Mobile: it’s about the consumer, stupid. Five-minute interview with Barney Loehnis, head of digital, OgilvyOne, Asia Pacific

Barney Loehnis joined WPP’s OgilvyOne from Isobar/Aegis. He is based in Hong Kong. Having walked 9,000kms across China, learning Chinese en route, he probably knows more about the world’s largest mobile market, than your average agency mandarin. He is also on the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) board of directors for the Asia Pacific (APAC) region.

• Related content: Profile of Ogilvy & Mather

Q1. What is the one thing that gets you most excited about mobile Web, mobile services and/or mobile marketing?
Knowledge, entertainment, utility and memory… all in the palm of my hand. Truly, the fact that I can access any bit of information, buy virtually any product, or connect with any person, make a film, broadcast a point of view, from wherever I am in the world, gives me, a puny human, a certain level of omnipotence. I am still coming to terms with it. It also comforts me that there are parts of the world where I cannot do this.

Q2. What are your favorite (and least favorite) mobile Websites, services or campaigns?
Let me start with some mobile marketing that I find both clever and insulting. Digital banking can be, should be, so brilliant, if only the banks really cared, which they clearly don’t. Contrary to most Hong Kong residents, apparently, I would happily never go into my bank – I want to do all my transactions online or via phone. My bank, however, seems to be intoxicated with rules and policies that do not serve any customers’ interest: I am prevented from completing many actions online, or via phone, if not done within banking hours, or after the completion of a paper based form which defies the point of internet and mobile banking. The big disappointment is their lack of customer centric approach to developing internet and mobile services. However, they are clever enough to monitor my credit card purchases and send me relevant SMS’s up-selling financial services relating to the product I have just bought – such as travel insurance after I’ve transacted on a travel web-site. In many ways this is brilliant mobile marketing and I congratulate them. However, as a customer I reject it because it is so self-serving to their interests in contrast to the lack of interest they have in investing in existing services. If they fail to provide me with services to do the basic tasks, they do not earn the right in my mind to up-sell further goods to me – however, relevant they may be.
The lesson is simple: firstly, brands need to think about both mobile services and mobile communications (in that order); secondly they need to take a consumer-centric approach to the development of services and policies.

Q3. Who is the new kid on the block – the mobile site/business to watch for the future?
Well springs to mind… even if people’s updates on it litter my Facebook page like digital detritus. MyTown is an alternative and Loopt takes a more mature approach to location based social gaming – these services are forging the future of location based services and the possibilities for marketing are endless. All forms of mobile and local search are also interesting me at the moment – especially those that mash-up different sources of information and embed user-generated content into the results, like Bing and Google.
I’m also impressed by the new micro-payment services that enable people to transfer small amounts of value/money between themselves and also purchase items are going to transform our ability to transact over the mobile. In countries like China and India these services will have transformative effects for farmers and traders.
From an Asian point of view, I like local services like Mig33 that are tailored to providing local audiences with needed services. was conceived “as a way for teens to send text messages as much as they wanted, without the high costs of SMS, by using GPRS/data channel which commonly used to access the mobile Internet”.

Q4. What (vertical) sector would you say is furthest ahead in mobile Web/mobile marketing? Please give some examples.
It tends to be those that stand to gain most from mobile – so eCommerce sites like Amazon, Taobao, Alibaba,; hotel groups and airlines are also improving quickly especially as they see the rate of return on well-placed or performance-based media, and innovative social media campaigns. The most value mobile can offer relates to service and utility for a consumer – brands need to focus on making it easy for consumers to transact – that’s the missing link. Transaction drives investment because return on investment (ROI) becomes transparent. The eCommerce sites know exactly how much ROI is delivered by different marketing techniques e.g. search engine marketing versus email versus investing improving user experience or information architecture. Having said that I also admire companies like Coca Cola for whom the ROI is less transparent. In many markets, like China, I think they now have a more sophisticated understanding of how to measure and leverage investment in mobile and online campaigns. For fast moving consumer good companies, such as Coke, linking purchase to some sort of “reward” is one important feature to building a sustainable marketing platform. Things like loyalty points, SMS redemption and mobile vouchers are critical elements of these strategic marketing platforms.

