Keeping up with the new-age consumers

Brands either need to capture consumers during the ‘mobile moments of truth’, or end up being irrelevant

The world wide web was invented in 1985. Just four years later, an obscure Sri Lanka experienced its first email via a dial-up modem. Punching well above its weight, the island nation’s ICT (information and communications technology) has raced through a transformation in the last two decades, which made it one of South Asia’s first to launch both 3G and 5G.

Fast-dipping prices of both data and smartphones have carved out a landscape with 50% internet penetration, of which 80% is mobile-led. From ordering your ‘chicken kottu’ online to visiting the app more than the bank, the mobile revolution spells massive disruption for traditional marketing models.

Mobile rising

What was once a linear consumer journey has morphed into one where a consumer may consider first, research next and then advocate, before making a purchase; or, of course, do some of these simultaneously, challenging marketers with near-endless permutations of consumer journeys. Why? Consumers now have shorter attention spans. When combined with hyper-connectivity, the end result is ‘a collision of moments’. If there was ever a time to rethink your communication as an advertiser or a brand, yesterday was it. Either we capture our consumers during the ‘mobile moments of truth’, or end up being irrelevant.

Everyone knows video is the place to be, and smartphones are the most popular way we can get there. This hasn’t been missed by OTT platforms — we have seen the launch of Netflix and other services throughout the past three years. In spite of OTT platforms embracing a mobile-first strategy, by even partnering with telecom providers, services such as subscription video on demand (SVoD) and the more pocket-friendly advertising-based video on demand (AVoD) have remained a remarkably difficult sell.

The picture is different for free video platforms like YouTube and TikTok. Raging through Sri Lanka’s suburban and rural populace, a 15-second TikTok clip is the fastest way to reach the largest numbers in the country today. Both TikTok and YouTube boast local teen celebrities enjoying the high life, earning rates, and living where many of us could only dream of.

Keeping up with Sri Lankans

If you Googled the query implied in the title, you would be told ‘There is no time difference between India and Sri Lanka’. The actual answer, however, maybe nothing short of four years. Sri Lankan brands are four years behind their peers in India. For whatever reason (and there’s no denying that pure slack may be one), the marketing fraternity has been outrun by its fast-evolving local consumers. After all, when the statistics are showing that people are on mobile, don’t advertising budgets have to be allocated accordingly?

Unfortunately, while the average Sri Lankan looks at her phone 220 times a day, marketers continue to give TV the lion’s share of their budget. This leaves just 3-5% for their most influential platforms. Of this, too, 9/10 will be spent on basic social media management.

While data proves that smartphone penetration in the north and east is as high as 80%, local marketers continue to see digital platforms as appealing largely to Colombo and suburban audiences. Given the pricing of a generic TV spot during prime time, it’s evident that most brands spend less than one TV spot’s airing on their monthly social media retainer.

Does this show that, unlike in India today, the country’s marketers are more interested in covering their bases, rather than taking the unfamiliar steps that are right for the brand? What opportunities await those bold enough to make it happen? Maybe we’ll know in 2017.

Mohenesh Chamith Buthgumwa

Mohenesh Chamith Buthgumwa

Director, Isobar Sri Lanka