Why mobile is an imperative for brands in Asia: an interview with Marco Gavin, Procter & Gamble

Marco Gavin leads P&G’s mobile marketing innovation across Asia Pacific and is responsible for making mobile a strategic part of the media mix for P&G’s brands. He is also on the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) APAC board of directors.
P&G and other global brands will be sharing their mobile experiences at the Mobile Marketing Forum Asia, in Singapore, on April 14-15, 2010 (mobiThinking readers get discount for this event).

Q1. When and where did Procter & Gamble start using mobile in Asia? Did you start in Asia before or after Europe and North America?
P&G started doing SMS-based, tactical mobile marketing in 2002 in the Philippines. In 2003 we started looking at how we could use this medium in a more strategic way and this culminated in a Pampers program, allowing us to reach out to more mothers and help them to bring up and nurture their children. This program is considered – both inside and outside P&G – one of the best examples of establishing an ongoing dialogue with those lower-income consumers that previously did not have access to the same baby development resources as mothers in higher socio-economic classes. The program provided baby-development tips from pediatric experts, toys for children and a chance to win scholarships to give their children a better future. The Pampers program started about three years before P&G began looking at mobile marketing as a strategic opportunity in other regions. Today, we use mobile marketing in all major Asian countries, from Japan, over China, to India and Australia.

Q2. Can a multinational brand pursue a global mobile strategy or is it best to adopt different strategy in Asia compared to US or Europe?
Our mobile marketing strategies follow our brand strategies and the level, from local to global, depends on the brand’s scope. Today the aforementioned Pampers program today is available across three continents with adaptations based on local consumer habits and market readiness. Creative strategy is typically portable, while execution strategy (i.e. should we use SMS or mobile Web?) changes across consumer segments rather than markets.

Q3. How does P&G use mobile in Asia to attract, engage, market, sell and foster customer loyalty through mobile? In what way is this different or similar to mobile strategies in US or Europe?
We consider the mobile phone a powerful engagement channel for establishing and nurturing consumer loyalty. The Pampers program is a typical loyalty program, as it rewards consumers for each purchase and is highly targeted to serve the consumer in a deeper, more relevant way. In particular, it allows us to respond to more consumers in a personalized, relevant way – something no other medium can achieve in developing markets with relatively low Internet or direct mail penetration. In general, P&G mobile marketing programs in developing markets tend to involve more SMS and are more tightly integrated into different media channels, while in developed markets mobile Web and apps play a more important role and are often mobile-only campaigns.

Q4. What types of mobile services or campaigns have proved the most popular or most successful? Do you find that some campaigns or services have worked better in some countries than others?
We find mobile marketing works best when integrated across touch points (i.e. using different media channels). If done well, all models can be successful, whether it’s branded mobile games, SMS-based loyalty programs, MMS-based mobile magazines or mobile media. A deep understanding of the consumer and how mobile fits into the holistic marketing mix are more important than following a certain model. We find that pull campaigns, where consumers make the first step towards engaging with the brand, work much better than push campaigns.
Take Korea, for example, where we use TV and other media to invite men to join our Gillette Club using their mobiles to register and send us a photo of the razor they use. In return, we reward them with exclusive product coupons and mobile games. This can only be replicated in other countries where the sending of photos and redemption of a coupon are not only technically possible, but also accepted consumer practices.

Q5. As a company of many different brands, does P&G find that some mobile strategies work for some products/brands, but don’t work for others?
We always start with the purpose and marketing objectives of the brand. So a mobile consumer relationship management program will work for brands that are built on loyalty, while a mobile media campaign should enable brands to increase top-of-mind awareness by increasing both the reach and frequency of the branded message.

