How to reach young consumers using the mobile channel

Updated (September 14, 20009)

This guide to mobile and youth was article of the week on the latest Carnival of the Mobilists, a weekly roundup of the very best in mobile and wireless blogs. The article was also featured on Mob Soc Net, Millennial marketing and by’s Josh Dhaliwal.

In the light of the opinion voiced by youth marketing expert Ian Stewart, head of Asia, Friendster (ex Coke and MTV), in this insightful interview on mobile marketing to teens in Asia, mobiThinking asked:
What needs to happen to make mobile a viable channel to reach the youth segment – i.e. teens, students, school leavers, graduates? What follows is a summary of the responses received back from experts around the world. These fall neatly into two categories:
A) Five things you should know about mobile and youth
B) Eight tips for successful engagement with young people via mobile

A) Five things you should know about mobile and youth

1) Mobile data charges are too expensive for teens
* Stewart’s observation about Asia, that a) mobile should be an excellent channel to reach young people, but b) mobile data is too expensive for them, is echoed by experts elsewhere:
“I think it is a worldwide issue. Teens are avid mobile users and early adopters of new services, but most teens have less disposable income than adults, making the cost of messaging and mobile Internet access a hurdle to be overcome. It’s an issue that goes beyond just the teen audience. Some of the carriers have lowered costs, particularly for messaging, but prices are still too high for mass-market adoption of mobile Web access,” says Noah Elkin, senior analyst at US-based eMarketer.

2) This generation isn’t used to paying for a) data charges or b) content
* They have never paid to surf or download on the PC Internet (beyond a cheap flat-rate broadband connection).
* They are not used to paying for the majority of the rich media content they enjoy, whether that’s free video clips (via YouTube etc), file-sharing of music (between friends or from illegal download sites) and, more recently, free downloadable mobile applications/games (though only ones compatible for the cheaper phones they use – see below).

3) Most young people don’t have expensive smartphones
* Only 14 percent of all mobile-phone users have smartphones, so there’s not much point targeting teens though app stores.
* They tend to use phones that are available free with a pre-pay/pay-as-you-go or low-cost tariffs.
* Of course, plenty of normal phones also access the mobile Internet, download and play music and even the most basic cell phones are able to download simple content such as ringtones, ring-back tones and wallpapers.

4) Teens are generally on pre-pay tariffs, so rarely benefit from flat-rate data plans
* It’s great to see operators introduce flat-rate data plans, but most of these are restricted to high-end smartphones and more expensive fixed-term contracts. * It’s more usual to see young people on pre-pay (pay-as-you-go) contracts where data is billed by the Mb (which discourages use of mobile services).
* Take Brazil, which, at 84 percent mobile penetration (three times PC users), is one of the fastest growing mobile markets:
“Almost every teenager, from all classes, has a cell phone. About 80 percent of cell phones in use are pre-paid and 50 percent of these have very little or no credit at any given time in the month. Mobile-phone services are still too expensive for the teen budgets, including SMS and data traffic. Carriers have to roll out packages that suit this target consumer from both a product and a price point of view. Teenagers are eager to consume mobile content at the right price. We can see that from the amount of people who sign up to receive SMS alerts from brands like Nickelodeon, Turner and MTV, and who participate in SMS campaigns until they have no credit left,” explains Federico Pisani Massamormile, CEO, Hanzo and global chair of the Mobile Marketing Association.

5) Carriers are waking up to potential of mobile marketing
* Globally mobile network operators (MNO) now recognize that it is in their interest to foster growth of mobile as a marketing/distribution channel, by making data more affordable for both marketer and consumers.
* Many MNOs have appointed mobile marketing evangelists, prompted by success stories from Turkey’s pioneering Turkcell (where the mobile marketing team brings in US$45 million per annum from 7.6 million opt-in subscribers). Blyk’s experimental ad-funded mobile network in the UK though now deceased (August 2009), has also helped to nurture enlightenment. (More on Turkcell and Blyk below).
“It is important to ensure the mobile advertising ecosystem or value chain in the local market is developed. This includes the partnerships and financial initiatives with all the leading agencies handling fast moving consumer goods [FMCG] brands to start looking at mobile seriously, rather than just adding it to their marketing mix in order to show that the agency is hip and cool,” says Anushka Ranasinghe, assistant manager, mobile advertising, Dialog Telekom, the largest mobile network in Sri Lanka.

