Thai businesses urged to use SMS as additional marketing channel
by Madanmohan Rao
Thailand’s mobile phone penetration has reached an estimated 40 per cent of its population – and though the user base is largely urban, they constitute a valuable target for advertising and branding messages, according to marketing experts in the region.
Gathered in Bangkok for the Integrated Marketing Communications conference (www.imcthailand.com), marketers urged Thai businesses to address a range of media in their media mix including blogs and mobile phones, especially for youth audiences.
Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand's largest mobile phone operator, expects revenue from non-voice services to reach THB7.9 billion this year and over THB10 billion next year. The company plans to invest around THB500 million next year in researching and developing its non-voice services, according to Busaba Srirattanakorn, marketing communications manager at AIS.
“We do have strict laws against SMS spamming,” cautioned Srirattanakorn, reflecting growing worldwide concern that users may meet the same “information overload” phenomenon with unwanted SMS’s as with junk emails.
“And it is not just businesses that can leverage SMS – non-profit organisations should also leverage SMS for social causes,” she added. For instance, AIS helps AIDS awareness organisations by broadcasting SMS alerts and information notices about AIDS prevention (World AIDS Day was marked on December 1).
Even the government is getting in on the SMS wave: in October 2003, the government sent mobile phone users text messages on the progress of the APEC submit held in Bangkok.
AIS has an estimated 60% of the cellular phone market in Thailand, with 14.8 million subscribers, targeted to reach 18 million in 2005. The operator estimates that at least 48% of the Thai population of around 62 million may own a mobile phone in 2005.
AIS is also exploring cross-media synergies with the Shin group, which includes Shin Staellite and TV broadcaster ITV. The group was founded by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – leading to unease by other players in the industry as to whether they can expect to operate on a level playing field.
AIS has plans to join the Bridge Mobile Alliance, equally owned by SingTel, its Australian unit Optus, India's Bharti, Globe Telecom in the Philippines, Malayisa's Maxis, Taiwan Cellular and Telkomsel in Indonesia. The joint venture, with a combined base of over 56 million subscribers, aims at better roaming services for voice and data, including the convenience of SMS banking and topping up of pre-paid cards for subscribers when they travel overseas.
To spur markets in more remote parts of the country, AIS has signed a US$15 million agreement with Nokia for GSM network expansion in the northern, western and southern regions.
A number of startups are emerging in the Thai mobile ecosystem, for services ranging from dating to gaming. “We have an interesting B2B wireless solution which we will be launching next year,” promises Callum Laing, CEO of Mobile Vision in Bangkok.
Companies in the financial services sector are already jumping onto the m-banking bandwagon. “We have leveraged a number of new media to re-brand our organisation,” said Prapas Thongsuk, VP of corporate marketing at Krungthai Card Public Company. The company has rebranded itself as KTC, and even revamped its dress code to include jeans and shirts so as to appear more “cool.”
During the SARS crisis in 2003, SMS alerts were used to keep the public informed about the health situation. “This works in urban areas, but we actually had to get the health notices and message out to rural areas. Rural penetration is still a challenge,” cautioned Nitaya Chanruang Mahabhol, senior expert in public health engineering at the Ministry of Public Health.
Social entrepreneurs like Sunit Srestha of Thai Rural Net see mobile technologies as playing a key role in overcoming Thailand’s digital divide and bringing the fruits of the digital revolution to Thai farmers as well.
The conference in Bangkok also featured an innovative roundtable forum called the Ideas Thinktank, hosted by Suntec Integrated Media in Singapore. “It is important to include components of entertainment if you want to target the youth segment in mobile marketing campaigns,” advised Mike de los Reyes, associate director at research firm Initiative based in Bangkok.
On the corporate mobile solutions front, Thai operator DTAC has tied up with Microsoft and Metro Systems to launch a business productivity centre to showcase applications like sales force solutions, mobile workflow and business intelligence solutions. DTAC’s market share is about 7.6 million subscribers, and an estimated 15,000 for its EDGE services. DTAC is a joint venture between Total Access Communications (TAC) and Telenor Mobile, the Norwegian telco with regional operations in Malaysia, Singapore and Bangladesh.
Meanwhile rival operator Orange has launched Toon World services in its Orange World portal, featuring 100 cartoon characters, wallpaper, ringtones and comic strips.
WiFi access is provided by companies like Internet Thailand Public Company Limited (INET). The hotspot front is yet to pick up momentum, other than in coffeeshop chains like Starbucks and a few five-star hotels, according to Srikanya Mongkonsiri, managing director of leading ad agency Chuo Senko in Bangkok.
Typical costs of cellphones are around 6,000 baht with PDAs at around 10,000 baht. SMS messages are popular among young generations, especially teenage girls. Most Thai teens love to send SMS, MMS or melodies to one another, with downloads priced at 15 baht for a one-time download.
SMS is used as a tool for TV game shows and TV drama to draw viewers to interact with games and storyplots, according to Mongkonsiri.
Madanmohan Rao is the editor of “Asia Unplugged”
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