MMA Asia Forum: Digital Startups Target Mobile Marketing Space


The Mobile Marketing Forum Asia-Pacific recently concluded its two-day summit in Singapore with a range of keynotes, panels and awards on mobile marketing, and featured startups in this space from around the world.

StartupsStartups are emerging in mobile marketing space covering a range of activities: analytics, ad networks, cloud publishing, and contextual awareness.

Mobilewalla is a venture-funded company in Seattle and Singapore which offers big data analytics from mobile subscribers for brands. Its CEO Anindya Datta said audience measurement in mobile is different, thanks to the context and behaviour of mobile users, especially in information seeking tasks (less immersive) and life tasks (more immersive).

Founded in 2011 by Emmanuel Allix, Art of Click is a full service mobile marketing solution partner for operators, ad networks, advertisers, and developers. The Singapore-based company’s goal is to work with key players of the value chain in order to bridge mass media and mobile media for marketing effectiveness. is based in Mumbai and offers ad creator solutions, workflow tools, retail solutions and engagement analytics. They work with brands as well as agencies. Some of the Fortune 500 brands are using bonzai's platform to create, publish and measure their mobile campaigns. The company is founded by Rahul Pandey and Sameer Shah.

Semusi is a startup in India and Singapore, co-founded by Dilip Mistry and Tarun Anand, in the space of contextual mobile marketing. They use analytics to analyse and predict user context and behaviour (Semusi is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘insight’ and is also a mnemonic for ‘Software Enables Machine Understanding of Sensory Input’).

KissMyAds (no, this is not a typo!) is a Germany-based mobile performance marketing network. “We offer campaigns based on CPA and not CPC,” explained VP Arun Varma, referring to click and access-based pricing models in the industry. The startup works with advertisers, publishers and app developers to come up with an easy, risk-free platform to monetise mobile web traffic.

biNu is an Australian startup which provides mobile cloud solutions, proving an “on-ramp to the Internet for the next 4 billion people.” The company also works with UN agencies, and has received funding from Square Peg Capital, Savannah Fund and Artesian Capital Management.

Mobile Marketing Insights

“Half of mobile industry revenues are earned from emerging markets, half of all smartphones are sold in emerging markets,” noted mobile guru Tomi Ahonen.

The average mobile user in the planet looks at their phone 150 times per day, going up to 200 times a day for smartphone users, according to data cited by Ahonen. 30% of mobile device usage is for communication, 20% for time management activities, 40% for media consumption, and 10% for other purposes.

Delivering value is key to marketing success; this includes personalised recommendations (book ads on Amazon and e-commerce sites), asking for consumer inputs (Lay’s chips asking for flavour ideas in South Africa), new formats like Augmented Reality (Wonderbra revealing bras of dressed models), pre-purchase information (views of what you look like in the eyeglasses of French glassmaker DirectOptic), and inventory management (Finnair offering instant upgrades after check-in).

Sean Rach, Regional Director, Brand & Corporate Affairs for Prudential Corporation Asia, said mobile has moved to the front of the media queue in Asia. The company has even developed award-winning apps to teach children financial literacy, eg. Cha-Ching for the Chinese market.

“Mobile is the connection architecture for invitation, participation and sharing. Mobile is the engine which drives content in the ecosystem. Mobile is at the heart of desire’s narrative,” explained Leonardo O'Grady, Director ASEAN, Integrated Marketing & Communications Coca-Cola Asia Pacific. Don’t think of mobile messages as just content, but stimulus, he advised.

He showed compelling videos of Coke’s social responsibility campaigns during the Thai floods of 2011 (to make people smile again by showcasing stories of compassion and support), sports evangelisation during the Olympics (by connecting athletics to inspiring music), and even promoting connections between citizens of India and Pakistan (gifting cans through interactive video-kiosks).

Sir Martin Sorrell (nicknamed as “SMS”), CEO, WPP, said mobile is the fifth leg of the digital media stool, which consists of search, social, video, display and mobile. Many Asian markets have leapfrogged the PC stage into the smartphone stage, and are now quicker into the mobile game.

Case Studies

Daniel Lee, Director of Digital Projects for the APMEA region at McDonald’s, showcased a successful campaign in South Korea which featured consumers recording songs via mobiles, as well as the “Happy Table” NFC-enabled games in Singapore. “Mobile is Tao,” said Lee; it connects the digital world to the physical world.

Alvin Chiang, Chief Marketing Officer, Renren, said mobile is an integral part of creative marketing, and has been acknowledged at the annual creative industry awards in Cannes as well. Creative mobile examples included Kontor Records using vinyl in promotional campaigns, which could be ‘played’ by smartphone. Adidas has window-shopping via special interactive screens which can be synched with mobiles via QR codes.

The mobile is the ‘virtual kitchen table’ for mothers, observed Michelle Froah, Senior Marketing Director, Asia Pacific, Kimberly-Clark Corporation. She showcased some of the company’s experiments, such as humidity sensors in Huggies diapers which can trigger SMS alerts to mothers!

The company’s Australia site became the third most popular news site in the country during the Giggle Factory campaign to record babies’ giggles, and 65% of traffic to the Web site came via mobiles.

Lito S. German, Marketing Director of BMW Group Asia, also showcased their AR mobile app campaign at specific Art Spots in Singapore’s Esplanade, with hidden performances visible via smartphone apps (“Performance Made Beautiful”).

