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Raj Singh

Business Director | 26 Aug 2003

Both as a standalone media and as an add-on to traditional media, mobile is poised to become a ‘must do’ for marketers who want to stay relevant to their audience

Mobile marketing is yet to catch up in a big way in India. But there are few people who have been the driving force behind making the industry take note of the potential of the mobile marketing. One such person is Raj Singh. As the head of ActiveMedia Technology, which is into mobile marketing solutions, Singh has helped brands like Aaj Tak, Sony, Indian Express, ABN AMRO, AVIVA, Electrolux and Reebok… to benefit from mobile based marketing.

He is the country representative at the international Mobile Marketing Association. Prior to founding ActiveMedia Technology, he led business development at Capco, a leading European management consultancy. He also held business roles at Credit Suisse First Boston in Hong Kong, British Airways in the UK and Shell Group in the Netherlands. He holds a Masters degree in Engineering, Economics and Management from the University of Oxford.

In an exclusive chat with Luvleena Walia of exchange4media, Singh shares his views on the mobile marketing, trends, and future of SMS and MMS.

Q. What is ActiveMedia all about?

ActiveMedia is India's first company to offer mobile marketing solutions to media and brands. We help clients capitalize on innovative opportunities to add mobile to their marketing mix. We are professionals with the marketing and technology expertise, plus track record, to handle end-to-end execution of mobile campaigns and programmes.

ActiveMedia entered the Indian market in early 2002. In that time we have had the privilege of helping media clients Aaj Tak, India Today, TEN Sports, Sony, Discovery, SAB TV, CNBC India and Indian Express Group benefit from the mobile medium. We have also run campaigns for other brands also including ABN AMRO, AVIVA Life Insurance, The Associates, Amity, Electrolux and Reebok. Mobile marketing is still at a nascent stage in India, at this point we are still working hard to move the market to the next level!

Q. What has been the traffic for SMS in India over the one year? Do you think it's moving up?

Moving up fast is without any doubt. No official SMS figures are published in India so it's difficult to comment on exact numbers. However, a rule of thumb that can be used to estimate traffic is 1 SMS per subscriber per day. On this basis SMS traffic is currently being clocked at around 2 crores per day!

Q. What kind of trends do you foresee for SMS?

SMS volumes will continue to grow for the next year or so. It is still by far and away the fastest and easiest way for people to communicate with their mobile. All handsets and networks support it (unlike MMS). Leveraging this we will see more content and service applications emerging especially marketing applications.

Q. What is the nature of the messages on mobile? Going beyond personal messages, what is the extent of messages related to dating, games, contest etc. on mobiles?

The vast majority of messages are still P2P (person to person). SMS is establishing itself as the communication medium of choice for many people today. Applications like dating, games and contests are increasingly being pushed by operators and third parties to drive SMS usage further. They are still small in relative terms, but are growing.

Q. Which brands are using SMS more prominently for the promotion purpose?

Mobile is an interactive medium that can reach 1.8 crore predominantly SEC A&B consumers with an unparalleled sense of immediacy. You just can't ignore that SMS on your mobile! In ActiveMedia's home market the UK, many brands have embraced mobile as an important new consumer touchpoint and are actively using SMS. In India to date only a few innovators have tried mobile in their marketing mix. Some examples from India and Europe:

India - Hyundai Santro and HLL Rexona sponsored big SMS contests promoted by Airtel during recent cricket tournaments; Amul sponsored a SMS 'Nuts abt U Contest' promoted on Channel V where people had to SMS 'Amul' to participate.

Abroad - Foster's sponsored barbecues at more than 250 pubs in the UK. The activity built a mobile database of customers by offering the chance to win a barbecue in Australia by submitting a SMS to Foster's 'G'Day for a Barbie' promotion; Nestle linked a SMS competition to a new TV commercial for Kit Kat in the UK. The SMS message was delivered to consumers a day prior to the new ad premier, to increase awareness and build the brand; Dunkin Donuts in Italy used SMS to allow consumers to respond to ads plastered across in store notice boards, billboards and on the radio. By sending a SMS users received an immediate reply featuring a free special offer exchangeable at local Dunkin Donuts outlets.

Q. What makes popular Internet destination sites adopt mobile as a medium for interaction with their users?

For established Internet media, SMS provides a great way to extend reach and services. For the success of SMS services (just like any service), resources are needed to promote it and awareness is critical. Indiatimes has been investing and building its SMS services for over a year now. With a big existing customer base and lots of media to promote its services sites like Indiatimes, NDTV and HindustanTimes have been able to drive good response levels.

Q. How important SMS is going to be in the future from the brand marketer's perspective?

For media and brands mobile (as a combination of text, voice and multi-media) offers a unique way to reach consumers in a relevant and personal context. Both as a standalone media and as an add-on to traditional media, mobile is poised to become a 'must do' for marketers who want to stay relevant to their audience. The holy grail of one-to-one relationships beckons for brands that understand and grasp the opportunity…

Q. What about MMS?

MMS is a natural progression from the 160 pure text restrictions of SMS. By adding colour, pictures and sound it adds a degree of richness that should gives brands and media more possibilities on mobile. A lot more creativity can be expressed. However, it must be tempered with the fact that MMS will take time before it gains the mass acceptance that SMS enjoys. Nonetheless it offers an opportunity to reach a niche audience of 'top end' consumers who have and are using MMS handsets.

