The Shift from Mobile First to Mobile Only

Constellation Research - Digital Disruption Trend Report Every year the mobile marketing industry boldly announces that THIS will be the “year of mobile”.

In 2005, Sony Ericsson, O2 and Samsung added new features and capabilities to their mobile handsets, delivering 2Mb cameras and GPS to blur the lines between the personal digital assistant and the cellular phone. It was the year that BlackBerry conquered the world and the Apple iPhone was still two years away from it’s game changing launch.

Mobile Device Saturation Outflanks Marketers

Over the last seven years much has changed. But perhaps the most astounding change is the near saturation levels of mobile phone usage – not just in the US, Australia or Europe, but globally. The World Bank reported in July 2012, that mobile phone access now reaches 75% of the planet’s population. And Google Trends reveals an unprecedented surge in mobile marketing interest.


And yet the question remains – how ready are enterprises for the demands of a mobile-ready world?

Marketers have been slow to adapt – first to the web and then to the mobile. Consumers (ie 75% of the global population), however, have not, embracing every new wave of mobile innovation with open palms. The World Bank report suggests that rather than petering out, the “mobile revolution is right at the start of its growth curve”.

Digital Disruption: Lessons from Asia Pacific’s Digital Trajectory

Asia Pacific is not just an economic juggernaut – it is also a petri dish showcasing the consumer behaviour and business impacts that are being wrought by the shift to digital. And while many enterprises have begun to respond with a “mobile first” strategy – designing customer experiences around the mobile device, our trend report on digital disruption suggests that this may not be enough. For many consumers, the future of digital may not involve a desktop computer at all. Mobile first may not be enough – it’s time to consider what it means to have a web experience that is mobile only.

For marketing leaders, there are five key lessons that can be drawn from Asia Pacific and applied to any market:

  1. The Internet experience is mobile with a social heart.
  2. Consumer adoption is disrupting patterns of media consumption and transforming the buyer’s journey.
  3. Digital adoption will drive marketers’ thirst for mobile solutions.
  4. Marketers will turn to marketing automation to scale execution.
  5. The shift to digital requires a re-casting of the marketing funnel.

Download a copy of the report to learn how mobile and social adoption will change your market strategy.

Asian Connections: Embracing the Digital Trajectory

Fifty four percent of the world’s population lives in Asia. That’s 3.7 billion people. And according to We Are Social, Singapore’s recent report, Asia is home to over 1 billion internet users – 80% of whom use social media (see full report below).

The numbers are impressive. And yet, they tell only part of the story.

The most compelling aspect is the trajectory of digital consumption across Asia:

  • New internet users every month: 11,350,000
  • Videos watched (in June 2012): 45,000,000,000
  • New Facebook users each month: 10,000,000
  • Mobile internet users now outnumber PC-based internet users in China: 388 million vs 380 million

Consumer Adoption is Disrupting Patterns of Media Consumption and Impacting the Buyer’s Journey

The shift to digital in Asia is characterised by the widespread use of mobile and smartphones. Almost half of the people in Asia are willing to make transactions on their mobile phones (43%). And 60% of internet users in Asia use social media to inform purchase decisions. This combination is impacting not just the top end of the marketing funnel but various points across the buyer’s journey. 

Digital Adoption Will Drive Marketer’s Thirst for Mobile Solutions

Given that more than half of Asia’s population is under 30, marketers seeking to engage these high spending, younger audiences will need to develop new digital approaches.

However, with 82% mobile penetration across Asia – and a growing population of mobile internet users – digital approaches should increasingly follow a Mobile First with a Social Heart strategy.

Marketers Will Turn to Marketing Automation to Scale Execution

While digital and social media marketing promises one-to-one conversations with customers, the rapid growth in the population of “Connected Consumers” challenges marketers’ capacity to scale. As a result, marketers will begin turning to marketing automation vendors to provide personality rich brand communications at scale.

The Shift to Digital Requires a Re-casting of the Marketing Funnel

While the information in the We Are Social report focuses on Asia, we are seeing similar shifts in markets the world over. Marketers can no longer rely on past practices as a relevant method for predicting future outcomes. Forward thinking marketers will need to begin rethink their understanding of their consumers from the outside-in. This will require a re-casting of the marketing funnel.

Look for my upcoming report CMOs: Re-casting the Marketing Funnel for Consumer Engagement, available for free later this month to all Constellation Research clients. Want to know more? Email me.

Youth Mobile Trends in China 2010

When I worked in a marketing agency, I spent a lot of time working on youth brands in China and across Asia-Pacific. I remember standing in Shanghai and being amazed at what was slapping me in the face – that China was not a communist country in the way that my education had led me to believe. It was a massive market economy – with controlled borders. And inside these borders entrepreneurialsm was rampant, individualised and driven by a restless desire for growth and economic wellbeing.

But what is this really like? How does it play out in the youth market?

One key thing to remember is that mobile phones are the most affordable and widespread of all technologies. Rather than being the “third screen” that they are in the West, for many young Chinese, the mobile, connected device is the first and most important screen.

In this presentation, Graham Brown  and John Solomon talk through the three key trends impacting Chinese youth in the mobile space:

  • Slowing markets
  • Market saturation
  • SMS is replaced by messenger products

I have a feeling that we can look to China as a trend-setter in this regard. In Australia and the US, I expect we’ll see similar patterns. This will impact the approach we take to engaging and marketing to consumers through mobile devices. The only difference perhaps is that the messenger products already have names like Twitter and Facebook.

Interesting times ahead!

FanFou — It’s Chinese for Twitter

Fanfou1 For many who work with social media, Twitter has become an indispensible tool. It allows us to keep in passive contact with our connected friends no matter where we or they may be located. And while the Twitter user base continues to grow there are other solutions that do much the same thing, but in a different language. Take a look at FanFou for example.

This great post shows how you can tap into the Chinese conversation — even if you don’t speak the language (just follow the instructions) — or check out the YouTube clip. There are many Chinese people who speak and write a small amount of English, so it is possible to engage in basic online conversation (also for Firefox users, add this auto-translation button to your Favourites bar). And with the Beijing Olympics coming up later this year … and many questions round the "Tibet Situation", it could be a fascinating way to gain some insight into China and Chinese thinking ahead of time.

So, now I just need to figure out how to translate "servantofchaos". Hmmm … maybe I should just stick to "Gavin Heaton" for now! If you are interested, you can find me at

Number of Chinese Bloggers Exceeds Population of Australia

When I was last in China, I spent quite a lot of time with kids like the ones in this photo. I was attending an exhibition in the holiday resort of Hangzhou (which also happens to be one of the regional centres of technology and animation) with hundreds of other vendors. My focus during the event was to engage and entertain kids with some interactive and stimulating digital games.

What struck me was not only the outgoing and friendly personalities of all the kids (except when they were frightened by my Gweilo appearance), but also the fact that these kids were talking to me in English. And I don’t mean the stilted, embarrassing mishmash that I normally trot out as an excuse for “foreign languages”. I am talking real conversation, real questions, personal interest.

These kids took every opportunity to speak with a native English speaker that they could. A few feet away you could see smiling grandparents and excited parents watching as their pride and joy edged ever closer to ask a question. And like kids everywhere, once the ice was broken, the flood gates opened. “What is your name ?” gave way to questions about home, family, school, favourite things. They were bright, fun and engaging kids, open and enthusiastic. And they could all use computers, picked up the games and activities with a few clicks, and were keen to see their names on the leaderboard. Technology was definitely seen as an advantage … and every kid I spoke to saw the potential.

I was reminded of all this today as I read Shel Israel’s third post summarising his findings from the SAP Global Survey. This third posting builds on the Overview and the Seven Key Findings (regular readers will find little to surprise, as Shel, himself, notes), and provides an EXCELLENT snapshot of the state of social media play all around the world. There are some amazing statistics, including:

  • Facebook has grown at a rate of 400% during 2007, but not in Germany where its adoption continues to lag (despite 45% of Internet users engaging in social media of some kind)
  • Scotland continues to be a world leader in the field of education (just take a look at Ewan McIntosh’s brilliant blog to learn more)

But the one statistic that really hit me was this — there are now 20 million bloggers in China. That is the equivalent to the entire population of Australia. A great example of SHIFT HAPPENS unfolding in front of our eyes.

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China has been in my blood since childhood. A family friend tried (in vain) to teach me some of the Chinese language when I was about 10 years old — it was not that I was not interested — it was that I was only 10 years old and needed a little more structure to my learning.

Later, while studying at university, I was lucky to share a house with some Chinese scholars who were on a research assignment in Australia. One, in particular, Zhong Ning Ning, was a great man with a true passion for the world. Over a year or so he taught be as much Chinese history as could be crammed into our evenings, and in return I taught him English. I think I received more than I gave … but it was one of the highlights of my time at university … and it fueled my interest in China and its history.

Ning was also a man of great humour. I remember taking him to see Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, and at the "feast" I looked across the darkened theatre to see Ning’s reaction. I had been living with Ning for some time and we had become good friends — I had learned about his childhood, his family (waiting for him to return) and his belief in the communist system. Now, watching a movie with western decadence as one of its core themes, I was wondering what my friend would make of me and my society. After a pause, he looked across, smiled, and said, "wow, big dinner!". Those three words taught me about China than a whole year of conversation.

Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to travel to China for business and I have found my old interest in China reigniting. I am fascinated by the language, by the energy of the place, its history and its people. I am overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the people who I meet and work with — I have certainly been spoilt by this. And the sheer fact that they can converse in Mandarin, Cantonese and English (not to mention any number of dialects) … embarrasses me by my inability to clearly say much more than "good morning" and "thank you".

