In July 2014, Facebook announced its new customer-reaching strategy in emerging markets, primarily in regions including Africa, India and Brazil, signaling an important shift in how brands and mobile content-creators are targeting these vital populations. It’s widely known that emerging markets are home to the next 5 billion mobile connections—that is to say, consumers. As the West has already become consumer-saturated, high-profile brands such as Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple and Samsung must capture attention in developing nations in order not to remain stagnant. While consumers are keen to receive mobile content suiting their preferences, the technological infrastructures of developing nations are limited. Facebook is therefore trying a new tactic that will likely prove fruitful, appealing to both the needs of emerging market consumers and overcoming technological restrictions currently in place.

The Facebook Playbook

Facebook is working to provide online ad content to emerging market consumers by deploying ads that overcome the obstacle of network speed. These ads take the form of missed phone calls—when consumers see the ad, they can click on it to send a missed call notice to the advertiser. From there, the advertiser has the ability to call the consumer back, delivering information pertaining to the advertised services, or with a product offer. This method avoids data plan requirements, and is a creative way of reaching consumers in developing nations directly—furthermore, we anticipate it will be effective.

To shed light on the sheer impact of emerging markets: China and India were predicted to see more than 200 million smartphone sales by the end of last year, making them two of the most mobile markets across the globe. And, Brazil is among the largest telecoms markets in the world with more than 272 mobile subscriptions. As Facebook targets these locations with their new strategy, brands, content-creators and device manufacturers will do well to take a page out of Facebook’s playbook by looking to market directly to consumers in developing nations via customized strategies.

Mobile Efforts Must Be Localized

Western mainstays such as Microsoft continue to target consumers in developing nations by providing affordable devices and equipment in an effort to appeal to those seeking low prices (e.g. Microsoft has just introduced a $29 phone). After all, big companies are in stiff competition throughout the developing world. According to Upstream’s “The Next Mobile Frontier Report,” which was conducted by research firm Ovum, Apple is the most desired brand across emerging markets. While 32 percent of consumers covet Apple devices, in second place is Samsung (29%), followed by Nokia (13%).

Apple’s reputation in emerging markets is especially interesting in light of its September iPhone 6 launch, with the device not yet in developing nations. This said, the iPhone 6 does have features that consumers in developing nations typically find desirable. For instance, a standout feature of the brand’s new phone is that the screen size options are either 4.7 inches (iPhone 6) or 5.5 inches (iPhone 6 Plus). According to a recent report, in 2013 60 percent of smartphone shipments to India included phones with screen sizes between 3.5 and 4.99 inches. As India has the second highest density of smartphone subscribers in the world, it serves as a litmus test for how other key markets might interact with mobile.

Upstream’s “The Next Mobile Frontier Report” reveals further that 46 percent of emerging market consumers would purchase a device due to its functionality, whereas a lesser 26 percent would choose a device based on brand factors alone. Because Apple’s iPhone 6 does have features that would appeal to developing nations (e.g. screen size), Apple has an opportunity to combine their functional benefits with already established brand desirability in order to capture emerging markets such as India and China.

The low-cost market is heating up and, across the board, these big device-makers are seeing more competition from local manufacturers such as Xiaomi and Micromax. In fact, in the second quarter of 2014, Xiaomi and Micromax were the top sellers in their respective countries—outpacing Western market leaders, Samsung and Apple.

While consumers desire widely recognized brands (e.g. Apple and Samsung), such global companies simply aren’t meeting customer demand. Due to fierce competition among mobile companies to bring ever-cheaper devices to emerging markets, brands must shift their focus towards actual content—apps—in order to remain relevant. While adopting smartphones quickly, consumers in Brazil, India and Africa still rely on feature phones to a notable extent, which are not supported by the 4G connections and quick data speeds that the West is accustomed to—opening the door for smartphone providers should they adapt, especially their adjacent app stores and content portals.

According to “The Next Mobile Frontier Report,” emerging markets consumers desire the following content: social networking (82%), music (81%), news (78%), gaming (65%), lifestyle (54%), books (53%), business or financial services (46%), educational services (41%) and health services (33%). This is good news for marketers, as consumers clearly seek face-time with content that can be branded. However, despite this interest, there remain significant barriers to entry. While app stores can be driven by either mobile networks or by brands such as Google and Apple, they often demand access to credit or banking facilities, to which more than one in five (21%) emerging market consumers do not have access. They couldn’t interact with brands even if they wanted to.

Translation is yet another obstacle. 20 percent of mobile users in developing nations can’t find mobile content in their local language, while one in four (24%) can’t find the content they’re searching for. The solution here is localization. For brands, adapting their content and delivery systems to each country’s cultural expectations as well as technological realities—by localizing their content and customer-reaching strategies—will allow them to have more successful and valuable interactions with consumers.


Facebook is now creating awareness of an issue that has long been prevalent (network speeds) by leveraging its high profile brand, and also by employing a new, innovative strategy aligning with how consumers in developing nations understand and react to mobile content. Because technologies in developing nations are fractured, network speed is a real issue, and must be addressed in order to deliver the content consumers desire. Facebook’s move comes as a refreshing change. Will other brands follow suit? Time will tell.