, indicating a massive potential for further growth.

In developing nations, where access to other media is limited, mobile has been the great enabler. For the majority of people in developed countries mobile is an alternative to PC access – it’s the internet while on the move.

But for users in developing nations, mobile is and will be their only access to the internet and all the services that users in the developed world now take for granted. Online banking, money transfers, email, up-to-date weather and news, commodity prices, commerce and government services have previosuly been unavailable to these users due to the need to own a PC in order to guarantee some measure of fast and reliable internet. Mobile internet now has much more potential to transform lives in developing countries than in developed nations.

This low PC internet penetration makes it much easier for mobile internet usage to overtake PC internet usage than in more developed countries such as the US. According to Internet World Stats, internet usage in China in 2009 was 28.7 percent; India, 7 percent; Indonesia, 12.5 percent; Pakistan, 10.6 percent; Bangladesh, 0.4 percent; Russia, 32.3 percent; Philippines, 24.5 percent and Vietnam, 25.7 percent.

The China Internet Network Information Center report for January 2010 suggests that dramatic growth in mobile means mobile access to the internet has already surpassed Web access in China. According to the organisation, “China’s mobile phone users have showed rapid growth. By end of December 2009, the number of mobile internet users reached 233 million, accounted for 60.8 percent of the total number of internet users.

Still, certain barriers to the growth of the Asian mobile web remain. A low penetration of 3G handsets and networks don’t seem to be that much of an issue for Asia, as much as is the case in the African markets. Back in 2009 data cited by financial services company Morgan Stanley put ownership of 3G handsets in China at less than 1 percent. A staggeringly low figure compared to 90 percent in Japan or 75 percent in Korea. That 1 percent has increased slightly, but with no lasting significance.

The lesson: Internet usage is bigger in Asia than anywhere else as confirmed by research company Pingdom, who have assessed mobile internet usage as a percentage of total internet usage across the world’s six continents.

The current trends mean Asia will have a significant social media footprint in the future, paving the way for extensive research and testing into the effectiveness of social media marketing and to what extent – if any – best practice differs relative to established markets.

At present global brands are attracted by mobile in Asia for its ability to reach this massive audience in the developing countries that is presently unreachable through other channels.

Procter & Gamble’s Marco Gavin, said in a Mobithinking interview that, “Asia is the world’s most populous region, but it has the starkest differences in mobile usage from using futuristic technologies such as augmented reality and 2D quick response codes to engage with customers in Japan to using basic SMS to connect with consumers in rural Indonesia”.

He adds that while mobile in the West typically focuses on mobile websites and applications and is considered a nice add-on to the existing media mix, in Asia mobile enables a level of engagement unseen before.

“This might be because of advanced features offered by mobile or because we can now engage with consumers we couldn’t previously because they don’t own a TV or PC or read newspapers. This obliges us to take mobile marketing to a more strategic level in Asia and just as consumers leapfrog the PC internet by going directly to the mobile internet, so marketers go from no direct marketing to advanced mobile marketing techniques,” he explains.

While other regions such as Latin America and Africa may suffer from a similar situation, the vast population makes Asia the lead region for developing mobile marketing models.

When it comes to marketing, Nichola Rastrick, managing director of the research company Firefly Millward Brown, explains that consumers did not want social platforms to turn into an avenue to hawk goods and services. Instead, they wanted marketers to engage them in dialogues. She warned that the biggest mistake marketers can make is to treat social media networks as a “marketplace”.

“Businesses should cultivate a two-way conversation with the online community and establish a proper social media team to run effective campaigns,” suggests Christoper Madison, international research agency Milward Brown’s regional director of digital strategy . “Other rules include paying attention to small details, allowing negative comments so that consumers can make informed decisions, and building social media credentials through “humanization” of the brand.”

So while opportunity in Asia is rife, its clear those keen to take advantage should adapt. It’s not simply a case of adapting slightly from the Western norm. Evidently, as far as the world’s largest market for mobile internet usage is concerned, the East is becoming the mainstream.

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