No address available – so where is it?

In emerging markets very marginal portion of the population is using location based services. But according to Mobile Life Research the highest latent demand for these services is in emerging countries. 

What are the location related applications that people would like to use in emerging countries? TNS Global's research ranks the following location service applications based on demand:

Source: TNS Global, Mobile Life Research, May 2012 (Sample 48,000 people in 58 countries)

It is pretty clear that above interest levels represent more the point of view of developed markets. However, above applications could also be greatly enhanced for emerging countries by assimilating how people think about the location or how locations are currently communicated by local people. Billions navigate based on landmarks, that would greatly enhance user experience across different location based applications.

In navigation applications, one traditionally uses a specific address as a destination. This is unlikely to work in emerging markets, as large majority is not willing or able to use exact addresses. Therefore landmark based guidance is needed for the destination and on the way to find the best route. A combination of street view and landmarks are likely to provide the optimal approach for the part of the population that can afford devices that are needed for precise navigation. But landmarks can also support navigation on more basic phones.

Similarly finding a restaurant or other point of interest becomes much more understandable if it is communicated with the closest landmark. This logic also applies to Friend Finder, special offers, transportation service applications etc. that can all offer understandable landmark location so that location applications become relevant in emerging markets. 

Device capability limitations and people’s ability and interest to use more advanced applications limit the usage of turn-by-turn guidance based on street names. Landmark based guidance is available in text format supporting any device that has capability for messaging. It is only a matter of finding the right logic that provides sufficient user experience to meet the needs to the mass market.

Landmark based guidance and location could be the most practical solution, for example for the following location based services and applications in emerging markets:

  • Various chat and messaging services
  • Mobile social networks
  • Asset and personal tracking services and devices
  • SMS with location in text messaging
  • Complementing existing forms of geographical data sets and applications that are used now for maps and address based location references 

Landmarks present a more adaptive and humane approach. They do not require that the user can interpret insufficient and complicated maps. Landmarks do not include unnecessary information and are available even for the places where no traditional maps are available. And due to the conceptual simplicity, landmarks work well even on very small screens, even a plain text display is enough.

This is what customers in emerging markets need and want – now!

Market making for Finder services

No Finder service has reached the mass market anywhere. We would define mass market level to be reached when a service reaches 15% subscriber penetration within one operator. So why is this, as most people have the need to follow-up and find out location of other people; be it family members, company employees or just friends? As a demonstration of how common this need is, start counting how many times a day somebody asks about your whereabouts during a phone call conversation.

Finder application can respond to that need without having to call the other person, instantly providing the correct location. These are the needs that Finder application can address among the different market segments:
Extended families
  • Peace of mind about safety
  • Proactive safety action enabled
  • Ability to find other family members and join-in an activity
  • SOS alarms in case of emergency
  • Cool tool to see where close friends are as a nice to know information and to communicate on
  • Ability to join-in best friends in their activities
  • Ability to optimize mobile workforce task allocation and customer service levels
  • Asset management by tracking employee phones
Occasional users
  • When traveling
  • Couples providing safety to each other
  • Any group of friends needing to get together
  • High value asset logistics
  • Etc.


Finder services in emerging countries have proven that extended families and youth drive the initial demand. These two early adopter market segments create word of mouth buzz, driving demand to the main stream across all market segments. Within 18-24 months it is expected there is also significant demand among small and medium sized companies and occasional consumer users who have a variety of reasons to locate other people. SMEs can use cost-effective Finder service to optimize supply chain effectiveness.

Marketing of Finder services needs to follow common marketing approach. Initially certain amount of general awareness is needed to create viral effects of the service. In emerging countries this needs to be reached by above the line market communication. Call for action is also important when offering new type of service to the market. Customers will build the habit of using the Finder service over time. Powerful call for action in emerging markets is created with “special offer” that is free or near-free trial offer for a limited time period.

Once customers have decided to use the Finder service, it is of paramount importance that the service is easy to start using and key features don’t require a manual.

Continuation of use is mainly influenced by the value provided to users and affordability. Key features providing value to the mass market as an on-going basis:
  • Universally understood location – currently only landmark location offers this in every country
  • Ease of use – simple and brief commands and messages. No need to read a service manual
  • Affordability – premium SMS price but at an affordable level so that typical mass market user doesn’t have to think twice if he or she will FIND daughter’s location
  • Local languages supported – mass market is usually only comfortable with the main local languages

Our Gecko Finder is optimized with the above features and is on its way to reach the mass market penetration levels in several countries.

Landmarks sweetening social networks in emerging markets

Emerging markets are not going to utilize the same location based services as developed world for many years to come. There are many reasons for this: E.g. maps are not used in education, maps are inaccurate in many parts of the world, and not conveniently available. This needs to be taken into account in social networks.


Limited handset capabilities

One reason for the unavailability of maps is the very marginal penetration of smartphones. Less than 20% of the population in emerging markets have smartphones available based on VisionMobile:

Smartphone and feature phone penetration by region in 2011

Source: VisionMobile, Mobile Platforms: Clash of Ecosystems, November 2011


Smartphone sales is increasing in emerging markets but feature phone sales significantly outpaced smartphone sales in 2011 suggesting that the installed base of feature phones will remain strong for quite a number of years:

Smartphone and feature phone sales in millions by region in 2011

Source: VisionMobile, Mobile Platforms: Clash of Ecosystems, November 2011

Locating users

Landmarks have been proven to overcome the significant limitations in “the map approach” in emerging markets. Landmarks have been very successfully used in tracking applications and recently they have been deployed in mobile social networks that are purely focused on emerging markets. 

In social networks context, landmarks are close enough to each other so that one can express one's location fairly accurately, but far enough to “hide” exact location. Location will always be in a format that is relevant for the others but simultaneously provides enough privacy and social space if needed. The benefit is that they are known places (e.g. near Plaza de Concordia, Caracas, Venezuela) so one doesn´t need to be accustomed to maps and can instantly understand the location. Location is expressed in text format that is suitable to any type of mobile phone, not just smartphones. One of the concerns when sharing location is privacy. Landmarks alleviate many of these concerns as it is not exactly where one resides but a place that is nearby. 

Providing approximation of the location is one of the reasons why Eskimi chose the landmarks approach for its mobile dating service. Eskimi has over 5 million users in emerging markets and is adding 30,000 new users every day. It is the most popular dating service in Africa and South East Asia. Landmark approach protects the user from expressing one´s location too accurately but enables to be in contact with other users nearby. 

Landmarks will facilitate all social networks to offer relevant location services to the majority of the world population that resides in emerging markets. Landmarks approach mimics how the majority of the world already communicates about location.