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Brand Altruism and Mobile Marketing Essential for Success in Myanmar

Big brands switch spend from TV to online, while wooing Burmese consumers with TLC and educational support.

Photo: The smartphone: An essential tool for focussing on the Myanmar marketplace.(Shutterstock.com)
The smartphone: An essential tool for focussing on the Myanmar marketplace.
Photo: The smartphone: An essential tool for focussing on the Myanmar marketplace.(Shutterstock.com)
The smartphone: An essential tool for focussing on the Myanmar marketplace.

In 2013, only 7% of Myanmar's population owned a mobile phone. Three years later, some 85% of the country's citizens have their own handsets, representing a user base of more than 46 million subscribers, according to the latest research by BuddeComm, an Australian specialist telecoms research company.

According to the same research, smartphone usage accounts for the vast majority of these new sign-ups. Given that fixed-line penetration has remained at about the 1% mark across the same period – and now seems to be declining – Myanmar is seen as having leapfrogged straight into the modern telecommunications era.

The sheer pace of this transformation has a number of clear implications for any overseas brand looking to enter the Myanmar market. With foreign companies having played a key role in the development of the country's telecommunications sector, it is little surprise that such businesses now score highly in terms of brand recognition. Overall, Coca-Cola is the only non-telecoms operator to merit a place among the top four of Myanmar's most-valued brands.

Compiled by Millward Brown, the United Kingdom-based brand equity research consultancy, the list is headed by Apple, with Huawei and Sony taking the remaining top four slots. The most loved local brand is MPT, another telecoms player, with two other companies in the sector – Norway's Telenor and Qatar's Ooredoo – also scoring highly.

This rapid rise in smartphone penetration has also led a number of overseas companies to rethink their Myanmar marketing strategies. Many of them are now keen to secure first-mover advantage by shifting their ad spend to mobile platforms while cutting back on television advertising, traditionally the most effective mass medium in the country.

Despite this surge in online promotions, television, word-of-mouth, outdoor and radio still retain a role in targetting the country's consumers, partly because – mobile subscriptions aside – only 2.5% of the population have home internet access. According to InternetLiveStats, a global monitor of the growth of the digital economy, however, home access in the country has been growing at a double-digit rate for the past three years.

Perhaps understandably, it is the telecoms companies themselves that have taken the lead when it comes to brand building via mobile marketing. A prime example here was Ooredoo's recent Maymay initiative, a campaign designed to drive smartphone sales in the run up to the launch of its 3G-only network.

Looking to capitalise on the key role played by Burmese women in managing the household budget, while also factoring in their pronounced interest in maternity-related issues, Maymay was launched as a maternal information smartphone app, one that was exclusive to Ooredoo subscribers. Promoted heavily in health magazines, clinics and hospitals, the app proved a powerful lure, with a high percentage of Burmese women signing up to the new 3G network in order to secure access.

Huawei, too, has benefitted from highlighting its altruistic side in its promotional activities. Back in 2014, the Shenzhen-based tech company announced a partnership with Myanmar's Science and Technology Department as part of an initiative to help build a pool of skilled local staff in the information and communication technology sector.

This led to the joint formulation of a National ICT Human Resources Development Plan with a particular focus on assisting middle and high schools in the more remote mountainous areas. It also resulted in the launch of the Huawei Authorized Information Network Academy (HAINA), a Yangon-based technology training faculty.

Aligning itself with the educational aspirations of the country's emerging workforce has paid dividends for Huawei. This year, according to Millward Brown, the company scored 436 in the Myanmar Brand Power Index, a measure of brand awareness and consumer trust. This is four times higher than the 81 accorded to the company as a global average.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Yangon

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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