The mobile industry is fighting the wrong war in emerging markets

Let the right apps take over the rest of the world.
Let the right apps take over the rest of the world.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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Mobile is counting on the developing world (and its estimated 5 billion mobile subscriptions) in a big way. As Mozilla demonstrates a $25 smartphone, undercutting on price has long been the industry’s strategy to wooing emerging market consumers. However, content also matters significantly. On smartphones, content manifests in apps, meaning mobile providers and companies must ask: Is the battle for cheaper smartphones a worthwhile fight, or does the real war lie in making their content accessible?

There are considerable obstacles to actively reaching consumers in emerging markets. More than a third of these consumers, for example, find content too expensive to access, while 32% are not aware of any kind of incentives or promotions to drive purchases. The Trojan horse in the room is that a majority of app stores require access to credit payment methods, while more than one in five (21%) emerging market consumers do not have access to credit or bank facilities. In addition, a majority of potential smartphone users in emerging markets do not have access to banking or credit card accounts, and as such cannot use the Apple App Store or Google Play, even if they wanted to.

Yet another obstruction is translation. One in six (18%) emerging market consumers cannot view content from app stores on their current devices, one in four (24%) cannot find the content they are looking for and one in five (20%) find that content is not in their local language. Notably, each of these obstacles are completely avoidable, and by focusing on remedying them, companies could easily pull ahead of the pack in reaching their target customers.

The real promise of app stores

At the mobile marketing firm Upstream, we teamed with research firm Ovum in order to produce the “The Next Mobile Frontier Report,” which polled mobile consumers in Brazil, India, China, Nigeria, and Vietnam. The report revealed that the Google Play store, available on Android phones, is the most popularly accessed content service (40%), Apple’s App Store is second (28%), followed by Nokia (23%) and mobile operator (26%) app stores follow close behind. And, even more telling are the types of apps consumers in developing nations are downloading: social networking (82%), music (81%), news (78%), gaming (65%), lifestyle (54%), books (53%), business or financial services (46%), health services (33%) and educational services (41%).

These numbers demonstrate that consumers in global markets are hungry for two types of content: that which is informative and that which provides greater opportunity for connection and networking. To remain competitive, brands must tap into this consumer desire and therefore into the mindset of customers. While there are similarities to Western trends—the desire for news, music and social media—the future of emerging markets is actually much more diverse, as travel, health and educational information is coveted, as these are the categories where those who do not already use such apps demonstrate the desire to use them in the future. Therefore, as developers continue to zero out their prices, odds are the answer lies within these kinds of apps as well as those that allow social networking, music and news.

Content is king

With a nod toward the sheer importance of content—especially that which is globally branded—60% of consumers state that when purchasing it, they want a format that suits their device, rendering mobile manufacturers somewhat irrelevant in this regard. No doubt: app stores are where brands active on mobile should place their focus. As devices diversify, content is a constant denominator in the eyes of emerging nations, and so king.

With this in mind, mobile providers, manufacturers and companies must take app stores seriously, and more importantly, move to develop mobile content that is not only desirable, but accessible. Today’s technology presents new possibilities for consumers and correspondingly huge opportunities for content creators and mobile businesses alike. The onus is on them to follow through with content-specific plans, or else even the cheapest smartphone will fail to offer any real value.