Global Culture and the Importance of Mobile Design

It’s widely recognized that brands and products can succeed or fail on the realization of their relative impacts on target audiences. It isn’t enough to build campaigns and strategies based on the newest technology. Without a plan based on real-life uses, needs and beliefs, businesses fail.  In an increasingly complex shopping ecosystem, where the lines between retail space and virtual space blur and use of time is dictated by the shopper rather than the availability of the retailer, understanding subtleties in meaning and behavior is of paramount importance.  In the mobile sector, especially when thinking in terms of globalization and emerging markets, getting it “right” means digging deeper than what demographic and statistical information provide and looking at how mobile devices are and will be used in context.

Case in point, the explosive growth of mobile-phone ownership in the developing world is partly the result of a vibrant recycling, the arrival of cheap phones and a general increase in per capita income. It is also growing rapidly, in part, to the efforts of forward-thinking retailers and developers. For example, anthropologists working for Nokia spend increasing amounts of time trying to understand what people living at the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” might want from a phone. In addition to handset innovation and apps geared to the improving daily life (such as designs with multiple phone books), people are increasingly looking to use mobile devices to shop. So what? The important element is what they are shopping for and how they use their devices, much of which can be transferred from a setting like India to a fast-paced market like New York. It isn’t enough to find the best deal, you also need to calculate the easiest route there, whether or not you can also pick up a new pair of jeans along the way and whether or not this still allows you time to meet your friends for that after dinner cocktail.

Another point. Only 7% of the population of India regularly access the internet from a PC. But brutal price wars mean that 507 million Indians own mobile phones (Indian operators such as Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications sign up as many as 20 million new subscribers a month). That’s 507 million people who see your products and retail setting as potential status brands. It may be hard to believe, but Pabst Blue Ribbon is a premium brand in China, garnering around $40 for a bottle. It’s all in the positioning and the ease with which the shopper can find and access your brand. It is now possible for a person in Bangalore to order hand-crafted chocolate from San Francisco on his mobile phone, or to find the best deal on a new pair of Nikes within 5 miles from his home.

In other developing countries, too, there are many more mobile phones than traditional internet connections. There are 610 million internet users in Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia (the so-called BRICI countries), but 1.8 billion mobile-phone connections, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). And each of these economic giants has different expectations about language, product status and shopping. Getting your mobile strategy right can mean millions.

Whether in the US, Europe or developing markets around the world the possibilities are tremendous. Farmers in remote areas will find a manufacturer’s products and customized advice on crop planting using their cell phone. Your favorite cup of coffee will find your iPad as you move from a meeting in Paris to one in Shanghai.  Your Nook will “talk” to the store you’re in and automatically download content to keep the children occupied as you try on a new pair of shoes.

In order for the mobile phone to reach its full potential, we’re going to need to understand what people really need from their mobile devices and how these tools will integrate with the overall shopping experience.


By Gavin

Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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