Do Less Data Plans Change Mobile Strategy?

Bryce MarshallI had a conversation the other day with a client who read the recent eMarketer article assessing the economic downturn's impact on household communications spending - specifically data, voice, and video. Citing a survey by Research Analytics, eMarketer reports, "nearly one-half of respondents (48%) said they would drop the mobile data services completely if forced to scale back, while a further 17% would move to a lower-tier plan to save money."

The survey further implies that residential broadband is seen as the “must have” service for consumers, while mobile data plans plays the role of a “nice to have.” At first glance, this makes sense. Emerging technologies need time to be cemented in the lives of the everyday consumer. The most recently adopted is the first to get cut back.

The resulting discussion with the client focused on their mobile marketing strategy… and whether mobile programs already in-place, and projects currently underway, were ripe for a re-think. Specifically, mobile-friendly web development and potentially iPhone and Blackberry apps are called into question.

There are two things to consider if you are also re-thinking your mobile marketing strategy, or you are considering shelving current plans and projects in light of the economic climate.

First, the survey asks decision-makers which services they would cut, if forced to scale back. This is not an indication of action, simply perception. Consider that the consumers who would cut mobile data plans are likely the lightest data users and infrequent browsers of news, sports, social networking, or M-Commerce. Will this change have a significant impact on overall site traffic from mobile browsers across the Web? For my client, web analytics show the number of mobile browser visits continues to grow each month, both in raw volume and percentage of all traffic. What do the analytics on your sites indicate?

Second, even if there is a universal downturn in mobile data plans (and by implication mobile browsing), it won’t last long. More and more consumers are trading in their simple phones for smart phones, iPhones, and PDAs every day. Growth in smartphone use will correlate to more mobile browsing. Plus, the actual mobile browser is getting better and delivering positive user experiences every day. Generational gaps in mobile adoption are closing, and the carriers’ mobile data plans will get more competitive. So, we have to look at the prevailing economic climate as a small factor within a larger established macro-trend in consumer communications preference and media consumption. The rising tide will lift all ships.

Do not be fooled into thinking that it’s possible to put your mobile marketing plans on ice with no consequence. In 12 months, when mobile browsing is growing at the fastest pace ever (you heard it here), will your brand be ready with tested and proven mobile applications and marketing programs? Or, will you be playing catch up with consumer preferences?

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