The unusual suspects: Smartphones, are we smart enough with consumers?

Indonesia is the e-Walhalla


It is hard to imagine that it’s only 10 years ago Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, the first real smartphone. The whole world in the pocket of our jeans or purse. Especially in Indonesia seems to love the smart phone. The country has more than 100M internet users, it’s projected to become the fourth-largest internet market (based on number of users) by 2020,1 and smartphone penetration has more than tripled—from 14% to 43%—between 2013 and 2016.2

With US$ 1.93 per month for “unlimited plan”, Indonesia has one of the cheapest Internet packages alongside the United Kingdom. Furthermore, mobile phone offering in Indonesia is getting much cheaper and varied than before. Needless to say that the ‘mobile’ in Indonesia is the ‘Walhalla for (e-)marketers of all kinds.

Along with influencing consideration, smartphones have changed the way Indonesians actually make purchases—59% of consumers make online purchases weekly and 39% do so at least monthly, while only 2% say they’ve never made a purchase online1. eMarketer estimates that retail ecommerce sales in Indonesia will reach $3.22 billion this year.

Search intent is more important than demographics

When Indonesians are ready to shop, what they want matters much more than who they are. A report of Google/TNS, “Connected Consumer Study looked at a few key elements—smartphone usage, frequency of weekly online shopping, and YouTube usage—and found very little variation in online behaviors across age and gender demographics2.

That’s a great opportunity, especially targeting the older generation, who have sufficient money and time on their hands and are good for business. It is essential that brands and retailers move quickly to ensure that their own mobile presence and marketing efforts align with the current and future habits of this target market.

Old people

But there’s a catch. Penetration amongst seniors is low. Main reason? They are less comfortable using the full range of features that smartphone provides.

Smartphones are too smart.

Smartphones and apps are mainly made with young people and tech savvy people in mind and as they’re already using them, it’s easy to adapt and learn along the way. They are ‘applitterate’ and get more savvy every time they buy a new phone, install a new app or use the ones they have. Over time, the ‘savvy gap’ between young and old is getting bigger and bigger.

Research confirms this; it turns out Ease of use (70%) is the growing and main criterion choosing a smartphone for older people. For them smartphones are too smart and they don’t want to look stupid. It is way more important then price (which is second).

Probably smart not to buy a smartphone

GraphOlder generations are used to the experiences of the ‘old’ days, where technology was minimal and they learned it by doing.

With that mindset, older people perceive smartphones as intimidating. They have no idea how to use this new technology and what value it adds to their lives and as result and have become frustrated, angry and discouraged. Let’s face it, would you pay money for something you do not know how to use, with what purpose?

But then again, there’s lots of things senior people could do, or would do, or like to do, when they know how. Looking at the top mobile activities, it is pretty normal people stuff we do and did back in the old days. It’s the smartphone that’s the barrier.

The 81 year old app developer

The story of Mazako Wakamiya  an interesting example. She’s an 81 years’ old woman and used to be a banker. She recently launched her first smartphone app, which took her half a year to develop. Her reason is simply. She felt compelled to do something after noticing a shortage of fun apps aimed at people her age.

MazakoMazako Wakamiya snd her app Hinadan

She asked a number of people to create games for seniors, but no one seemed to be interested. So she took matters into her own hands and created a game called Hinadan. She achieved something many people half her age have not done. The game by the way is a success in Japan and getting a 5 out of 5 rating.

Work harder (and smarter)

If we believe seniors are an interesting target group, we have to get them to buy and use a smartphone. It is a different kind of role marketers (no not smartphone producers) and agencies need to play, but when played well, it’s very inspiring and can be very successful. The only catch is: We won’t sell our products directly to them, we have to follow the indirect route. But then again, we add value to their lives, which is particular important to consumers in Indonesia, according to BrandZ.

In his book “The hidden logic that shapes our motivations” of Dan Ariely, he points out that giving meaning to any task instead of financially incentivizing is real power behind motivation. Not only will people work harder, they’re more proud of the results as well.

Adding meaning to smart

That’s in interesting territory, so let’s see what we can do to get senior people into smartphones, by adding purpose for them. There’s plenty of things they like, looking at the top 11 things people do on a smartphone. Just a couple of quick thoughts on what we could do:

Show the meaning
Focus on connecting with friends, family (children and grand children) and how joy full that is. Taking photos, sending messages or finding long lost friends (when they’re online).

It is a win-win for their children who might worry or feel that they’re neglecting them. They could be the first ambassadors or teachers.

Apps made simple booklet
A very simple book in Sesame street language that explains how to install Apps and en explanation of the top 10 relevant for senior people work, The booklet includes an 11th App which has more Apps that are explained simple. It’s combining their ‘old school skills’ helping them learn new technology.

Smartphone lessons
As Indonesia is a very community driven society, why not organize (branded) workshops in which senior people learn how to use a smartphone. It could be sponsored by a smartphone brand.

Simple Apps
As said, Apps are getting too complicated and multi-functional and as a result more complex to use by older people. Why not introduce simple apps. Apps that have big buttons and focused usability. Shopping, medicine, texting, social networks, games, basically anything is possible.

And here, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. There are many existing apps doing this job for us.

BigTake Big Launcher is a meta- app that make things big and easy. The grid layout provides access to calls, messages, cameras, galleries, and SOS right from the home screen. Customizable layouts: adding new buttons or changing their position as they see fit. The only thing we need to is partner up, or put it in Simple booklet, so we make easy more easy.

The unusual suspects: Get the movement started

And this is just the beginning. It’s the good thing is as well when we get this senior movement started. Older adults are similar to the younger generations because they can be empowered through their own peer networks and be the catalyst among other older adults through sharing knowledge, inspiring them to see the value and need for a changed attitude by creating opportunities to educate them.

By sharing will not only give new knowledge but most importantly, it will give confidence among these elder people that they are not alone facing difficulties in learning new technologies. If we want old people to use smartphones we have to put some effort in it. We can’t expect they have the same savvy tech mind set as we have.

I recently read an article. An American science team recently published the results of a study into the remains of a primal elephant, which puts our understanding of American history to its head.

History may have to be rewritten. Until recently, the oldest clues for human life in America were about 15,000 years old, and the archaeologists could not believe their eyes when they saw the result of dating: the mastodont found in 1992 lived 130,000 years ago.

If that’s right, we need to add more than 100,000 years to the period when people live in America. Perhaps we should stop chasing primal elephants, but focus on the scratches on their bones.

Gerard Hoff is Strategy Director at Geometry Global Indonesia



The Jakarta Post, “Indonesia, SE Asia’s Digital Powerhouse,” August 2016.

Google/TNS, “Connected Consumer Study,” 2016, APAC.

Google/Ipsos, “Consumers in the Micro-Moment Survey,” 2016, APAC.

December 2014, Euromonitor International

Older Adults Should Not Be Left Behind, Jennell Williams-Zahir

The unusual suspects: Smartphones, are we smart enough with consumers?