B) Eight tips for successful engagement with young people via mobile

1) Reducing cost of mobile with brand subsidy/sponsorship
* Pioneering efforts by brands and operators to make mobile more affordable for teens, such as fostering loyalty by sponsoring/subsidizing calls, messages and data, hints at the potential:

(i) Free or cheap access
* Zero-rated-data: the marketer pays to ensure that visitors to its mobile site do not pay data charges – one of the earliest examples of this was the British made-for-mobile drama THMBNLS, which aimed to teach teens about safe sex – more on this here.
* Zero-rated (toll-free) short codes: the marketer pays so consumers can text for free to those popular five-digit call-to-action numbers (they are often charged at premium rate) found in traditional/outdoor media adverts.
* Guaranteed flat-rate data: the visitor pays a standard flat-rate fee when accessing a particular mobile site. See the ground-breaking Friendster Surf All Day deal, which means Filipino youngsters (on Globe Telecom) can access the mobile site of social network Friendster as often as they like in 24 hours for P20 (US$ 0.41).
(ii) Rewards
* Free airtime: the consumer receives an allowance of free calls or texts in return for receiving marketing messages. The reward of free minutes underpins Turkcell’s marketing programs, including the pioneering Tone&Win, where subscribers’ phones (500,000 of them) play advertising jingles/messages to callers, while they wait for them to answer. Read more about Turkcell here.
* Rewards can also include free surfing, content downloads etc.
(iii) Subsidized contracts – here the costs of calls, texts and surfing are reduced in return for receiving advertising messages.
* Blyk took this model to an extreme. Operating as a virtual MNO it attracted more than 200,000 UK 16-24 year-olds in two years. They agreed to receive targeted advertising messages in return for totally free calls and texts. Blyk ran 1,000 campaigns for 200 brands including Coca Cola, STA Travel, Penguin, Buena Vista, L’Oreal and music artists The Kooks and Alphabeat, boasting a response rate of 29 percent. The service ceased August 26, 2009.
* Orange UK will be one of the first mainstream operators to offer a reduced tariff to youngsters who agree to receive marketing messages. Orange (along with Vodafone Netherlands) has enlisted the Blyk’s expertise.
“We believe this audience is willing to do some trade-offs in order to lower their phone bills. Youth, in particular, have needs that their budgets can not meet, so would welcome ad-funded price plans from the operators. They will be even more receptive when they see that ads are targeted, of value and relevant to their interests. The risk to the brand for engaging is very low as the audience is expecting and welcoming advertising,” explains Emmanuel Allix, managing director, APAC, at mobile advertising specialist Pudding Media.

2) Using technology to avoid data bills
* Advocates of Bluetooth tout mobile proximity marketing as a way round data charges. A Bluetooth transmitter – perhaps in a billboard ad, in a station, or worn by a promoter – will communicate with mobile phones close by assuming the phone supports Bluetooth (most do), the customer has it turned on and wishes to communicate.
“Near-cast Bluetooth technology allows the marketer to engage youth consumers by offering the totally free download of rich-media content. Adding a click-through link to a mobile site to the download allows the brand to continue the conversation and develop relationships,” explains Gordon Parkin, director at South Africa’s Brandscape Marketing.
* For examples of youth-orientated applications via Bluetooth see: community chat, gaming and more [All suggested by Janne Hämäläinen, business development director at Finland’s Bluegiga].

