Building destination brands for D2C success

The big issue with Direct to Consumer mobile content retailing has been and continues to be the problem of getting enough consumers to find your service. Print and TV advertising are the most popular above the line marketing channels used world over. Some players with deep pockets managed to build pure play mobile media brands, mainly in Europe. Jamba/Jamster, Zingy and the Mob stand out here. However, a vast majority of players who saw D2C mobile retailing as a quick and easy way to make big bucks have met with varying degrees of failure. The high cost of customer acquisition, lack of ability to retain a customer without sneaky underhand “crazy frog” like methods, inability to differentiate and low margins due to too many players in the food chain, unsupportive operator policies have all been responsible for this.

I personally have been in involved in D2C services across several geographies for different types of mobile content and themes. Above the line marketing, integrated with movie releases or TV shows campaigns, or standalone print and TV campaigns, have not really set the cash registers jangling. Even with better messaging, targeted ads, clever merchandizing (value bundles, etc), the response has only marginally increased. Even Europe, with all the D2C hype I’ve heard over the years, seems to be operator portal dominated in reality, more so for mobile games.

So with the wisdom of failure backing me, a few ideas are beginning to emerge about how the mobile D2C space will evolve:

1. Merely running a short term ad campaign on the TV or in a magazine and expecting thousands of people to buy your stuff will simply not happen. Nobody remembers a shortcode even 5 minutes after they’ve seen or read the ad, leave alone the keyword or URL.

It really is about a long haul brand building campaign. Isolated mobile only strategies are unlikely to succeeed. Media brands need to build “destinations” with mobile content strategies integrated with overall digital media plans and provide the consumer access to multiple consumption channels. These “destinations” are more likely to be integrated web and mobile brands rather than stand alone mobile brands.

2. Big media companies with deep pockets have the best chances. The mom and pop content kiosks and the medium sized short term players may make their pennies, but can hardly expect to survive in the long run.
A News Corp and Viacom through their multiple media destinations or an MSN and Yahoo through their strong web destination brands are more likely to be the mobile D2C dominators rather than the first generation players like the Mob or Zingy. Evidence that the world is moving towards this comes from the recent NewsCorp acquisition of Jamster.

4. In India, Indiatimes got the dynamics right from the beginning. Their shortcode 8888 is probably the only genuine mobile “destination brand” in India. Web and print properties have been exploited brilliantly to create an integrated destination for mobile content. Yahoo mobile in India is trying to get there and should, given their deep pockets and captive web user base.

In a recent meeting I had with the world’s biggest game publisher, they emphasized that their strategy for D2C was to build “destinations” for mobile content around two of their biggest game franchise brands. The discussion we had validated my own thoughts on D2C.


The gaming phone is still alive

I thought with Nokia’s N-gage experiement had put the skids on the gaming phone experiment. Last week I came across this in Paddington station. Very interesting, shows operators and handset OEM’s still see the core gamer as a big enough demographic to position phones specially for that segment. Actually, I do see the sense of it, given that mobile gaming has been dominated by casual gamers, there must be a large community of core console and PC gamers out there who are untapped. With more sophisticated handsets and better quality mobile versions of console games, I can see why Operators still believe in the gaming phone. Isn’t Sega owned by Nokia though?? Wonder what they’re doing on a Sony Ericsson :)!

Innovative distribution models for mobile content emerging in India

Some time back I had posted a blog on the importance of alternative (non GPRS) distribution channels to drive mobile content sales in markets like India with extremely low GPRS penetration and highly price sensitive customers. Pantaloon, though its Big Bazaar retail outlet has done just that (See article from Contentsutra pasted below). My big issue though is I’m not clear from the article whether the content is still delivered over the operator’s network. If this is the case, users without GPRS can only download mono ringtones and the solution only helps Pantaloon and the content owner make more money by doing away with the operator’s cut for PSMS billing. I don’t see any real value propostions for the end consumer. On the other hand, if the content is delivered using bluetooth or some other point of sale chanell, then a much wider consumer base can be covered and offered a greater variety of content.

Airtel had already started the trend with their Airtel Easy Music outlets, which allowed subscribers to purchase songs and ringtones for their phone from their retailo outlets. I think this is an interesting experiment from Pantaloon and something that can become a major distribution channel for emerging markets, at least in the short run. Regional language voice portals and IVR based browsing in regional languages is another trend I’m keeping my eyes open for.

One97 And Pantaloon Launch Universal Ring Tone Card
By Nikhil on Wed 06 Sep 2006 09:02 AM IST

First Airtel went the retail way with Hello Tunes and MP3 songs from Soundbuzz being made available at Airtel Easy Music outlets; now One97 has launched an all operator, all mobile ring tone card which is being retailed at Pantaloon’s Big Bazaar stores.The ring tones are availabe in single tone (Rs.6) and three tone(Rs.18) packs at Big Bazaar stores. Users have to send a unique 10 digit PIN alongwith their preferred ring tone(s) code via SMS to 9871330303, and avoid the premium SMS and call charges. The card has a 6 month validity. One97 also has plans for more ring tone cards, Astro cards and regional ring tones.On the face of it, it looks quite convenient and cost-effective, but that’s because premium SMS and call charges are are high with the operators cut being a major component. I wonder how many people actually will be picking up ring tone cards alongwith their tomatoes and onions. My guess is that the cards will be placed near the checkout counters, as impulse purchases, next to other impulse-purchase favourites like razors, chocolates and chewing gum.

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