Wild Digital 2019: Journey to the Next Billion Users starts with understanding them
By Tan Jee Yee August 13, 2019
- Mobile will be the primary internet gateway of the Next Billion Users
- Understanding of local barriers will be vital
DURING the Wild Digital Conference in July 2019, there was a panel titled “Journey to the Next Billion Users.” Given that the panel was filled with people from the e-commerce to the telecommunications industry, you would be forgiven for thinking that it had to do with hitting the next one billion customers.
In a way, that’s kind of true. But as the panel concluded, the Next Billion Users are people – and a concept – that is vital to be understood, especially in this part of the world.
But who are the Next Billion Users? They’re the next massive surge of users that are coming online from developing countries. Many of them are from countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil and China, and one can say that Malaysia (and a lot of Southeast Asia) belongs in the group.
Increasingly cheaper smartphones and wider internet penetration mean that people previously unconnected will be connected. But they’re not like the internet users of today. They’ll be accessing the internet with different devices, through different connectivity. They will have different social norms, and even different ideas about what the internet is.
Which means there is a need to think about them. As Meekco.Asia co-founder and chief marketing officer Kathy Tan (the panel’s moderator) pointed out, the Next Billion Users consist of almost half of the world’s population, living in emerging economics. They represent significant opportunities to digital businesses and services; and also a new, vastly different set of challenges to overcome.
Defining the Next Billion Users
Axiata Digital’s Customer Experience & Innovation marketing director Manzur Rahman, says that the primary trait of the Next Billion Users is that they are “mobile first, and mobile-ready.”
“That is the way we reach them,” he says. But beyond the limitations of the infrastructure needed to reach a primarily-mobile set of people, Manzur notes that the main difference here is in literacy rates. Considering these are groups from more rural areas with differing literacy rates, companies need to think about how they approach these users in terms of language.
Adding to that, Insider APAC managing director Patrick Steinbrenner says that a lot of the touch-points with these users happen on mobile web first. “What we need to think about is that they’re touching internet for the first time, and through mobile phones that are not the most sophisticated.
“They don’t have a lot of education, especially on the different stages of e-commerce.” As such, companies need to consider how they can achieve their goals with these users through simpler means and technology.
ShopBack co-founder Joel Leong, says that the spending power of these users is also different, as are their interests. “Things that interest them will be things that are more for everyday use,” he says, from an e-commerce perspective.
“At this stage, it’s about getting them online, letting them experience [e-commerce] for the first time, and allowing them to procure products that they would normally use.”
In fact, it’s likely that the most popular products for the Next Billion Users are smartphones. For millions of first-time internet users, their gateway to the Web is through “smart feature phones” – affordable devices that combine the simple usability of inexpensive Nokia phones from 20 years ago with basic apps and internet access.
Research firm Counterpoint found that smart feature phone shipments tripled to around 75 million units from 2017, with 84 million likely to be shipped this year.
Building for them
Businesses will also need to know how to build their services around these limitations. Google has provided several helpful notes to web developers in addressing Next Billion Users challenges. These including taking into account that NBUsers will be accessing the web through 2G connections, as well as a need to conserve data usage to help with high data costs.
Web developers are also encouraged to design around reducing battery consumption and to optimise for low-spec devices. There is also a need to plan for localisation (which helps address differing literacy rates) and to think about e-commerce transaction systems, as many users globally don’t have access to bank accounts and credit cards.
Choo Pin Ang, who is Expedia Group’s Government and Corporate Affairs Asia senior director, says that companies need to take into account of local differences in ways people use their mobile phones. “In our research, if a customer takes more than four seconds to load a page, we lose that customer in terms of convergence,” he says.
Leong adds that companies should also hire locals to understand the baseline when operating at Next Billion Users markets. “We need to ensure that the barrier is lowest for them,” he says. “It’s often less of trying to throw things on the wall to see what sticks, but more on what they are already doing and creating something that they are used to.”
For Mansur, it’s important to know that companies cannot transplant what works in one market into this one. “It’s really about getting homework done, and how to localise it.”
He says that acquisition of this market is easy, but once they’re on board, keeping them engaged and continuing to use your services will be a challenge.
The consensus of the panel is that if an organisation can reach the Next Billion Users from “acquisition to fulfillment to 100% of your ability”, organisations can dive into it immediately.
“Sun Tzu says opportunity arises out of chaos,” says Choo. “There is an uneven playing field in the sense of the mobile landscape, especially in terms of speed and accessibility. Whoever can overcome that problem can leverage on the opportunity presented to them.”