Location Based Marketing Hits Colombo

Sri Lanka, still though plotted too tiny in the digital map of Asia (with a comparatively lower internet penetration rate of just a little less than 8%), is fast becoming a place for marketers to do some experiments with location based social tools such as Foursqaure. During last few months, the number of tweets and FB updates I am seeing, people checking into various Foursquare places in Colombo is rising steadily.

Although the mobile penetration in Sri Lanka stands at an impressive 90% of the total adult population, still only about 99% of the subscribers are using their mobile phones for accessing voice and text message based services. It is estimated that there are less than 150,000 units of 3G enabled handsets in usage within the country, even though there are already four mobile operators (out of 5) offering 3.5G or higher graded networks. As we all know, location based social networking requires the dependency of GPS assisted handsets largely, to operate smoothly.

None of these limitations has acted as barriers to the location driven small businesses in Colombo and suburbs to explore the handiness of tools such as Foursquare, when reaching out to their potential customers. Compared to other South Asian markets, the popularity of smart-phones among the younger generation is a major contributing factor behind this. If you go to India, or may be to any other developed market in Asia, you would see BlackBerries to be a dominant brand among the matured business executives. But, come to Sri Lanka and you will see BlackBerries being used by teenage girls as their primary (if not the sole) device to access their social network profiles. Evidently, Etisalat Sri Lanka identified this trend, and they did a good campaign to capture this untainted market for BlackBerries. None of the five mobile operators in Sri Lanka are promoting packages aggressively for Apple iPhones, but it has not been a barrier for Apple iPhone for becoming a fashion icon among the teen and early twenties males in Colombo. Android, of course as in many other markets, is the number one choice for the ‘geeky’ types.

All in all this creates an identifiable, sizable, attainable and profitable market segment for high margin small businesses like independent up-market restaurants in Colombo. It is a small, but a profitable niche for these businesses. They are mainly falling into the social category of “New Urban Middle Class” (NUMC – As defined by Dr. Uditha Liyanage, in his book ‘Profiling The Sri Lankan Consumer’), and are having higher income than that they require for their essential expenses of living (either by occupation or by parental funding).

Restaurants like Coco Veranda and Sizzle Restaurant are offering “Mayor’s Special” menus for their Foursquare frequenters. Of course, Coco Veranda had been the forerunner of “practical social media marketing” in Sri Lanka for the last one year, and they are among the first companies in Sri Lanka to spot the effectiveness of location based social tools like Foursquare.

I still see it’s a long way to go, for us to call location based social media as “mainstream” in Sri Lanka (or in Colombo for that matter). However, it is impressive to see the amount of enthusiasm among the businesses and consumers to be constantly engaged in conversations on these ‘location based social tools’.