So I have started listening to some Mandarin lessons in my car on the way to work. It is slow going, but very rewarding. Even successfully asking "what is your name" elicits genuine joy in the faces of my friends. Some of my pronunciation leaves much to be desired, but I am making slow but sure progress thanks to Ken and Jenny over at If you have an interest in a flexible online system for learning Mandarin, then check it out.

zai4 jian4


The Challenge of Translation

I remember meeting a translator at university. At the time he was working on a fairly heavy translation (to English) of a contemporary French philosopher’s work (it was one of Gilles Deleuze’s works) and he would sometimes talk about the challenges of creatively translating such a work. I must admit that my limited exposure to other languages did not allow me to understand exactly what he was saying … but a recent trip to China showed the real value of a good translator.

Hangzhou_airport_menu_1As we prepared to fly out of the Hangzhou airport, we breakfasted in the airport cafe. And after a week of "trying" many dishes that could not be translated into English, and with my sense of adventure drying up, I found I was unable to order the appealing "egg millk blend juice", and opted for a black coffee instead.

But in a western world, used to the superlatives of copy writers, the literal translation of Chinese to English seems strange, yet to native speakers, even good bi-lingual speakers, these translations are more than fine — they convey fact, are clear and communicate economically. Translators like copy writers are not born, they are made. They train for years in the nuances of cultures … and their task and learning never ends. And it is a creative endeavour … and the more we are all exposed to places like China and India, the more demand there will be for creative cross-cultural thinkers, speakers and (dare I say it), poets.


It Just Keeps Getting Better

Some time ago I saw a live performance show by a troupe called "The Happy Sideshow". Their motto is "it just keeps getting better" — often said as a hand or arm is placed into a dingo or bear trap (or much worse). This motto implies that improvement can only be made through a strange sort of pain — one that requires you to endure it while still smiling.

After almost a week here in Shanghai, I see a special relevance to this phrase … in fact, it is the same phrase I used with my team when in China last time. If you are looking to do business in China, then you need to know that it is never easy. There are many protocols, challenges, obstacles and cultural minefields to negotiate — and that is just at the airport!

When you can’t believe that the issues you face can become worse, then you must remember that "things just keep getting better". When the items that you purchased arrived and they are "below standard", you also need to remember that "things just keep getting better". And when you feel that the work you have paid for is shoddy, but there is no one responsible, no one to instruct or no avenue for recourse, you need to remember that "things just keep getting better".

It is clear to me that the best way forward in China is to be patient, firm in your articulation of need (matched with determination) and flexible in the way you deal with obstacles. This in itself can be frustrating, but is often the only way — the more you resist, the more stress you cause yourself and those around you.

But there are benefits and joys also. The people can be warm, supportive and very hospitable. They will go out of their way to show you the very best of their country and culture, point you in the right direction and even negotiate the price at markets. They are generous with their time and energy.

It reminds me of this post by Seth Godin. He talks about the perception of "weirdness" — and points out that it is not weird if it is YOUR weirdness. The things that frustrate and challenge westerners in China are just "part of life" for those who live here.

Does it just keep getting better? Thanks to my friends in China, I can say "yes"!


Going to China

I am off to Shanghai next week, and greet it, as I greet any overseas trip … with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. One of my favourite writers, Helene Cixous, explains that she "shivers" every time she crosses from one country to another. I agree that there really is something profoundly unsettling about crossing borders and this is always amplified when you can’t speak the language and the culture is instrinsically different.

It will be my first time in Shanghai, which is from what I hear, one of the most cosmopolitan and vibrant of China’s cities. I expect there will be much to see, do and absorb … and I hope there will be no problem posting my observations and thoughts. On my last trip I was overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the people that I met. It made me think of New York in the 1980s (even though I was never there for it). It opened my eyes to new and different ways of seeing — but I must admit, I am still struggling to know how this translates to thinking.

I will keep you posted on my current state of culture shock as it advances. In the meantime, if you have any questions, thoughts or ideas that you would like me to write about or think through while in China, add a comment and I will do my best.


How Smart Are China’s Kids?

As I struggled through day after day of greeting people in Mandarin (of which I know only a handful of words), I was constantly surprised by the number of kids who could speak with me in English.

Some of these Chinese kids are barely toddlers, yet can clearly say hello, thank you and goodbye in English. Some can hold long and complicated conversations. One eleven year old and one 14 year old that I met spoke English as good as I do (ok that is open to debate). Now I don’t know about you, but there are no kids that I know that can speak Mandarin.

China is obviously serious about engaging the West, and with Beijing 2008 just around the corner, there will be plenty of people going to visit and experience what China has to offer. But this is just the beginning … China is preparing to walk on the world’s stage, and its kids are the ones that will be leading the multinational businesses of the future. They are smart kids, interested and curious about the world … but they do NOT expect you to speak their language. Even my very few words would generate excited smiles and torrents of words I could not understand …

These kids are the ones putting in the extra effort to communicate … and they will do the same in everything else that they do.