Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Dawning Mobile Age

It’s not news that Americans are increasing their use of mobile technologies. That’s after years of being behind the mobile curve when compared to Japan and Western Europe. There are two recent studies that shed a lot of light on what US mobile users and are doing and how marketers might react.

Today’s eMarketer newsletter (October 21, 2008) references a recently released report on household mobile use from the Pew Foundation. (Download the household report from this page; there is also a September report on mobile use by workers that might interest you.)

We should have already killed the early Internet myth that the computer was going to make users into social isolates. The Pew report not only shows that people say that the Internet and cell phone have increased closeness with family and friends (pages 25 – 27) but that there is no observable difference in real-world socialization between heavy and light internet users (pages 18, 19). The chart from eMarketer highlights the importance of the Internet and mobile phones to families with children. These families are heavy owners of all the technologies covered in the study. The study doesn’t ask about motives, although staying in touch with friends and family is obviously important to the study respondents. What I read into other answers is the desire to support the educational activities of their children. They say they use the Internet and cell phones at work as well as at home. The earlier report points out that this is a two-edged sword; more connectivity and more productivity but also more work time and stress. Not much surprising there!

Another recent study, this one by mobile services supplier Azuki, sheds more light on what mobile users do. The chart gives overall time use. There are differences by age group:

• Voice services. The youngest survey respondents talked the most (another big surprise!).
Text messaging. Again, the youngest users text most.
• Email. Here age plays differently; users 35-44 email from their mobile phones most.
• The Internet. Here again, the 34-44s are the heaviest users.
• Rich media. 25% of the respondents access rich media, but no age group spends a great deal of time doing so. It’s still too hard to do.

Given the amount of mobile usage, it’s not surprising that many have or plan to have a smart phone. The move toward smart phones is largest among users in the 45 to 60 age groups. There is also smart phone interest in younger groups; the report expects many 20 and 30-somethings to trade in their iPhone for a smart phone when they enter the corporate world. Planned smart phone adoption is definitely not linear by age group.

Do you see the influences of use for work purposes vs. use for entertainment and communications here? I think the differences are evident in the variations in amount and type of use by age. Food for marketer thought!

There are three recent white papers from Azuki. The market study points out that rich media is still difficult to find, takes too long to download or simply isn’t available on the phones of many users. Their technology, which they describe as a “media mashup” presents a solution, basically a common platform for distribution of various kinds of mobile media. Two white papers give more detail (download all three reports from this page).

After a lot of fits and starts, the age of mobile is coming to the US. It presents one more challenge to the marketer trying to reach people wherever they are, whatever they are doing. These data, taken together, suggest that this is one place where demographics do make a difference—in this case specifically age and household composition. Underlying the demographics is the importance of understanding why/for what purposes various audiences are using mobile technologies.

These resources give some starting points for thinking about and researching your own actual or potential mobile audience!

1 comment:

Bryan Person said...

Mary Lou:

I'm bullish on the growing mobile market. In a conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, a presenter said that owners of mobile handsets will grow by about 1 billion (from 3 > 4 billion) in 2008 alone!

As for twentysomethings and thirtysomethings trading in their iPhones ... I wonder why that is? I consider my iPhones a smart phone, since it can push my corporate e-mail right to me. And, I get a web browsing experience infinitely richer than the BlackBerry. Still, within most enterprises, it may still take a while for the iPhone to be adopted over the BlackBerry. We'll see!

Bryan Person | @BryanPerson
LiveWorld social media evangelist