All eyes on the next billion smartphones
A view from Sue Unerman

All eyes on the next billion smartphones

Big news from the Ig Nobel Prizes this year as one winner explains why banana skins are slippery.

Previous winners have included the researcher of homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks. The originator of this dubious study is Kees Moeliker and he was a guest on a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 show The Museum Of Curiosity together with the legendary internet entrepreneur and co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. 

They were asked to donate an item for the museum by the programme host, John Lloyd. Wales gave a $10 phone that he's going to buy in Kenya in 2019. This illustrates where the smart money is being directed over the next five years – the developing markets, the next billion people to get smartphones.

My book Tell The Truth described the impact smartphones, social media and internet information is having on marketing and communications in the developed world. This impact is still playing through and is the cause of the shattering of the traditional purchase funnel. 

The next billion smartphones would change things again. Wales remarked that the democratisation of easily accessible smartphones in the developing world may mean that the next time a crisis hits a country, they might call asking for aid before we are able to send it to them.

Google's Matt Brittin says that today's pace of change is the slowest that it is ever going to be. The tech giant has launched its first Android One smartphone in India – a budget device aimed at enticing the "next billion" smartphone users in the country and other emerging markets. At $100, it's ten times the price of Wales' phone of the future, and some think the price will have to drop to succeed – but Google says it does not want to be the cheapest phone in the market but the best quality and best value for money.

For global marketers, the opportunity is clear. Dan Chapman, MediaCom's digital head, calls the changes that cheap smartphones bring "demobracy". The phones do not just bring marketers opportunities to sell stuff, they bring the users information about product, authenticity, pricing and sourcing.

More markets are opening up. At the same time, the demands and expectations of customers are increasing. For media planning, this means recognising a much more fluid and complicated path to purchase than the "purchase funnel" of the past. It means building real-time course correction into every plan. And it means understanding what brands represent in different markets worldwide and if they can be truly global successes.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom