Marketers: Going Global Means Going Mobile

U.S. companies can be forgiven, perhaps, for their near-sighted view of global markets. North America and the more exotic European markets are enough for most companies, short of those with multinational aspirations, seeking foreign-based revenues.

For those that do want to access markets in, say, Kenya or India — that is, the high-growth but highly problematic emerging markets around the world — there are numerous barriers in their way. These range from complex export and import regulations to financing difficulties and logistics costs; then, if all of those issues are successfully navigated, there is always the perennial problem of on-the-ground retail distribution.

One barrier that is rapidly crumbling, though, is marketing access to local consumers — or rather, cost-effective, widespread marketing access.

For that, the industry can thank the ubiquity of mobile computing around the world, to say nothing of the growing number of devices and providers that are targeting mobile users in emerging markets.

Mobile World Congress and Emerging Markets

This trend was on full display this week at the Mobile World Congress, the industry’s annual trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Emerging markets’ love affair with mobile is reflected in a number of stats, the most recent from Pew Research Global Attitudes Project. More than half of the respondents in each of the emerging nations included in the survey said they owned a cellphone; that figure skyrocketed to 90 percent or more owning mobile phones among respondents living in Jordan (95 percent), China (95 percent), Russia (94 percent), Chile (91 percent) and South Africa (91 percent).

The pervasiveness of cellphone ownership in these nations is in part due to a lack of landline connections, Pew noted, but it quantified that observation with the statistic that only 23 percent of the respondents reported that they had a working landline telephone in their house. In Ghana and Kenya, those percentages were as low as 1 percent.

As for Western companies targeting emerging markets — well, that is happening, and it has been for some time.

Global ad spending across major media grew by 3.2 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2013, according to a recent report by Nielsen. Major media, in this case, includes newspapers and other print media, TV, cinema and radio. Breaking it down geographically, Latin America posted the largest relative increase in spending during the third quarter at 13 percent, followed by Asia-Pacific at 7 percent.

Mobile can and should fit into this global mix — and, thanks to technology and its low price points, it is not just for the Unilevers of the world.

As cellphones and smartphones grow more sophisticated — yet still remain cost-effective — they become vehicles for complex transactions and, of course, marketing.

A $25 Cellphone

Exhibit A: Mozilla announced on the eve of the Barcelona show that it had signed a chip deal with Spreadtrum to create reference designs for a US$25 cellphone.

About two years ago, Mozilla got serious about targeting the mobile market in much the same way Google did a generation earlier with Android. The difference between Firefox OS and the many iterations of Android is that the former was designed specifically for low-cost emerging markets.

Now, as Mozilla makes clear with its new partnership, these specs are becoming more sophisticated — but still priced at emerging market levels.

There are many possibilities available for brands that want to reach out to these markets via Mozilla devices, according to the company.

The Firefox Marketplace makes it possible to create local and niche apps with relevant regional content by allowing developers to build on basic Web technologies, without gatekeepers, Mozilla pointed out.

Among the top new local apps in the Firefox Marketplace are travel booking, Capp World Cup highlights, Captain Rogers game, Manana reading app, Napster and SurfTime.

In the coming months, Mozilla plans to introduce Firefox Accounts so users can take Firefox everywhere and the company can better integrate services including Firefox Marketplace, Firefox Sync, backup, storage — or even a service to help locate, message, or wipe a lost or stolen phone.

Erika Morphy has been writing about technology, finance and business issues for more than 20 years. She lives in Silver Spring, Md.

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