Grant Tudor

Reaching the Next Billion Through Mobile

Last January, The Economist ran a piece on mobile technology in developing countries. The article, of course, wasn’t the first to conclude that “clever services on cheap phones make a powerful combination.” And it certainly won’t be the last to opine about the mobile-driven transformation of development.

But it did profile a few radical innovators capitalizing on the rapid and broad-based distribution of mobile technology. As a preview to this week’s Columbia Social Enterprise Conference, I had the pleasure of speaking with one such innovator: Nathan Eagle, co-founder and CEO of Jana, who will be leading a session on Advancing Technology.

Currently generating revenue in over 50 countries, Jana (Sanskrit for “people”) enables global organizations to directly engage with BoP consumers through mobile phones. In exchange for free airtime, Jana incentives 2.1 billion emerging market consumers to fill out surveys and purchase products. In other words, it enables organizations to understand next billion consumers – and then engage them.

Take, Eagle explained, a hypothetical laundry detergent brand. Say it wants to know more about rural Bolivian women: what detergent they currently use, where they buy it, when they buy it – the basket of market intelligence that underpins successful marketing. Through its proprietary technology, Jana gathers data by distributing free airtime to rural Bolivian women who in turn answer survey questions on their phone.

With the new data in hand, Jana’s marketing team can turn market intelligence into something actionable: informed marketing that effectively targets rural Bolivian women. For example, deploying an additional incentive – say, printing a unique ID on the inside of the detergent pack that offers “50 cents off your next purchase of Brand X” – initiates the process of building a relationship between a global brand and a low-income customer, often for the first time.

As Eagle expounded, the implications for marketing to the BoP are anything but negligible. “If you want information on women from Kansas, there’s a ton of data out there. But there’s a total dearth of data in emerging markets. Mobile changes that.” Typically, brands learn about and speak to a small fraction of consumers at the top of the pyramid in emerging markets – through traditional research methodologies and usual communication channels. “But what if suddenly, global brands took just 25 percent of their ad budgets and redirected them from billboards directly into people’s pockets?”

The release of the iPhone 5 will steal the headlines today. But as Eagle cautioned, it’s very easy to get caught up with the great new specs of the latest technology. It’s not next generation technology that’s driving the mobile transformation of development, but rather the less glamorous phenomenon of very low price points. The accessibility of mobile phones today, from US $15 to $35 for a ‘grey market handset,’ “is the game-changing component behind the fastest growing technology adoption in human history.” It’s Jana’s proposition that those who capitalize on this already-existing and increasingly ubiquitous technology will successfully engage the next billion.

(Remember, if you’re joining us at the conference, be sure to check out Nathan Eagle’s Advancing Technology session on ‘reaching the next billion consumers through mobile’ for more!)

Social Enterprise, Technology
social enterprise