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Striking the Smartphone Iron While it’s Hot!

Google LogoThree years ago in 2010, those of us at Google started noticing that our mobile traffic was growing at the same pace as desktop traffic had in the early days of our company. We knew then that mobile was going to be huge. But what we didn’t know is just how big it would be.

Smartphones started kicked off a “mobile revolution”, but it’s become clear the revolution has proven nothing short of a rebuilding of the Internet. Just five short years ago in 2008, less than 1% of global internet traffic came from mobile globally. Now that number is 15% and climbing by the day.

Consumers are embracing mobile across Asia–and this inexorable trend will only continue.  What then does this mean for smart Malaysian businesses? We surveyed roughly 40,000 people in 47 countries to see how they use smartphones, including 500 folks here in Malaysia who use smartphones to access the internet.

We asked them questions about whether they had smartphones, how they used them, what they did on the phone, and more, hoping to help people understand the power and potential of mobile, whether small business to large companies, web firms, and app developers.

Our survey revealed opportunities for smart businesses to reach and engage this growing segment of the population. This transformation is global, and a recent survey Google undertook shows that it isn’t going to stop or slow. Here are five lessons every business, advertiser and marketer can and should learn from our survey…or risk missing out.

Lesson one: Smartphones have become a key part of daily consumer life in Malaysia and across the region.

More than 1 out of 3 Malaysians now own a smartphone, compared to just 1 in 10 a mere two years ago. Malaysians are also engaging more with mobile than ever before: 57% use their smartphone on a daily basis, higher than both the US and the UK. 3 in 5 won’t leave home without their phone, and similarly 3 in 5 search from a smartphone every day.

At the same time, smartphone penetration across the rest of Asia has exploded, creating opportunities for Malaysia’s many export-focused businesses.

  • Singapore: 72% of Singaporeans now own a smartphone (nearly 3 in 4) – up from 62% two years ago.
  • The changes across Asia are even more dramatic: Malaysia’s smartphone penetration is up 4 times since 2011, and 35% of Malaysians now own smartphones, 10 points higher than supposedly tech-savvy Japan.
  • At 63%, Hong Kong is up 80% since 2011 while smartphone ownership in Taiwan has nearly doubled ( to 51%).
  • Korea has embraced smartphones faster than any country in the world. 3 in 4 Korean adults now own smartphones-a rise of 47 percentage points since 2011.

Lesson two: Mobile has gone from a “nice to have” to a business necessity, but most firms have yet to respond fully. 

Why should companies care? It all comes down to the most basic rule of business: know your customer. You can’t ignore a shift this fundamental in the behavior (and the lives) of your consumers.

Companies can start simple: get a mobile website. People hate zooming, pinching and navigating through sites that weren’t made for mobile, yet more than half of Malaysia’s large advertisers haven’t even taken that first step. If you don’t have a mobile site, you aren’t ready for mobile customers, period–you’re just sending them to the competition.

Once you get a mobile website, then you can start thinking about what else makes sense for your business. Fancy apps are nice to have, but they aren’t necessary for everyone. It really can be as simple as a mobile optimised website with store hours and location prominently displayed.

You might want to drive calls to your call center or retail outlet with mobile search marketing. Or you can get more creative, driving sales with offers tailored to a user’s proximity to your store. But remember: even if you’re a Fortune 500 brand running state of the art mobile advertising campaigns, if you’re directing mobile consumers to desktop websites which frustrate them, you are wasting money.

Lesson three: there is no business in Malaysia which isn’t being transformed by smartphones.

If you are a business wondering whether you should care about mobile, the answer is: yes. Attention, retailers: 9 in 10 Malaysian smartphone owners have researched a product or service from their device. 3 in 5 who start research on smartphones go on to complete purchases on a desktop; 1 in 2 complete their purchase offline. Products (69%) aren’t the only thing mobile-savvy Malaysians are searching for. Other hot searches include travel (57%), restaurants and bars (53%) and even job offers (49%).

Google’s research shows that mobile is big for small and medium business in Malaysia, too. 94% of smartphone owners have searched for local information, while 9 out of 10 have taken action as a result: such as contacting the business, visiting in person, or buying or booking something online. 2 in 5 Malaysians search for local information on a daily basis.

And if you ’re export-oriented? We see these trends mirrored in markets across the region, despite variations in smartphone adoption. Once people get on mobile, their behavior is remarkably similar: in each APAC market we surveyed, between 85%-96% of smartphone owners report using smartphones daily. This shows Malaysia-based businesses have a huge opportunity to gain an edge in foreign markets.

Lesson four: Get your screens working together.

Malaysian consumers haven’t just gone mobile–they’ve gone multiscreen. While 41% of Malaysian smartphone owners would give up their TV rather than their mobile (this was 33% in 2011), a greater percentage prefer to use both at the same time: 43% of Malaysian smartphone owners regularly use their devices while watching TV, while 56% do so while browsing the web on desktop.

This shows that people like to multitask on mobile – they’ll also be on their phones when they’re watching movies and listening to music. We call this type of behavior multiscreening, and it has a huge potential to change the business landscape. For example, we asked people how often they search from mobile after being exposed to offline ads–either on TV, radio, outdoor, what have you. We found that 84% reported that they searched for a product or service from their phone after seeing an offline ad.

That’s a huge opportunity for any business doing ads in print, on TV, or even outdoor, to get all their campaigns working together.

Lesson five: Move beyond mobiles to moments.

We’ve found that for many businesses “mobile” is really a quick shorthand for what really matters – reaching people in the right context. Think about what context your customers are looking for you, your product or your service from.

Where will they be: at their desk, or on a street corner wondering where they should eat? When? At lunchtime, or in the evening after they get home from work? What prompts them to search: will it be an offline ad that you’re running, or will it just be a growl in their stomach? As an industry, this is the direction we need to move because consumers are already there.

Big or small, global, national or local, with ownership on the rise, there is no business in Malaysia which isn’t being transformed by mobile. So go mobile fast–because your customers already have.

Source: Sajith Sivanandan, Country Manager, Google Malaysia