Catching and keeping your first million Myanmar customers

‘Influencers’ can play a critical role in reaching online communities in Myanmar, who can in turn contribute to huge growth in target audiences.


Myanmar’s mobile penetration has seen exponential growth particularly in urban areas, with internet penetration and smart phone adoption following at a slightly slower rate. Nearly 70 percent of Myanmar’s population lives in rural areas where mobile penetration is significantly lower than the cities. While I don’t know what percentage of those devices are smart phones, I’m willing to bet it’s in the single digits.

The easy growth part of this story is over: those who have been waiting for years to get a SIM card now have one. The challenge now is to get to the harder to reach population and areas.

For those with smart phones, there’s a big question of content. The explosion of localised apps and online services has been targeted at urban users. It’s a growing market but a market of less than 10 million people with limited purchasing power. 

Myanmar has about 30 million people who have mostly come online for the first time in the past 12 months. They have no digital footprint, no knowledge of how to find content and pay for content, no online communities where they gather. So how do you get to these people?

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In my early days of online marketing at Electronic Arts, we were running around trying to build online communities before Facebook was a twinkle in the Winklevoss’…er, Zuckerberg’s eye or before Twitter became a household name. We were also looking to engage wildly disparate groups of people who were relatively new to the internet, or at least the more social aspects of it.

And yet, there was always a set of gamers who had such a passion for their particular game that they spent enormous amounts of time on the forums helping (and complaining) to the other gamers. Many of these people had their own fan sites and had user traffic that we could only dream of back then. These fan sites were often even better than our official ones. We decided to bring them into the fold.

These sites had enormous influence on our target market and by helping them to build their communities, we were able to exponentially grow our earned media reach virtually for free. The Need for Speed got its first million Facebook fans (back then they were called “fans”, not “likes”) by going to the largest NFS fan pages and convincing them to migrate their fans to our official one. Working on creating evangelists of our small list of influencers meant that we could reach millions of consumers more effectively and efficiently than if we were to try to do it alone. 

So, how does this translate to Myanmar and products that are rarely as sexy or sticky as a video game? The key to building your communities is to find the influencers. These are the individuals or organisations that will “touch” your target audience on a semi-regular basis. Find these people and go to them with a great value proposition. It will be a much cheaper and easier sell than trying to get to millions of consumers directly. Everyone in the world, even the most disconnected rural farmers have people of “influence” in their life. And let’s be clear, I am not using the word influence in the context of respect or power but simply someone who is a semi-regular part of their life who is not a friend or family member.

For example, you create an app to educate women on pre- and post-natal care to reduce infant mortality rates in Myanmar and you co-brand with the Unilevers of the world and put up posters in hospitals to get the app into the hands of your target audience. These are good touch points, but there is one group of people who almost every pregnant woman will come into contact with – a midwife. These midwives not only have influence in their villages but often in all the surrounding villages too.

Think of the rippling impact there would be if you could give midwives direct and real time access to obstetricians and gynaecologists in Yangon through technology, or the midwives influences the expecting or new mums to download an app that allows them to communicate directly throughout the pregnancy and beyond.

This basic concept of looking for influencers works for any target audience. From seed vendors to farmers, teachers to students. Think about who your audience buys from and sells to. That will surely give you some regular touch points. Getting creative with how you get to your end users can be a game changer in terms of traction.

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