Other creative examples were shown by Vishnu Mohan, CEO, Havas Media Asia (Domino’s app which selects toppings at random when you shake the phone), and Graham Kelly, creative director, Isobar (Twitter campaigns by celebrities, AR campaign to attract visitors to a Tokyo aquarium via virtual penguins).

Mobile Asia

Rahul Welde, VP Media, Unilever, said Asia has a mix of all three economic categories: “have nots, haves, and have lots,” and mobile is the only platform which straddles all three categories. Mobile offers 360-degree, 365-day access to consumers, but marketers need to focus on messages and conversations of value, purpose and relevance. Entertainment and gamification are useful trends to watch in this space.

“Food is social in Asia; people use cameraphones to take pictures of food they are eating. Youth tweet and eat; 47% of millennials use social networking while eating,” noted Vipul Chawla, Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer, Yum! Asia. The company offers free WiFi in many of its stores in Asia, and is rolling out pre-booked orders and smartphone-activated pickups. Mobiles are also a workflow tool and are being used internally, to track customer satisfaction, order accuracy and speed (called the CHAMP check).

“China and India will add 1 billion mobile Internet users by 2015,” observed Vikas Gulati, Vice President, SE Asia, Vserv.Mobi. It is important to strategise for the “mobile first” user (typical in emerging markets), and form partnerships with operators and even government agencies, he advised. Their examples include Kraft foods in India using IVR for a Halls campaign, and the Malaysian government used mobile to promote its m-gov portal (MyEG) via a promotional campaign of mobile operator Digi.

Vserv.Mobi ( is a mobile ad network founded in 2010 by Dippak Khurana and Ashay Padwal. The Mumbai-headquartered company has delivered over 256 billion ad-requests for several Fortune 500 companies across 150 countries. Their footprint spans 382 million mobile Internet users. The company received US$ 3 million in funding from IDG Ventures.

“92% of our consumers use online source to learn about luxury products, 32% from social networks. China has 680 million social mobile users, and local bloggers are now invited to our events,” said Wendy Chan, Regional Director, Media Strategy, L Capital & LVMH. The company also has a venture investment wing, and has invested in Indian companies such as Fab India and PVR Cinemas.

Other notable markets in Asia include Malaysia. “Malaysia has high penetration of phones and has the world’s highest social connectivity per person on Facebook,” said Andreas Vogiatzakis, CEO, Omnicom Media. “Think of mobile as a verb, not a device,” he advised.

Spotlight: China

“The year 2012 was the tipping point for mobile Internet in China,” said Bessie Lee, Chief Executive Officer, WPP China. Mobile Internet is now a mass medium in China, with a wide range of innovation in hardware, software and content.

In early 2013, China overtook US to become No. 1 smartphone market in the world. Usage has reached intense levels: 66% of mobile users have broken up relationships via mobile, and 60% of Chinese would even give up a month of sex for a week with a phone!

73% of smartphone users in China wake up to phone alarms; 77% never download paid apps; and use of IM exceeds SMS, according to figures cited by Lee. “Even a pancake mom in China has a mobile strategy! Users can place pancake orders via mobile, and customise the fillings,” she observed.

Emerging Trends

Rob Marston, Founder, Zeus Unwired, said 2013 will be the Year of the Tablet. Adoption of tablets is estimated to be four times faster than smartphones; Australia has the highest uptake of tablets in the world. Device differences can be described by the “snack, dine, cook” metaphor – heavy cooking is done on PCs, snacking is done on smartphones, and dining is done on laptops. Tablets are seen as more of an entertainment device than PCs or mobiles.

Despite all the hype about rich media and apps, SMS is still accounting for the majority of mobile marketing spend thanks to its widest reach, according to Saurabh Ohri, Senior Area Sales Director, Asia, Gemalto.

Marketers should understand the different kinds of storytelling that the digital medium offers, urged Dan Ye, VP Asia, PR Newswire. “Discovery through content distribution is fuelled by increasing mobile access,” he explained.

Mobile operators need new mindsets to understand the creativity implications of mobile as a connective medium, said Herwinto Chandra Sutantyo, Head of M-Advertising, XL Digital Services, Indonesia. “In emerging economies such as Indonesia, the mobile phone is the first screen, before TV,” he said.

“We are in the eye of the storm, with companies figuring out or re-thinking their mobile strategies,” said Dick van Motman, Chairman & CEO, Dentsu Network Asia. Mobile has brought about a programming shift from prime time to ‘my time,’ and has been a leveler between urban and rural users in terms of information access and immediacy.

“Mobile should be part of your business strategy, not just communications strategy,” he advised. He showed an amazing video of Dentsu’s project called Social City in Osaka, featuring augmented reality, user visualisation, personalised signage and dynamic commerce.

The Road Ahead

“You don’t need a mobile strategy; your marketing strategy needs to include mobile,” concluded Rohit Dadwal, managing director of MMA Asia-Pacific. The industry organisation will also be publishing an annual Yearbook, kicking off from October this year, and organises regular industry awards called The Smarties.

We look forward to future editions of the MMA events in Singapore, India, Vietnam and China to continually push the frontiers of mobile marketing, and open up new venues for startups and investors.

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