de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Mobile Marvel. LMD. September 2010. Page 143. Volume 16, Issue 12. ISSN 1391-135X.

A few years ago, on a business visit to Europe I engaged is an aspect of market research I do. This is quite simple. I visit one or more newsagent’s shops, usually on a busy high street and I browse the magazines on sale. I do this to identify what consumer trends are emerging. According to my note books, one of the bookshops in the railway station in Frankfurt, had over fifty magazines on sale on photography and gardening. These observations are typed up, usually on a flight into a set of notes and are shared with my team when I return. We then consider how some of these trends can be reflected in how we develop our business. Another area I have focussed on is how technology is changing the way consumers do business.

Glimpses of future trends in technology can often be had from the magazines on sale. I remember a few years ago, before the iPhone was launched, I returned to Sri Lanka from an European business trip and shared copies of technology magazines I had bought from railway stations. The magazines were aimed at consumers and carried information on the direction of future telephone technology. I realized that within the next year an era will dawn when commuters waiting for a train will surf the web for information on their mobile phone. Not surprisingly, my industry colleagues in Sri Lanka found this hard to believe. Nevertheless, realizing how important the website would be the team of the specialist subsidiary set to work. With the help of interns, we added over 300 pages of content in the space of a year. With nearly 1,300 pages, the website has become a key source of business as people all over the world use internet browsers to search for business and find the website.

In Sri Lanka, I believe people still find it difficult to understand how deeply the web and mobile access to the web has transformed the Western consumer. This is partly because only a small proportion of the population still have internet access and partly because actual speeds on the internet are slow.  In June 2010, I was in the UK and was having dinner with Sandie Dawe, the CEO of Visit Britain. We were discussing a speech she would deliver on marketing to a conference in Colombo organised by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. I suggested two points she brings into her talk, the importance of technology and also the need for Sri Lankan businesses to see through the eyes of the Western consumer. We were distracted by a group of well dressed people who occupied the adjoining table, after having attended a Queen’s party at Buckingham Palace. Sandie pointed out a man whom she thought was a well known TV actor and then googled him on the phone to double check. This very nicely made my point.

The lack of actual broadband speed in Sri Lanka does mean that it is difficult for people to understand how easy it is for people to use the net in developed economies. Just earlier that day, I had a meeting in London with Julia and Len Porter. Julia was due to fly to Colombo for an internship and I ran a slide show of images taken by English photographer Faye Ruck-Nightingale which were on Flickr. It helped me to demonstrate why we have turned our attention to using Flick as a marketing tool. I also mentioned that in Sri Lanka I would not have the patience to watch a slide show on Flickr as it would be slow.

During the month of June 2010, as I moved back to the UK, I realised that the mobile phone has become one of the two most important pieces of technology which defines the life of a Western consumer. The other is the ATM or Bank Card. A modern city dweller, is rendered almost helpless without these two. Application for the iPhone and Blackberry for example will allow you to check the weather before you set out to work. This tells you whether to take your jacket or umbrella or to leave them behind.  You can browse the home page of a news provider like the BBC to ensure you are up to speed with any key stories. People are now connected and informed. I have also noticed if I set up a coffee meeting with more than one person, the others will google surf the others and ascertain some background on the others before the meeting. In terms of marketing, all of this means service providers have to ensure that their websites are current and full of meaningful and relevant information. People I have invited for meetings have at times read my blog on the corporate website before they arrive. Ouch! More pressure on me to bring that up to date. Don’t you hate technology!