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Myanmar’s Always-on Generation

The pace of change in Myanmar is so rapid that it is hard to predict how long it may take from day-to-day to traverse the city, with hundreds of new cars clogging the streets of Yangon every day

I recently went to Myanmar for another business trip and had a chance to observe Myanmar consumers in various contexts, such as Shwedagon pagoda, a vintage bowling and sport complex and a modern super market and shopping mall.

It is impossible not to notice the emergence of smartphones and how quickly people in Myanmar have adopted the popular practice of phubbing (snubbing someone by paying attention to your phone) just like their counterparts in Bangkok, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of smartphone-loving ASEAN.

Since the Myanmar government liberated the telecom sector, mobile phones and SIM card have finally become affordable. Now you can buy a SIM card for 1.5 US dollars whereas the price was once 500 US dollars and more.

SIM cards are easy to find at a small retail vendors and mobile phone shops. And they’re sold like hot cakes, with more than a million SIM cards sold in October last year.

Bear in mind that the mobile phone signal in Yangon and the rest of Myanmar isn’t stable and mobile penetration is relatively low, although companies such as Ooredoo (a Vero client) and Telenor are working hard to bring developed-world communications to Myanmar as quickly as possible. The country’s mobile penetration is expected to reach 80% by this year, according to U Thein Tun, Union Minister for Information and Technology.

Mobile internet is already a part of the Myanmar lifestyle especially among the working generation as Myanmar has gone from ZeroG to 3G and 4G in a matter of years. This new lifestyle is also supported by broad wifi network across the country. Therefore many people access to internet only via their mobile phones.

As a result of smartphone popularity, it’s normal to see people in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw taking selfies, reading news from websites, chatting on Viber or Skype, and connecting with friends and family through Facebook. (Line isn’t popular in Myanmar yet, but that should change with the recent launch of its first Myanmar Line sticker). They also carry up to 3 SIM cards to ensure that they will always have connectivity in case of the cellular signal from an operator isn’t working. You may see some business people in Yangon with a briefcase filled with smartphones and tablets which each one assigned for different purpose from personal to business.

As a PR agency, we see a big business opportunity emerging. The always-on generation is now integral to all marketing and corporate communications campaigns because they are eager to explore and learn new things and ideas with an open mind. However brands need to create the right messages and get their messages to the target audience through appropriate channels. Myanmar lacks of original content so this is opportunity for brands to provide valuable content and put themselves in the spotlight.

Meanwhile several international brands have started public relations activity in Myanmar and they are seeking to take advantage of the smartphone and mobile internet growth to engage with their target audiences and stakeholders.

It is all part of the thrilling pace of change in Myanmar. With economic growth pegged for nearly 7 percent this year, the potential for successful elections to add stability, and the continued focus on leap-frogging to the latest technology, this pace of change will continue to amaze. It is great to be part of this transformation.

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