Making Sense of the Mobile Audience

It’s Mobile Week on the Lunch Pail. Each of the week’s posts will focus on important aspects of mobile marketing. Today’s installment defines the mobile audience. Enjoy!

Bryce MarshallIn part one of Mobile Week on Monday I provided a high-level breakdown of the tactical channels that fall under the "mobile marketing" umbrella. On Friday I'll wrap up the week with some thoughts on designing a mobile marketing strategy. Today, I want to focus on a deeper discussion of the appropriate channel approach within the mobile arena to reach your audience, and meet your objectives. Understanding where to interact with your customers and prospects is just as important as understanding the distinction between the channels and technologies.

The first tactical channel covered Monday was SMS (and its cousin MMS). As I mentioned in that post, SMS is the channel of maximum potential reach. Most US consumers have a cell phone and most cell phones in the US have SMS capability. Depending on the research you reference, cell phone use registers from 87%-95%. Assuming you have the requisite permissions from the carriers and the consumer, you have access to virtually all US residents.

Additionally, SMS is the most utilized mobile technology across age groups – following only the digital camera – according to eMarketer. Sixty-five percent of mobile phone users consistently interact with SMS, and this rate jumps to 75% for advertiser’s target demographic of 26-42.

Bottom line, SMS has to be part of any mobile strategy where reach and convenience are part of the marketing equation, across demographic groups.

Mobile Web

When you look at the mobile Web channel (development of mobile-browser-friendly applications) you have to look at the numbers also. Unlike SMS, mobile Web access is still limited to a fraction of all mobile phone users because of the technology requirements and data access costs from the carriers, not to mention a questionable user experience in many cases.

Citing Marist again, 16% of all US residents have a PDA or smartphone – the devices that realistically support functional mobile Web browsing. However, the penetration of PDAs and smartphones approaches 50% in younger, affluent demographics. If this is your audience, mobile Web development – that is the dedicated development of mobile-specific applications – makes sense.

The numbers game works the other way, too. Take a look at website analytics to discover what percent of all website visits are made through a mobile browser. Citing the experience of one client, this ratio is hovering around 10% of all visits per month. In this case, while the number is relatively small it is significant enough to justify development of a mobile-friendly alternative to the corporate site.


Using an app as a tactical solution has to be based on a strategy that seeks deep interaction with a targeted demographic group… at a price. As discussed in the section above, the availability of the technology and data access plans reaches saturation levels only in the more affluent and younger demographics. Additionally, to get access to all of these users, multiple apps may be necessary. While iPhone apps get the most buzz, iPhones still represent just a portion of the overall smartphone market. To extend reach it makes sense to develop iPhone and BlackBerry apps in parallel. Add to this equation the emerging Palm Pre, and the realization sinks in – to get in front of 75% of all smartphone owners it is necessary to support three apps.

Consider what an investment in app development will yield. I compare this to the email marketing dilemmas surrounding the overcrowded inbox, where there is savage competition between marketers to keep their email recipients both subscribed and retained. In the app universe, there is intense competition for a finite amount of the user’s attention and interaction. Citing their “Q109 Consumer Insights Report,” Greystripe finds that the average iPhone app “has an engagement of 9.6 minutes per session and is accessed 19.9 times over its lifecycle – for an average total use time per user of 3 hours and 10 minutes.” Given this data, and the limited audience, evaluate the development investment carefully.

Mobile Ads

The reach of mobile advertising, such as banners on mobile-friendly Web properties or mobile search advertising, is an enormous opportunity – at some point. The mass audience still is not present, and it is not clear yet if consumers will stay engaged with the mobile experience or if the mobile Web really supports conversion events that well. Keep in mind it was only recently that Google announced the rollout of the AdSense Mobile platform for management of mobile search campaigns. On the bright side, I have heard anecdotal evidence that local mobile search has shown clear ROI for some businesses.

As with any media and channel analysis, it is important to understand where your customers and prospects are within the mobile channel, and how to engage them.

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