In recent years, mobile data has brought internet accessibility to people who had yet to be connected. However, in these burgeoning markets, data is expensive and used parsimoniously. Data-hungry content and applications are not adapted to the reality of data affordability, and thus a barrier to mobile engagement. Consequently, the average consumer became quite savvy when it comes to saving data, and is increasingly on the lookout for apps that allow for limited data consumption, especially in emerging markets.
Demand for online content is growing to such an extent that user awareness of, and concern for, the cost of data become key factors its decision to engage with online content. This is especially true for areas where connectivity can only be accessed through mobile data. For 3 billion people, the cost of mobile connectivity represents more than 10% of their monthly income. One gigabyte of data will set people in India back by 140 rupees – around 2 dollars. While that amount may seem quaint to many people in industrialized countries, it can represent a large chunk of income for others, especially for a demographic with no at-home connectivity. For brands who want to enhance mobile engagement, this means that a very large proportion of connected individuals cannot be reached for one simple and precise reason: the cost of data.
While many developers are just now designing products tailored for data-conscious markets, this untapped market has not gone unnoticed by tech giants. As part of its Next Billion Initiative, Google launched Datally in 2017. The app is specifically aimed at data conscious users in countries like India, the Philippines and Nigeria. It offers enhanced control over data usage and automatically finds public Wi-Fi sources. Google also launched YouTube Go in 2017, an app allowing its users to download videos for offline viewing. It also features an offline video sharing tool through which YouTube Go users can send each other videos at no data cost. Facebook was among the firsts to hop on the data-conscious wagon in 2013 with its Internet.org initiative.
The stripped-down web service was later re-branded Free Basics by Facebook, and just recently absorbed by Facebook Connectivity. The service enables data-free access to a selection of essential websites, including, of course, the social network itself. Why the many names? The initiative was revamped more than once after facing harsh criticism and being blocked in many countries for infringing net neutrality laws. These efforts by Facebook in a quickly evolving ecosystem encapsulates the lengths that tech giants will go to for their share of these markets.
While data conscious apps mainly target emerging markets, there is a claim to be staked in industrialized countries as well. In places like the United States, the high cost of data means that a considerable part of the population does struggle to afford it. In Canada, according to the 2017 Communications Monitoring report, annual data overage charges exceed one billion dollars per year, generating more revenue than long distance calling or even roaming. This suggests that data shortage and allowance management is an issue beyond emerging markets.
For many, mobile data has become the primary source of connectivity. However, apps and mobile content tend to generate pressure on users data budget, creating friction to mobile engagement. Whether it be in industrialized or emerging markets, new partnerships and models are now taking shape to cater to this reality. Beyond data-conscious apps, marketers now incorporates data as a currency in their growth strategy with tactics such as sponsored data, data gifting and rewards programs.