Q. What is the technology behind MMS? And what kind of content is moved through MMS?

MMS uses a mix of SMS and Internet technology to deliver richer content. A MMS consists of an initial notification sent to a subscriber just like a regular SMS. When opened this then links to and downloads from an Internet site, the pictures, sounds and text content contained in the MMS.

The content on mobile will always need to tap the strengths while respect the limitations of the medium. Strengths include immediacy, anytime anywhere access and privacy. While limitations include cost (e.g. spectrum limitations mean it will always be cheaper to watch TV at home than on a mobile) and form factor (size of the screen). To date the kind of content that has been moved to MMS includes the great Indian loves of cricket and Bollywood. The content where images play a large part will be attractive on mobile, in other markets adult content is set to boom…

Q. And what is the future for MMS, abroad and in India?

MMS doesn't mean we suddenly stop sending old style SMS and switch to MMS. It will be a migration process over time. My own opinion is that people will find their own unique need for MMS for when a picture really speaks a thousand words. Most people most of the time will probably be perfectly happy sending a simple and quick SMS.

For marketers, MMS represents an opportunity to deliver a much richer exposure to the brand message. In the UK, now that a critical mass of consumers have a MMS capable phone, brands are gearing up to run their first multi-media mobile campaigns. In India, the arrival of MMS may well accelerate the movement of brands onto the mobile medium.

Q. The media and financial services have been quite open in embracing mobile marketing ahead of other sectors. Why is it so?

For TV, print and radio, SMS is a great way to add interactivity and response.

Aaj Tak was the first news channel to use SMS in a big way to build viewer interactivity through contests, polls, dedications and opinions. Now, others are following suit.

As ActiveMedia, we sit between the cellular operators and the brands that want to get onto mobile. Almost every business-to-consumer brand can harness mobile in some why to either market to or deliver services its target audience. Over the past few months we have seen a sharp rise in interest from brands looking to capitalise on the medium. As recent examples, we worked with ABN AMRO and AVIVA Life Insurance to successfully position SMS as quick and convenient response mechanism to a print and radio campaigns they were running.

Q. What are the issues involved in the growth of mobile marketing in India and how can they be tackled?

Mobile marketing needs to grow within an ecosystem that includes brands, agencies, cellular operators and most importantly consumers. For healthy growth, there has to be a balancing of all interests. Some of the issues currently facing the Indian market include:

Cross-network shortcodes and billing models- To conduct inbound mobile marketing campaigns, SMS shortcodes are often needed. Given the sheer number of cellular circles and operators in India, acquiring one of these is a major task. The cellular operators also have widely different billing models. This could be tackled by consolidation in the industry or operators working together to agree a common platform.

Marketers' awareness and understanding - A lot of people associate SMS with the potential to push messages and effectively spam consumers. Marketers need to rethink their traditional model as this just does not work on the personal and immediate mobile medium. They need to see mobile as a bridge across existing media and to enhance the existing marketing mix. The more campaigns that run and agencies that 'spread the word' the faster this will happen.

Promotion of best practice - Mobile marketing is a double-edged sword. It has the power to connect brands and customers in an intimate manner that benefits both. But if a brand conducts a campaign without permission or an established relationship, this is not in the consumer's interest. Abroad the Mobile Marketing Association is a body that exists to promote best practice through codes of conduct. ActiveMedia is looking at fostering a similar initiative here.

Q. What kind of new applications are going to be seen on mobiles soon?

Big wide open question! Well, lets see… One of the big changes over the past year has been phenomenal growth in mobile subscribers from around 70 lakh to 1.8 crore now. This critical mass has now well and truly been reached as far as most marketers are concerned. I think what we are going to see now is innovative marketers developing mobile applications for their customers both to reinforce call-to- action mechanics plus as product value-adds.

Q. The introduction of location tracking can be a great help to the brand marketers? How?

Being able to know the exact location of a consumer opens up some interesting possibilities for brand marketers. This feature will be increasingly supported by cellular operators in India and under the right model made available to third parties. There is one marketing vision where a consumer's mobile phone bleeps as he walks past XYZ retail outlet to offer a 20% discount. Although this prospect may have some marketers drooling it will never become an established practice because:

1) XYZ would receive a tremendous customer backlash that would negate any increase in sales from the promotion

2) There are thousands of retail outlets in every metro, so the mobile phone would be constantly bleeping notifications!

Two issues that will need to be tackled are the consumer's permission and usefulness of the service. Bearing these in mind more likely applications of location tracking for marketers might be:

1) Locater services - to allow customers to locate (pull) the nearest XYZ retail outlet through a locator database while at the same time offering a discount or promotion

2) Opt-in services - customers can sign up to receive location sensitive offers on specific products and services only e.g. restaurants.

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