Q6. What would you say are the most compelling opportunities offered by mobile? Are these any different in Asia compared to elsewhere?
The mobile phone is the most personal device available today. This creates a huge opportunity to take the consumer relationship to an unprecedented level and, as a result, consumers reward a brand by buying it, staying loyal or talking positively about it. Given the high mobile phone penetration, this medium also allows us to reach and engage consumers with low/no exposure to or not receptive to traditional media such as TV or print. However, coupled with this opportunity for personal engagement is the brands responsibility to respect consumers’ needs and wishes and not to intrude or infringe on the consumer’s privacy. P&G places the highest priority on consumer privacy, thus we will not engage in some activities used by other marketers, to ensure we do not compromise consumer privacy. We follow all MMA guidelines in this respect and whenever possible encourage others to do the same. Unfortunately in some countries issues with SMS-spam has made mobile marketing via SMS an unattractive option for P&G.

Q7. What are the major hurdles to exploiting the mobile channel in Asia? How does P&G address these?
The first issue – as mentioned above – is the lack of consumer privacy compliance among certain players in the industry. Where this has occurred many consumers are now totally unreceptive to any sort of direct marketing messages – this obviously is a hurdle. P&G addresses this by strictly adhering to privacy principles, even if that means reaching fewer consumers, but engaging with those we reach in a more meaningful dialogue. P&G expects the same from all partners we work with.
A second barrier is the lack of understanding of consumer habits and practices and the lack of objective measurement – this impacts both our brands and the industry as a whole. P&G is addressing this by working closely with partners across the ecosystem, educating them about our consumers and brands while they help P&G to learn more about the consumers’ mobile habits and practices. The inability for many vendors to furnish P&G with meaningful data about mobile consumers isn’t easily addressed, so sometimes we need to take a leap of faith in order to test/learn which theories are sensible in practice.
Finally, a big company like P&G has a need for a certain scale in everything we do, as well as the ability to easily repeat a process. Typically, we want to learn once, then either scale up quickly or move on. As long as mobile marketing delivers an attractive return on investment, many hurdles can be overcome.

Q8. What can brands in the rest of the world learn from mobile in Asia?
Asia is the world’s most populous region, but it has the starkest differences in mobile usage from using futuristic technologies such as augmented reality and 2D quick response codes to engage with customers in Japan to using basic SMS to connect with consumers in rural Indonesia. While mobile in the West typically focuses on mobile Websites and applications and is considered a nice add-on to the existing media mix, in Asia mobile enables a level of engagement unseen before. This might be because of advanced features offered by mobile or because we can now engage with consumers we couldn’t previously because they don’t own a TV or PC or read newspapers. This obliges us to take mobile marketing to a more strategic level in Asia and just as consumers leapfrog the PC Internet by going directly to the mobile Internet, so marketers go from no direct marketing to advanced mobile marketing techniques. There’s a similar situation in other regions, such as Latin America and Africa, but the vast population makes Asia the lead region for developing mobile marketing models at P&G.

Q9. What’s next? How do you see brands/P&G using mobile in Asia over the next few years?
Every year seems to be touted as “year of the mobile”, and I believe each year since 2005 has been the year of mobile for one reason or another. In coming years I expect gradual but accelerated appearance of both new technologies and successful marketing models. I foresee the following key milestones and enablers: 1) widespread mobile broadband (3G / 4G); 2) widespread flat-rate plans; 3) the introduction of tablet computers (such as the iPad) that will bring desktop Internet experience at affordable price point; 4) the blurring of the line between mobile and fixed-line; 5) the end of SMS-spam; 6) bringing the 1 billion consumers who today don’t yet have mobile phones online; 7) mobile Websites becoming base for all brands with PC Websites; 8) mobile media becoming base media; 9) brands shifting significant spend into mobile to ensure a richer mobile experience and greater control of mobile engagement for the consumer.
Mobile commerce and mobile payments should take off in the next three years as credit-card companies and banks start to understand the benefits of mobile communication and as technology starts to address security concerns. This will dramatically change the way brands can engage and sell to consumers in developing markets without a modern retail infrastructure. Finally the more upstream innovations such as 3D screens, augmented reality and ad-hoc social networks will open up opportunities in the developed world, but I predict that for fast moving consumer goods companies, it will take at least another five years before these become relevant business builders.

Further reading:

  • 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
  • Mobile: it’s about the consumer, stupid: interview with Barney Loehnis, OgilvyOne, Asia
  • 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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