Elaine Zhao, Queensland University of Technology
The mobile phone has acquired increasing social and commercial relevance, more so in Asia than elsewhere in the world. Asian mobile phone usage is now widespread across consumer demographics. With the rapid rise of mobile media, companies are asking: how should we invest in this new medium?
China presents an exciting opportunity to study brand owners’ adoption and use of mobile media for marketing purposes. Since the acceleration of the market economy since 1990s, China has witnessed rapid growth in value-driven consumption, most notably among urban residents. According to a recent study by Karl Gerth, about 13 percent of Chinese people can afford to own some kind of luxury good. Consumer culture has changed the way people experience the world. Consumers feel a rising need for self-expression and social interaction; they now encounter an increasingly individualistic culture embedded in a deep-rooted collectivist culture. Further, China has been able to leapfrog into the age of mobile media technologies; this has transformed people’s use of media devices and led to new challenges in marketing communications.
Despite optimistic forecasts from analysts, mobile marketing has not yet broken out as expected. It is clear that the role of mobile media in building consumer relationship is not well understood. Practices of mobile marketing barely scratch the surface of the potential of the medium. And because of the lack of penetration of mobile marketing some brand and consumers are unsure about its real value.
A part of my PhD research looked at factors influencing brand owners’ adoption of mobile marketing and the role of mobile media in facilitating co-creation brand experience in China. To investigate such factors I applied ‘innovation diffusion theory’ together with a TOE framework: that is an analysis of technological, organizational, and environmental factors.
I conducted interviews with key industry informants such as management and accounts personnel from mobile agencies, wholeline agencies, venture capital players, mobile content and service providers, mobile portals, and marketing management at brand owners. Based on interview data and secondary resources, I was able to identify the impact of technological, organizational and environmental factors on firm’s adoption of mobile marketing. For example, from an environmental context, I was able to show how competitive pressure, consumer readiness, market supply, conflicts of interest among industry players, market education and regulatory environment influences adoption decisions.
I also examined technological, organizational and environmental dynamics. I found significant changes occurring in China as mobile marketing was adopted. Over time some ‘perceived barriers’ such as bandwidth and limited consumer adoption among specific demographics came down while some relative advantages such as novelty became less significant. It became clear that if brand owners were to seize mobile marketing opportunities, they needed to keep track of technological and environmental development; this necessitated a change of mindset when assessing the value of mobile marketing.
Co-creating brand experiences
In addition to examining these factors I investigated the use of mobile marketing to build consumer relationship through innovative co-creation brand experience. This represents a new frontier of marketing and there were a number of interesting cases that I was able to explore. The campaigns I investigated all targeted the youth market.
Entertainment and games are important ingredients of youth culture. As mobile has become an increasingly important part of young people’s life, mobile media is ideal for reaching and engaging the target young consumers. Two of the campaigns I examined used mobile to deliver individual experience based on corporate generated content: these were the Nokia E63 mobile novel campaign and the Nokia Supernova Campaign.
The Nokia E63 mobile novel campaign provided a customized reading experience in virtual space while the Nokia Supernova Campaign supplied a transmedia content consumption experience in hybrid space. It played an important role in the branded content as a narrative device, more so in the Nokia Supernova Campaign . Specifically, it triggered the story development in the beginning and started a time-travel journey for the protagonist as well as the readers.
In the cases of corporate-generated content, the narrative was tightly controlled and the opportunities for interaction were limited. Despite that, brand owners were looking to inject various degrees of interactivity to enrich the content consumption experience, and facilitate the individualistic brand experience.
I also looked at how mobile delivered collective experiences based on user-generated content. The Clean & Clear Clear Fairness Campaign engaged consumers in collaborative creation of a novel via a microblog relay; the mobile phone served as a supplementary tool and platform for content co-creation. The North Face (TNF) Virtual Red Flag Campaign and the Nokia Fusion Challenge exploited the location awareness of mobile media and delivered collective experience in hybrid spaces.
TNF encouraged people to check in at physical places via the mobile to join in the race to claim a virtual piece of land and, meanwhile, engage in a collaborative mapping effort. In the Nokia Fusion Challenge Campaign, the geographically dispersed participants formed a virtual community based on geo-tagging around a particular theme, where they negotiated the meanings of places. Participants could explore the whole map of fashionable landmarks and interact with each other through photo-sharing community. These familiar strangers then had the opportunity to meet each other in real urban space and engage in content co-creation and collaborative spatiality.
Overall, the cases demonstrate how brand owners adapt the mobile for marketing purposes as text, tool, platforms, and environments in order to facilitate user agency and elicit consumer creativity to deliver co-creation brand experiences. My research identifies the versatility of mobile media in marketing addressing consumers as value co-creators rather than treating them simply as targets.
Value co-creation has always existed, as there is no value in production without consumption. But digital media enhance value co-creation in a distributed, networked environment. End-user productivity becomes more dynamic. Creative participation in content consumption and generation in virtual or hybrid space emerges as an important source of added value, particularly in mobile marketing.
I hope my research can assist brand owners and agencies to understand the potential of mobile media in facilitating co-creative brand experiences. It presents new perspectives on the dynamic interplay of individualism and collectivism among Chinese consumers. In short, marketers can go beyond mobile advertising based on precision targeting and gain a competitive edge by facilitating co-creation in brand experience. This is especially significant in China, where mobile marketing is haunted by spam and is dominated by short-term sales-driven efforts.