For most of the smartphone users, they have jumped the stages of PC to Laptop to mobile internet phones to smartphones. Also, not all had internet in their first phones. Only a privileged section of the latest generation had it all from the beginning – smartphones with internet. A huge number of non-internet devices – around 80.0 M – in use at present is reducing fast. Yet a conservative estimate – it will take around 5-7 years to have 100% mobile users to become mobile-internet users. And, this is primarily a urban scenario! The metamorphosis in the rural/sub urban landscape is not as fast. A mobile set is still a shared-gadget among family members for many. Mobile phone is considered to be an investment at the bottom of the pyramid and thus mainly earning members have mobile sets.
Literacy rate is a major bottleneck for internet penetration, which cannot be changed overnight. Majority of the area are more or less media-blind especially if we consider radio or print media. TV has a higher penetration considering shared viewership. Marketing and Sales is highly distribution-dependent and retailers play a major role in product communication and sales. Popularity of bKash and other mobile banking services has added a new dimension for business and payment modalities.
Under these circumstances, the mass does not translate ‘Digital’ to Facebook, Youtube, Google etc.; mobile is still the ‘digital’ for the mass. Plus, large OTT players like Facebook, Google, Apple etc. are ecosystems on their own. Participating in that ecosystem requires lots of national level readiness specially flow of payments, literacy rate of the consumers and above everything economic viability for the users to consume. It seems this will endure in the foreseeable future. Thus, Digital Marketing is still (and will be) a game to be played on the mobile platform for the masses!
It is high time we considered Mobile as the Digital for Bangladesh and leverage on the Voice and SMS channels as much as possible as this is the only media that reaches almost the entire universe of the mass/rural people. Immediate opportunities are Voice Based marketing campaigns – everyone can dial and follow voice instruction. Mobile devices can offer personalized delivery and communication can be interactive. Providing incentive in the form of Top-up is easier compared to other offers. Many can read SMS and if the SMS is in Bengali then the coverage is much higher. Now most of the handset supports Bengali and Government has a regulation – any mobile phone sold in Bangladesh must support Bengali character set
Simultaneously, we should also leverage on mobile optimized web sites considering non-smart internet phone popularity. This will cover the Smartphones as well also cover up device operating system heterogeneity (android, iOS etc). A very strong and tech savvy Top-of-the-Pyramid with mid/high end devices and internet connection is also emerging fast. The segment is growing and has higher penetration than print and radio.
As the mobile ecosystem can cover the entire cycle – starting from communication to sales to payment and for digital services it covers delivery as well, more focus should be given on localization and leverage on interaction capability of mobile channels e.g. voice, SMS and web/data.
In this context – emergence and identification of market niches and serving them profitably is an eventuality and collaboration between Mobile Operators and Local Service Providers/Business will benefit everyone. In this context my view is to leverage on the mobile network and the distribution network of mobile operators to design, develop, communicate, sell, collect payment and finally deliver through mobile operators should be primary option to choose for digital market/lifestyle of Bangladesh if not whole SEA.
We will converge sometimes with the conventional digital world around smart devices and high speed internet soon in about 5 years. But it will be a new ecosystem that even may shape the international digital context. I think we are in a position to drive innovation from our region to the world rather only following and adapting the western lifestyle/technology.
Firoze M. Zahidur Rahman is the CEO of SSD-TECH Ltd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org