Tangled Web of Technology Can Be Both Boon and Bane

J&J, Others Wrestle With Ways to Localize Broad Digital-Marketing Efforts

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Twenty-five million births a year make India a fertile market for BabyCenter. But until recently the Johnson & Johnson-owned company reached fewer than 5% of Indian parents -- its scope limited by the country's low internet penetration.

Its solution: the phone. India's mobile-subscriber base jumped almost 50% in the past year to reach 38% of the country's population. But it wasn't as simple as creating a mobile app or WAP site. Due to low mobile-web access and, in some areas, literacy, BabyCenter opted for an old-school approach: a "voice portal," whereby Indian moms call a local number to hear audio versions of the site's newsletters and other due-date-specific information.

Some advice

TEST AWAY: If Profero CEO Wayne Arnold was a global CMO, he'd "be using places like Korea and Japan as a test bed. Put a quarter-million dollars into testing in Korea and save $10 to $12 million."

GIVE YOURSELF TIME: Hinde Pagani, senior mobile-marketing manager, Coca-Cola: "The key learning is that when you do global campaigns with mobile, because of the differences in technologies in each region, you have to almost double the time to test your campaign."

BEWARE BLEEDING-EDGE: "That woman in the Third World who doesn't have an internet connection but has a phone -- and maybe doesn't even have a landline? That phone can be a far more transformational device than the iPhone is for a person here," said Jon Stross, general manager, BabyCenter.

The undertaking is indicative of the challenges media companies and marketers face when trying to package a global mission into local experiences. For marketers with this strategy, technology is both help and hindrance. Sure, it gives marketers new opportunities to reach places where even TVs aren't found and to forge personal relationships with far-flung consumers. But it also requires them to be infinitely more flexible, adapting to extreme variations in consumer behavior and technological capability and literacy.

"All these markets are so different, you need local expertise. You can have the same brand, focusing on same types of population, but you have to use different products," said Alexandre Mars, CEO of Publicis' PhoneValley. He's not alone in calling this approach "glocal" -- it's a global mission but local execution.

With 4 billion phones worldwide and only 1 billion internet users, mobile especially is perceived as a great enabler for global marketers. In many developing countries, for example, access to mobile phones is lapping online services, said Allison Mooney, VP-director of trends and insights at MobileBehavior, Omnicom Group's mobile shop. And people's behavior changes depending not only what kind of a phone they have -- smart or "dumb" -- but also on their other media-access points: Do they also have a landline or a TV or access to the PC web?

Localizing digital campaigns
Wayne Arnold, CEO of Profero, has worked with several global brands to localize digital strategies. One example he cites is Filipinos, who are among the biggest users of mobile data. So when Profero targeted Filipino expats in Hawaii for global client Western Union, it used mobile-based applications and CRM programs, even though few U.S. campaigns would yet make mobile such an integral strategy.

Likewise, the company's work for Guinness reflects market considerations: Its overarching strategy is to be seen as fun and innovative and, in Tokyo, a city with heavy GPS penetration (and confusing street-grid system), that mission manifested itself as a pub-finder-and-directions tool.

The list could go on: In Peru, a gaming strategy is crucial to any marketer using digital, since most internet usage occurs in caf├ęs and gaming is a core activity within that access point. In Brazil, personalization is a huge trend.

"You can create an overall marketing framework, but there are these anomalies," Mr. Arnold said.

Marketers like Unilever with its Axe brand, Coca-Cola and Puma are among those working within global frameworks but executing locally. Coca-Cola launched a major holiday push that had consumers sending each other Coke-theme holiday cards via the mobile phone and social networks in markets as technologically diverse as South America, South Korea and Japan. In places such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile, it pushed the social-networking application and concentrated on SMS on the phone. In Europe it offered downloadable technologies and custom "ringbacks," something not yet implemented outside that region.

For BabyCenter, even low-tech countries provide insights. The challenges the media company faces in India, said Jon Stross, general manager of BabyCenter International, is not just an Indian problem. "If 80% of moms in the U.S. are online, that means one in five isn't," he said. "And the one in five makes up a larger percentage of the pregnancies in trouble."

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