India has Mastered the Missed Call
Making a missed call by calling a number and letting it ring is a popular way of communicating in India because the caller doesn’t have to spend money.
When was the last time a missed call benefited you?
I did not realize how popular the “missed call” was in India and elsewhere. It makes a lot of sense when you look at the numbers.
- 1.295 billion = total population of India in 2014 (World Bank).
- 1.03 billion subscribers/mobile owners in October 2015 (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India).
- 21.2% of mobile users in India used a smartphone in 2014 (Statista). Assuming all numbers are uniques/individuals and minimal time-lapse change, equals ~218 million smartphone users.
- As backup, a 2015 survey by Pew Research Center found 17% of Indians own a smartphone. Equals ~220 million smartphone owners. I have seen a few articles compare this to South Korea’s 88% and USA’s 72% ownership with remarks on the low percentage. To me, however, the more important metric is actual ownership and growth rate rather than percentage ownership. Put in perspective, India’s ~220 million owners (+ upside) is gargantuan compared to South Korea’s ~44 million (based on 50.42 million pop.) and USA’s ~229 million (based on 318.9 million pop.). Quartz India noted in February 2015 that India overtook USA. Over 100 million smartphones where shipped in India, representing 23% YoY growth. And, India is just getting started.
Now, why are missed calls important in India? Majority of people use prepaid plans, which limit calling minutes but not incoming calls. Thus, to save your minutes/money, you would make a missed call. I have read various sources citing upwards of 95% users are prepaid. The other option to prepaid is postpaid/unlimited, but it can be expensive. Interesting side-note, according to a 2013 survey by CPRSouth (Communication Policy Research South), 65% of Indian mobile users prefer a missed call to an actual call.
I found this fascinating and a good illustration of the power/potential of mobile. To top it off, below are ingenious examples (from WSJ — article link here) of how India has mastered the missed call.
Some banks let customers check their bank balance or get a mini statement on their cell phones by giving a missed call on the bank’s number. The information comes via a text message.
Recently, south India’s Federal Bank went a step further, and introduced a facility for customers to transfer money to an account-holder in any Indian bank, via a missed call. The client has to first register the recipient in Federal Bank’s system, by sending an SMS, including the mobile number of the recipient, and the amount to be transferred, said Babu K. Anthony, head of digital banking at the bank.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has popularized the missed call as a way to connect to political leaders and parties. Give a missed call on +91 8190 881 908, and you’ll get a call back on which you can hear a recording of Mr. Modi’s monthly radio talk with the public named “Mann ki Baat” (Matters of the heart). Mr. Modi’s political party, Bharatiya Janata Party, has also in the past used the missed call as a way recruit new members. The party launched a number on which individuals could give a missed call and become a member.
The strategy was so popular that it drew criticism from its rival Congress party, which said that the same people were giving missed calls from different mobile numbers and were being counted as new members. A Congress spokesman termed BJP a “missed call party.” BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said Friday that perhaps the Congress party was peeved at the success of the BJP’s membership campaign. “They may feel anguish for having missed the bus,” said Mr. Kohli.
People who don’t have Internet access can find jobs posted on listings website Quikr.com, by giving a missed call. Individuals can call +91 1800 1033 331, and hang up. An employee of Quikr calls back, and asks for the caller’s personal information, education and experience, to prepare an on-the-spot resume. Within minutes, the caller gets a text message listing a few jobs available, including a number to call to apply for the position.
A prime example of how companies use missed calls as a marketing tool is an on-demand music channel launched by consumer-goods company Hindustan Unilever. Callers give a missed call on +91 1800 3000 0123, and they get a call back from the automated system, which plays an entertainment channel. Callers get to hear Bollywood songs and banter between anchors, but also several ads for soap and other products from Hindustan Unilever.
People can vote for their favorite contestants in Indian reality dance shows by giving a missed call. Shows like “Dance India Dance” aired on Zee TV, and “Nach Baliye,” on the Star Plus, flash numbers associated with contestants on their shows. Viewers can give a missed call on the number associated with their favorite couple to vote for them.
The missed call serves as a method to close the loop on marketing. When people send a missed call, they receive coupons/offers, and those preferences are recorded. As a result, placing a phone number on other media platforms (billboards, radio, on-air, etc.) is a great one-two combo for brand awareness + direct response. An excellent example is Hindustan Unilever’s missed-call marketing campaign, “Kan Khajura Tesan” (“earworm radio channel”). The channel’s promotional messaging translated to, “Give us a missed call and get free entertainment!” The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) award winning case study may be found here.
Imagine the possibilities with artificial intelligence and mobile messaging chatbots…endless.