Q5. What’s the most exciting/inspirational country/part of the world for mobile Internet/mobile marketing?
I have a deep passion for, though not enough understanding of, the China market for two reasons: firstly because Chinese consumers embrace digital with great passion and commitment; secondly because there will be so many different levels to what mobile can offer Chinese consumers in cities and in rural areas.
I am also drawn to markets like Indonesia, Philippines and India for whom mobile offers the only access to the internet. Although the infrastructure is quite poor and consumers price sensitive, both advertisers and consumers embrace the interactivity of mobile. It forces companies to think about how far they can take existing technology and simple services like SMS to deliver complex services like money transactions.

Q6. What technology or initiative is most likely to revolutionize mobile Web/marketing?
I think location-based technology will make local search an incredibly rich and enjoyable tool on the mobile device – and the great thing is that all local firms especially small ones previously excluded from digital marketing will be able to use these service to give consumers added value and special promotions.

Q7. If you could wave your magic wand and change one thing what would it be?
Can I have two wishes?
First, I would cap or (better) remove iPhone data roaming charges. They make the iPhone prohibitively expensive if you travel a lot, this means that you need an iPhone for domestic use, and a Blackberry for when
they travel. Anyone would think there is a conspiracy between Apple and Blackberry to force people to own both devices.
Second, I would install high-speed mobile networks across rural China, India and SE Asia and give people subsidised data charges. It would revolutionize education and healthcare and give these highly entrepreneurial people an opportunity to access large markets to sell their goods.

Q8. What’s the biggest mistake in mobile Web/marketing?
Too much complexity. Keep things simple and easy to use with 100 percent focus on the user experience.

Q9. What are the most useful resources for mobile marketers?
I always check out the award show case studies to keep abreast of the best work out there. It’s judged by peers, so the results and opinions are meaningful. I also do a daily browse of 10 blogs including Mashable, Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang, and Asia Digital Map from my Ogilvy colleagues across Asia. To be honest, I don’t tend to look at mobile specific sites, because I’m interested in mobile in the context of the broader picture. However, in terms of the company I keep, I stick close to the MMA – especially the regional and local chapters across Asia as most of the people “doing” mobile are part of this group.

Q10. Which mobile-marketing guru would you like to do our interview next?
Jack Bauer (from the US hit TV series 24) – he is probably the meanest mobile user of all time. He gets all the best gadgets that work in the most inhospitable environments and has to be one of the greatest adverts for the power of mobile services.
If Bauer is indisposed then try Mark Seegar and Sascha Engel from Ogilvy Digital Labs in Singapore and Beijing have both developed incredible mobile applications and utilities that push the boundaries of mobile services and communications.

Which mobi guru would you like see interviewed next? Comment below or email editor (at)

Other mobiThinking five-minute interviews:

  • Pam Horan, Online Publishers Association
  • Tom Eslinger, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide
  • Jonathan MacDonald, (consultant, blogger)
  • Edward Kershaw, Nielsen Online
  • Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy
  • Juston Payne, Wiley
  • Tomi Ahonen (consultant, author)
  • Alexandre Mars, Phonevalley
  • Rob Lawson, Limbo
  • And don’t miss:

  • Global mobile stats: all latest quality research on mobile Web and marketing in one place
  • The insider’s guide to mobile Web marketing in Japan
  • The insider’s guide to mobile Web marketing in India
  • Why Japan is the king of mobile: the stats and facts
  • Why Asia will (continue to) dominate the mobile Web – from here, it’s not just about Japan
  • Why mobile is imperative for brands in Asia: interview with Marco Gavin, Procter & Gamble
  • Mobile marketing to teens: an Asian perspective from Ian Stewart, Friendster
  • mobiThinking guide to mobile ad networks (2010)
  • Conferences & awards for mobile marketers, with offers
  • mobiThinking’s page of essential links
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