3) Young people (as with all demographical groups) need to be treated differently
* This starts with the operators, who could use demographic and behavioral information to profile, design services for and target offers from top brands towards each customer segment.
* When offered what they want, youngsters have proved to be a receptive and lucrative group:
“Teens and tweens are the highest mobile generators of value-added-service revenue, in terms of average revenue per user, for in India. They are very knowledgeable about mobile services, such as Facebook, movie-related content downloads, gaming and contests, brand promotions and m-Coupons – such as buy-one-get-one-free cinema tickets – appeal to this urban teen segment. They also spend more on mobile content. There are approximately one million music downloads each day. India’s largest operator Airtel earns four times more revenue on mobile music downloads than the largest music CD retailer,” according to Prabhjot Jolly, executive director at Mobiphonica.

(4) Know and listen to your customer
* Young people (like any other demographic) use mobiles in a particular way. eMarketer’s Elkin points out that they text much more than any other group, and as well as playing games and listening to music more than any other age-group, they also love social networking.
* Connect with them “on their own turf”, advices Nick Fruscello, president at US-based Mozeo. Knowing that kids love to text, when Mozeo wanted to attract a youth audience to and build a marketing database for a sponsors brand, they ran a contest to find the fastest texter. Entrants were recruited with flyers/stickers using youth terminology, such as LMAO [laughed my arse off].

5) Keep it relevant and in-context
* Make it fun and/or useful: mobile promotions of all kinds – competitions, promotions, trailers, amusing virals, content (e.g. greetings) to pass on, games to enjoy – appeal to teens as long as they are relevant.
* A virtual gift in time for Valentines Day, news alerts during a sports tournament, a game to play when bored on a train, a trailer to watch while trying to decide what film to watch, all add context. See this guide to event marketing.
* Don’t over-brand it. With the best advergames, the brand is woven subtly into the game.
* Add value – it will take more than another free ringtone and wallpaper to attract a teen to your site.

6) Getting the opt-in
* The usual way to guide a customer to your mobile site for your competition, promotion, trailer or download is to send a text with a link to the URL. The engagement rate will be much higher where the youngster a) initiated the contact; b) the message is instantaneous; c) message is well-scripted and d) the content is relevant.
* Since no brand manager in their right mind would send an unsolicited marketing text message to a teen, marketers have two options – use someone else’s opt-in list (if one exists), or build your own list by inviting customers to request the message.
* The popular way to do this is to advertise a short code, perhaps toll-free (see above), along with print, outdoor, Web, TV advertising.
* Alternative routes include photographing a quick response (QR) code (a 2-D code), if supported by the handset.
From here, if your offer is relevant, it will spread by word-of-mouth.

7) Price it right
* If free, do not demand too much in return, what else do you need initially than a phone number and an opt-in to future messages?
* If the freebie is a platform for paid-for mobile service, e.g. updates, make sure it is worth having on its own.
* If a paid-for service/application, aim for low price, high volume (remember that the recipient may well be paying for data downloads).

8) Don’t make technology the focus of a campaign just for the sake of it
Mobile is littered with different technologies and a lot of hype. While all have their place, they aren’t necessarily going to impress a young demographic – especially if many of their phones don’t support it.

Special thanks to Hans Von Knut creative director at Danish mobile agency and Franz Haslbeck, Club Pocket PC Munich for contributing to these tips.

Further reading on mobile marketing to teens:

  • Mobile marketing to teens: an Asian perspective
  • What makes teens tick – what you need to know about the cell-phone-obsessed generation
  • Bring your mobile campaign to life, virtually: the insider’s guide to augmented reality
  • 10 important things to know about media habits of teenagers

  • Don’t miss:

  • Mobile Web: latest mobile facts and stats forecast a rosy outlook
  • The insider’s guide to word of mouth marketing
  • The insider’s guide to buying mobile media
  • Five-minute interview: Edward Kershaw, VP mobile media, EMEA, Nielsen Online
  • Mike Wehrs: the mobiThinking interview
  • The Starting 11 – the essential mobile-marketing guide for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
  • The Top Ten mobiThinkers 2009 – each profiled in full
  • mobiThinking’s page of essential links
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