Voice SMS – wrong audience?

The Airtel Voice SMS ad (below) is now being regularly aired on most Indian TV channels.

I found it surprising that Airtel seems to be targeting this service at the middle or the top layers of the socio-economic pyramid. Given the general perception that those in the ‘Base of the Pyramid‘ are more likely to need and use voice-based features on mobile phones, I’d have thought Airtel would go after the BoP audience (probably in addition to other segments). It’d be interesting to test this service with BoP users and see whether they’d take to it.

On another note…

Is this also an attempt at changing the typical Indian phone usage behaviour — the innate unwillingness to use voice mail on phones (I’ve heard various theories on this one, will save that for a different post)? It’s still early days, but I still don’t see any sign of a dramatic change in that behaviour!

Also, I realized there is a basic usability issue with the way one has to record the voice message. To send a voice message, one has to dial * and then the number.  Which means, I can’t use the “Contacts” on my phone to send a voice message!! And given how dependent we are now on our Contacts, this is so unusable!


6 responses to “Voice SMS – wrong audience?

  1. The strategy seems to be to sell the idea of “SMS with emotions,” which is probably not so bad, but in India where I have rarely heard people using answering machines… this technology is yet another example of skipping steps in between!

    Before we got PCOs to penetrate throughout the country, we shifted to Mobiles making the entire service utterly secondary. Though probably now most of the PCOs would have transformed themselves into Mobile Cards distribution centers as well, this new feature might not be really useful for those in BoP.

    A voice SMS is still a one-way conversation, whereas most people in BoP who use the phone usually are looking for a dialogue. Their usage patterns revolve around using the phone to have conversations.

    I think the idea of targeting at the higher levels of socio-economic pyramid could possibly be centered around the fact that it is at this level when people expect more from their phones. Hence, these are the people who don’t mind paying money for an MMS or happily ‘Twittering’ away on their phones.

    Probably if you really wish to target this service for those in BoP, the service should concentrate on the value of an SMS when a person is unreachable rather than showcasing the ’emotional’ aspect of it.

  2. The usability aspect you have mentioned is very true. It is a pain to type * and then the whole number.
    i. A possible solution is to have an automated message at the end of the call, which again is not used by many (including me).

    ii. The other option is to provide ‘send voice message’ as a menu option, again needs some trouble and synchronization with handset vendors.

    Thinking these through Airtel might have settled for the lesser and easier option of advertising(though I am not sure if it’s cheaper). They do have the 1st option implemented partially though.

  3. have written a post on voice sms in india and airtel & vodafone’s efforts in promoting it..

  4. Interesting topic.
    To me it appears to be a luxury item rather than a necessity and therefore the TVC target the Top of the Pyramid rather than the bottom.
    Regarding answering machines: Have used them and have not received any messages other than “please call backs”. It’s a pointless idea in India.

  5. To send a voice message, one has to dial * and then the number. Which means, I can’t use the “Contacts” on my phone to send a voice message!! And given how dependent we are now on our Contacts, this is so unusable!

  6. saral rozgar


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