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This year, India surpassed 100 unicorns, coming in third after the United States and China. Many of these companies have achieved their impressive status by excelling at mobile-first marketing. They understand the pivotal importance of engaging with their target audiences in mobile channels, and they’re using first-party data, insights about user behavior inside and outside of apps, and real-time analytics to create more personal, relevant and meaningful relationships with their customers.

Meanwhile, a new breed of mobile-first players is emerging across the East — “super apps” — with an aim to become one-stop shops for various services, including ecommerce, delivery, transportation and financial services. These super apps cement a central position in the daily routines of millions of consumers by treating each person as an individual with unique needs and requirements.

A prime example of a super app is Indonesia’s Go-Jek, a ride-hailing giant that powers more than 500,000 merchants and boasts more than 190 million app downloads. Go-Jek is among the first “decacorns” in Indonesia. Its laser focus on unlocking first-party data to educate and engage consumers early in their journeys is helping it win customer loyalty and market share. 

From emerging unicorns to established super apps, many Eastern companies are already mastering the use of mobile-first marketing tools and strategies to grow mindshare and wallet share in fiercely competitive markets. Their approach offers Western companies a valuable blueprint to follow as they architect strategies to engage — and re-engage — consumers effectively in a privacy-first landscape where experience is everything.

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Learning from the mobile-first marketing mavericks

The East is home to billions of consumers for whom mobile apps are the go-to tools for accessing almost anything at any time. Mobile users in Singapore now spend an average of 5.7 hours per day using apps, up 40% from just two years ago. Meanwhile, India counts over 1 billion mobile subscribers, who downloaded a whopping 26.7 billion mobile apps in 2021. 

These are massive numbers, and they turn up the pressure on marketers in these regions to drive the deep-funnel actions that can keep retention high. The rules of engagement are clear: An alert about a seat upgrade opportunity can’t arrive after the plane has departed. A coupon shouldn’t offer a customer a good deal on food they don’t like. And news about a new app feature should be presented in a way that considers how the consumer currently uses the app and educates them on how to use and benefit from the new functionality.

Adhering to these rules of engagement requires companies to draw from first-party data and behavioral insights to pinpoint the right time, tone and context for each marketing message at scale. This approach is what consumers in the East have come to expect — even demand — and marketers catering to these audiences don’t dare disappoint them.

Personalization reigns supreme in a mobile-first world

Personalization powers marketing strategies that treat millions of customers as individuals — and keeps them coming back. It’s all about tailoring offers and outreach to the right individual at the right moment with the right experiences at scale. 

Take the super app AirAsia. It personalizes its customers’ journeys with relevant information and services delivered through an omnichannel approach. For example: A customer books a flight and receives an email with their itinerary. When it’s nearing time to fly, an in-app push notification prompts them to check in. Another notification alerts the customer of a boarding gate change. And once the customer lands, another push notification asks if they want to book a ride from the airport to the hotel.

Because AirAsia has access to a wealth of data about its users’ activity related to its various services — including food, insurance, grocery and delivery services — it can help make its customers’ journeys easier even when they’re not using the company’s app. Take the departure example above; instead of a push notification, AirAsia could send an SMS message to a customer about a boarding gate change.

Personalization, when customers need it

AirAsia is also using customer data to deliver targeted messages related to everyday journeys. For instance, the company might know a customer’s home address and office address and what time that individual would normally make a ride-hailing booking. So, when the customer opens the app in the evening, they might get a prompt that says, “Order your ride to work now to beat the traffic tomorrow.”

As Sue Lin Teo, AirAsia’s head of growth and digital marketing, explained in a recent interview with CleverTap, the ability to deliver hyper-personalized messaging is crucial for the company as it looks to add more services and features. “All this ‘micro-knowledge’ helps make the experience very intuitive for the user,” Teo said. “We want to get much better at it so that the services we offer are truly personalized to the customers’ needs at that point in time … when they access our business.”

Vital elements for mobile-first personalization success: Real-time data and insights

Excelling at personalization is well worth it. According to global management consulting firm McKinsey, companies that personalize experiences generate 40% more revenue from those activities than average players. 

In a mobile-first world, the ability to excel at personalization hinges on a company’s ability to store, query and analyze granular user behavior data. This should be collected from every user touchpoint — mobile app, website, email, phone, social media, text messaging. The more first-party data a company has, the better it can understand its users and create relevant, personalized experiences and messaging for them based on their specific needs, habits, preferences and purchasing patterns.

Providing compelling, individualized customer experiences also requires companies to have an intelligent data layer that allows them to harness real-time insights. With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) modeling, companies can develop an understanding of their mobile users’ key behaviors so they can answer critical questions such as:

  • How can we get a user who has installed our app to register?
  • How can we prompt a registered user to purchase or subscribe?
  • How can we motivate a user who has purchased once to purchase again?

Mobile-first marketing: Automation is critical

When selecting technology to support mobile-first marketing initiatives, companies should also look for a platform that provides real-time capabilities and has proven scale. As a rule, scale should never be an afterthought, especially for companies aiming to grow fast.

Behavioral analytics, AI and ML, and marketing automation are essential tools to achieve personalization for today’s mobile audiences. They can unleash data’s true potential through deep segmentation and delivering real-time customer insights, enabling companies to create marketing efforts that help them foster meaningful relationships and magical experiences with increasingly sophisticated mobile consumers.

Unicorns and super apps in the East are already proving that a data-driven, mobile-first marketing strategy can increase user retention — and significantly drive growth. They know how to use data volume effectively to deliver highly personalized experiences that engage mobile consumers. Western companies have much to learn about mobile-first marketing from the strategies and playbooks of these companies.

Sidharth Malik is CEO of CleverTap.

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