The Global Digital Divide and Inbound Marketing

At the macro-level, the global digital divide is an easy concept to understand. Clearly not all countries enjoy the same level of technology and access to information. It is this premise that three co-authors and I explore in a forthcoming article entitled Mapping the Global Digital Divide, scheduled for publication in 2011 in the International Journal of Business Information Systems.

We define the global digital divide as ..”the inequality in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the inequality in the ability to derive benefit from ICTs both between and within countries”. Using the 2008 World Telecommunications/ICT Indicators Database from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), we develop a map of the global digital divide using model-based cluster analysis and three variables: personal computers per 100 people, Internet users per 100 people and international Internet bandwidth per inhabitant (a measure of connectedness).

The result is a map with four tiers, each tier consisting of a number of clusters. Tier 1 places 41 countries into five different clusters, tier 2 allocates 41 countries across four clusters, the 37 countries in tier 3 are in positioned in two clusters and the final tier (4) of 53 countries is made up of three clusters. Each cluster possesses different mean values for the three measures.

The inhabitants of the cluster 1 (top cluster in Tier 1) enjoy 63 times more access to personal computers per 100 people, 42 times more access to the Internet per 100 people and 24,965 times more international Internet bandwidth per person than do the inhabitants of cluster 14 (bottom cluster in Tier 4). Until this disparity in access to ICTs is addressed, innovative efforts to increase access to higher education in the developing world, such as the University of the People face an uphill battle.

The existing degree of disparity is unconscionable. To be certain, as the diffusion of mobile phones and mobile access to the Internet increases, the extent of the global digital divide is destined to diminish. Over the next decade, as mobile phones and hand-held devices (e.g, iPad) replace desktop PCs, laptops and netbooks as the preferred means of connecting to the Internet, the degree of connectedness will increase exponentially. The trend is already apparent, as evidenced in the graph to the right.

How is this a Marketing Issue?

Top 30 Broadband Countries 2008

For those of us that believe in the power of inbound marketing, an important critical success factor is the degree of connectedness of the population. Inbound marketing only works when someone is connected, via ICTs, and has access to the Internet, search engines, social media, etc. It’s no accident that inbound marketing works best in countries where people enjoy high levels of broadband access. If inbound marketing is fishing, the graph to the left represents the best current global fishing grounds.

And as illustrated by the rapid diffusion of mobile phones globally, our future success as marketers requires us to embrace mobile marketing. Thus, inbound marketing will become more important in the future as more people globally gain access to the Internet through their mobile phones.

Although bridging the global digital divide requires a massive capital commitment, the opportunity to close the ICT access gap economically by leapfrogging from wired connection to wireless access to the Internet is apparent. The unknown/uncontrollable variable is the cost of personal access (mobile phone and data plan rates). Much of the growth in global mobile phone access is due to the proliferation of affordable pre-paid plans. Similar solutions need to be developed for mobile phone data plans. Perhaps innovative sponsorship models for providing open wifi access will emerge.

More access to information provides better education. Better education leads to more economic opportunity. Better economic opportunity fosters more personal spending. Thus, regardless of the solution, the goal of eliminating the global digital divide is one that the inbound marketing community must embrace.

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