There has been much discussion globally in the past year or two on how important it is for brands to be present on mobile networks and applications. It is often said that brands need a “mobile strategy”. Rather, what is needed is a comprehensive and informed brand strategy.
When it comes to sheer numbers, it is easy for online marketers to get excited about China. As of June 2010, China had 420 million Internet users, 755 million cell-phone subscribers and 280 million mobile Internet users. The proportion of mobile subscribers that use their mobile device to surf the web is greater in China than in the US (38% vs 27%). In addition, many Chinese consumers, especially in Tier 2 and 3 cities, go from no Internet at all to mobile Internet.
The interest in mobile is not only specific to China; there has been much discussion globally in the past year or two on how important it is for brands to be present on mobile networks and applications. It is often said that brands need a “mobile strategy”. Rather, what is needed is a comprehensive and informed brand strategy. From there, the decision of whether to use mobile platforms or not will become clear. Mobile can be thought of as simply another channel, albeit an important one, through which a brand interacts with its consumers.
In other words, whether or not a brand should develop a mobile application in China, and for which platforms, all depends on the brand itself. What is their core idea? Who is their target market? How is the brand positioned locally? Furthermore, if the brand decides to develop branded mobile applications or mobile friendly websites, mobile branding needs to be consistent and integrated with other branding initiatives to effectively build brand equity.
In this article, we will discuss how developing a branded mobile application may represent an opportunity for brand differentiation in China and how the app can enhance segmentation efforts to increase brand relevance. We will conclude by revisiting the main brand strategy and brand management implications of mobile applications.
An Opportunity for Differentiation
Despite the often untapped potential of the Chinese market, few brands have built the necessary online tools to match their China ambitions. A recent joint report by Labbrand and L2 (a think tank on luxury brands) highlighted that even in high-end segments, the online presence of brands in China is often feeble and not adapted to local market conditions. Out of the 100 brands studied in the report, only 17 were considered to have a satisfactory online presence, without even mentioning their mobile competencies which lag further behind. So far, the number of brands that have managed to leverage the power of mobile networks in China to bring real added value to their brand building efforts are very limited.
As such, if a brand could develop a strong presence on mobile platforms and use the channel well, it could be an effective differentiation point, so long as it was consistent with their underlying brand strategy. Increasing brand differentiation builds brand equity. p>
Let’s take a quick look at how Pampers brand developed an iPad application in the U.S. and how it contributed to their brand differentiation. The brand launched a free app called “Hello Baby- Pregnancy Calendar”, where parents can watch how their baby is growing week by week when they enter the baby’s due date. Pampers brand is all about baby care. An application that provides information for mothers-to-be not only builds brand loyalty before the baby is even born, but it is consistent with their brand idea, as a well informed mother will take better care of her baby during pregnancy as well as after birth.
The mobile application is also suitable for Pampers target market; as diaper’s purchasers are mostly young couples, the iPad app allows Pampers to stay in touch with their main customers with effective and cutting-edge communication methods. By creating an app for a new and innovative product like iPad, it also contributes to their brand differentiation, especially against long time rival brand Huggies.
When it comes to China, where the mobile application market is not as developed as the US and European markets, it presents an opportunity for a brand to develop a targeted and consistent application for mobile devices that builds brand differentiation locally.
Increased Relevance through Segmentation
Increasing the relevance of your brand is another way to build brand equity. You can only make your brand more relevant if you have a clear target market, and ideally a specific segment of that market, in mind. This is very important when it comes to the question of developing branded applications for mobile devices.
By understanding the types of mobile devices consumers are using, general consumer profiles corresponding to each of the phone types can be developed, and content customized accordingly. For example, you could imagine there are four main categories of mobile phones: trendy smart phones, technologically advanced phones, knock-off smart phones, and all other mobile phones. The non-smart phones can be grouped together due to their reduced or nonexistent ability to surf the web.
Smart phones each come with a certain image and price tag, which can help identify the consumer segments that will be using them. The high income segment of the market usually purchases the most expensive and trendiest smart phones, often as a proof of social status. In the middle-class, technology-focused phones may be more popular, offering the same, if not more advanced, functionalities for a lower price. Knock-off smart phones might appeal white-collar workers between 25 and 35 years of age. Thus, if a brand realizes that the majority of its target uses an iPhone, the development of its mobile channel should be tailored to the iPhone, either by developing a branded app, or by increasing the iPhone-friendliness of the mobile website navigation. Likewise, if the target audience is split between two main devices, or a variety of devices, compatibility needs to be checked.
Furthermore, the consumers using mobile platforms will be a subset of overall consumers. Since mobile websites are relatively recent, only specific demographic groups have started to access them regularly. By understanding demographic particulars (age, income, etc.) specific content can be delivered.
For example, a bank in China may have a large number and broad range of customers. Of that customer group, only a portion will access their primary website, and an even smaller portion will access their mobile website. Consumer needs will also vary, so depending on which group uses the bank’s mobile website, the content and services can be tailored to their specific needs. This was seen with the Agricultural Bank of China, who realized that users in Inner Mongolia, one of the poorer provinces in China, were using their phones to go online. As a result, it rolled out an online mobile payment option for paying bills through the mobile phone that was targeted at these exact users.
Image Source: Mediaman and Labbrand White Paper
The mobile application itself can also collect information regarding demographics, preferences, etc. from the consumers that contribute to segmentation and therefore brand relevance. Drawing on the Pampers example again, a mother-to-be community has formed among the application users. Through the mothers’ discussions through the application and online, Pampers has been able to collect consumer insights and understand their customers better, contributing to their marketing activities and future brand development.
When it comes to branded mobile applications and websites, technical considerations are important, but brand strategy work needs to be done upfront to ensure success. As Rick Mathieson, author of Branding Unbound says, mobile is not a strategy, it’s a channel. Yet, mobile platforms provide unique and rich opportunities for brands to interact with consumers that are impossible with other medias, so the creation of branded applications and optimizing your brand’s presence on mobile platforms should not be overlooked.
Furthermore, mobile presence not only represents advertising or communication opportunities, but is actually a brand strategy decision, because where your brand is present and how it is managed in those spaces signals to the consumer what your core brand idea is. A consistent and meaningful idea provides the foundation for the building of brand equity, the ultimate goal of all branding activities, both offline and online.
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