Switched-on Kiwis are near the forefront of an Asia-led shift to what Google sees as a ‘mobile-first world’
New Zealand is on the edge of a smartphone revolution being led from an epicentre in Asia.
Kiwis are traditionally early adopters for technology and this country holds its own in smartphone penetration. About 70 per cent of mobile users have a smartphone that enables them to access the internet, which is broadly similar to comparable markets.
The question is whether a small country such as New Zealand can take advantage of the shift to a world where internet communications are mostly on cellphones - a mobile-first world.
By comparison the biggest penetration is in South Korea where 93 per cent of people have smartphones. Australia and Britain had 74 per cent, while the United States had 64 per cent.
A country of 4.2 million people was not top of anybody's mind at a Google Mobile First conference in Taiwan this month.
Google invited about 200 technology journalists from the Asia Pacific region including the most connected countries such as Singapore and South Korea and emerging markets like Vietnam and Malaysia.
Taiwan is a growing market for Google and it recently upgraded the status of its Taipei office, which is based high on the 77th floor of the pagoda like skyscraper that dominates the skyline - called Taipei 101.
For Google the pot of gold lies just 200km across the Taiwan Strait in the mainland China market where it is banned by government authorities.
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt gave the keynote address, saying that mobile handsets had become supercomputers with connectivity.
People were forsaking their clunky desktop computers for sleek new handsets and tablets, using the cloud to avoid the need for storage and heavy computing power.
"We are going from a 'web-first world' to a 'mobile-first world'," Schmidt said.
John Drinnan attended the Google Mobile First conference in Taipei courtesy of Google.
Shift to smartphones challenges marketers
The big question for marketers is whether their approach to selling fits with the way people are using mobile devices.
Big ad agencies have specialist teams tailoring their marketing to make mobile promotions more effective.
The move from desktop and laptops to smartphones needs a bigger shift in thinking than tweaking images to work on smaller screens.
DDB New Zealand chief executive Justin Mowday says smartphones are "very personal" devices. Marketers had to remember that some people did not like to be interrupted.
Advertisers are aware that messages have to be welcome.
"Communications are a value exchange. People watch free-to-air television and they accept that there is a value exchange."
In return for seeing the ad breaks people get programming for free.
Likewise mobile apps need to be enjoyable experiences for mobile users, Mowday said.
"The fact is that the experience you get from watching advertising on a big cinema screen - or a 42 inch TV screen - is a lot better than you get from your mobile," he said.
Mobile advertising has to be a value-added proposition, he said.
Mowday accepted that mobile marketing was entering a new phase as it took up a greater proportion of users' time on the web, but he warned about excessive optimism. It was like the idea of smartphone geo-marketing, which had been around for a long time, but it was still coming.
Corey Chalmers, an executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, says mobile is already being treated as " the first screen".
Chalmers said there were pitfalls in marketing through smartphones. There was a tendency for apps - which enable marketers to make direct contact with consumers on their mobiles - to be "one-hit wonders".
So ideas for reaching smartphone users had to have more depth.
Marketing to mobile had becoming an increasingly critical part of their business operations, Chalmers said.
"Take a look around on a bus people are staring at their screens the majority of the time. They've got time to enjoy stuff," he said.
"Marketing is so much more than just ads now. It's an app that gives extra features to sell a movie, it's a way to get a voucher for free beer, it's a way to check your heart rate and sell some Nikes along the way," Chalmers said.
Mobile had transformed everything, even brands. Ironically advertising for telcos was a case in point. "Only two years ago it was all about call rates and landlines, and now it's about data, speed and experiences," Chalmers said.
"All the work we do for them now is not only selling data and devices, it's about using those very devices as the medium."
Indeed the growth of smartphones uptake has led to a large number of ancillary devices servicing the needs of marketers.
Ford changes gear on mobile media advertising
Ford New Zealand has been realigning its digital promotion to smartphones for around 18 months.
Google provided an audit that found 30 per cent of Ford's prospective customers were using their smartphones to research buying new cars.
"Now we are changing how we are investing in mobile enabled advertising," said chief marketing officer Chris Masterson.
The ideal solution was to align smartphone mobile campaigns with traditional media such as television.
"Ultimately we need to be present in where people are going - and if people are googling we need to be there - we can't be left behind," he said.
"That is the challenge - we have to fight that much harder to be seen," Masterson said.
Ford New Zealand is the marketing arm of a global multinational that is active in many markets.
New Zealand had benefited from Ford's experiences in marketing to other Asian markets, which are leading the way in the shift to smartphones.
"India does not have a landline infrastructure so it has 95 per cent mobile penetration for accessing the web. In New Zealand [we are] a little bit behind Australia - but we are catching up quickly."
Ford New Zealand had its mobile advertising audited by Google experts in the US who examined how it sold itself on the net.
Masterson thought maybe three other car marketers in New Zealand also used Google but said that some of them - including premium brands - had been slow to realise there was a marketing shift to mobile and risked being left behind.
"You would be amazed at how many New Zealand companies are not mobile enabled and formatting their marketing screens," he said.
As for the role of Google's analysts, he is practical about their dominance of the market.
"They are one of the most successful companies in the world - but in many ways they have become a bit of a monopoly," he said.
In the meantime there are the practicalities of changing communications on the net to fit the new medium.
The size of mobile screens was limiting for a product like new cars which companies want to present in their gleaming glory.
"In a practical sense we set it out as mobile versus tablet versus laptop," Masterson said.
Technology research firm IDC surveyed 1500 NZ households in March and April about their use of technology.
•The average number of household devices connected to the internet has risen from 2.9 in 2011 to 5.2 this year.
•47% of respondents would prefer to shop online than in a physical store.
•17% would prefer to watch a movie alone on their tablet.
•Six in 10 Kiwis own multiple mobile devices