What An Indonesian Start-Up Can Teach Brands

This is the second installment of a five part series: Reflections from WPP Digital's unconference Stream.

Today we are joined by Txteagle CEO, Nathan Eagle as he considers what Ad Men can learn by turning off their blackberry and looking at the other 3.8 billion mobile phones in the world.

Stream is one of the few events where you can see someone like Danny Oei, a 20-something Indonesian entrepreneur, chatting with senior executives from massive, global brands about his little start-up's social media campaigns.

Of course, the global brand executives may have had more to learn from Danny than he had from them. Because frankly, there is nothing more important to global brands right now than what consumers are doing in places like Indonesia. Last year alone, consumer spending in emerging markets grew by US $1.7 trillion. And whether you're a consumer packaged goods company, a pharmaceutical giant, or an automobile manufacturer, you know your future revenue and earnings growth will come not from North America or Europe, but from countries like India, Brazil, China, Russia, Indonesia, Colombia, Vietnam, South Africa, Mexico, and Egypt. Indeed, at Sunday's Emerging Markets discussion, Martin Sorrell suggested we stop referring to these markets as "emerging" at all -- they are simply the "faster growth markets." Indeed, as he put it, "the only growth markets."

As the CEO of a technology company that connects global companies directly to consumers in over 85 "growing market" countries via their mobile phones, I love this insight. The rapidly expanding purchasing power in these markets, coupled with the near ubiquity of mobile phones, presents a new and powerful opportunity for global organizations to engage directly with these consumers.

Of course, in developed markets, such direct or "targeted" marketing is completely commonplace. Ever since the Internet made it easy to reach out to consumers, and get answers back, no serious company has run ads without targeting them to very specific, research-identified, consumer groups. But in emerging markets, where, as Danny pointed out on Sunday, fewer than 15 percent of consumers in places like Indonesia have personal e-mail addresses and regular Internet access, such targeting hasn't been possible. What to do? Billboards forever?

Over 70 percent of Indonesian consumers have mobile phones

No, mobile phones. As Danny also said, over 70 percent of Indonesian consumers have mobile phones, and that mobile phone penetration rate is about average across the countries I listed. Indeed, while there are well under a billion PCs in use in emerging markets today, there are 3.8 billion mobile phones. Moreover, emerging market consumers spend more than 10 percent of their annual income on mobile airtime. Together, these circumstances create a huge opportunity to use the mobile channel to connect emerging consumers to the brands so eager to know them.

My company, txteagle, developed technology that gives emerging-market consumers free mobile talk time in exchange for completing surveys or trying out new products. With 2.1 billion consumers in our database already, our research gives companies real-time insights about consumer behavior, such as the emerging brand preferences of young men in India or moms in Vietnam. And our marketing service enables global brands to sell products to these consumers with targeted, social offers. Perhaps most importantly, by taking advertising dollars out of the pockets of radio stations and billboard owners, and giving it directly to local consumers, we are not just responding to consumers' growing purchasing power but helping to perpetuate it.

I should note that I can relate to Danny on one more level. My company is not much bigger than Danny's, so, like him, I felt really grateful for the chance to have peer-to-peer chats with some of the most talented senior marketing global executives in the world. In the last several years, I have been to literally dozens of global conferences, in both marketing and technology, and I have to say I have never seen such genuine engagement about shared problems across "rank" and job title. Creating a discussion between a young entrepreneur from Indonesia and a senior executive of a multi-billion dollar global brand is bold. But facilitating the discussion such that both parties are completely at ease, trading insights and learning from each other as equals -- that takes a special type of gathering, which in my experience is unique to Stream. I expect we will see some extraordinary global collaborations emerge from such an extraordinary global event.

Nathan Eagle is the CEO of txteagle, a company that provides consumers in emerging markets with free mobile phone airtime to incentivize surveys and purchasing. His work on big data in emerging markets has led to an entropic life of travel and adventure.