Mobile internet adoption isn't an inevitability

28 Sep 2010  |  Simon Kendrick 
Simon Kendrick

Simon Kendrick, research manager at Essential Research, unveils the real facts about mobile internet usage: "My parents (who, incidentally, are both on Facebook) don't use the mobile internet. It's not because they can't; they choose not to. They aren't alone"...

Mobile internet marketing is dominated by companies extolling the virtues of social media on the go. But given the opinions of both current and non mobile internet users, it shouldn't be.

This might seem counter-intuitive, given that GSMA Mobile Media Metrics data released earlier this year showed that Facebook constituted nearly half of all time spent browsing on a mobile.

The assumption is that, as internet-enabled handsets become more prevalent and easier to use, people like my parents (who, incidentally, are both on Facebook) will join people like me in using social media services via a smartphone.

This isn't necessarily true.

  • Ownership doesn't equate to usage:

My parents don't use the mobile internet. It's not because they can't; they choose not to. They aren't alone. Our research shows 40% of people claiming to own an internet-enabled handset say that they don't access the internet on it.

This figure doesn't account for people that don't realise their phone has internet connectivity. This proportion may dwindle as phone capabilities advance, but it doesn't guarantee use. Just 30% of people without access to the mobile internet say they are interested in it.

  • The mobile shouldn't seek to replicate the computer:

The main barrier to mobile internet adoption is the lack of perceived benefit. Compared side by side, mobile phones don't compare particularly well to computers. They are slower and less reliable, with a smaller screen and a less familiar interface. In this situation, the incumbent benefits from the inertia.

Why would my parents want to wrestle with their phone to access Facebook, when they can access it on a computer? They may be more likely to have their mobiles nearby at the point of inspiration, but they can hold off on checking their wall until they get to their computer. Unlike me.

  • Needs and behaviours vary across the adoption curve:

My interests are unique to me. I know little about simulation games, fashion or pop music, but I'm fairly knowledgeable about mobile technology and could be considered an early adopter. My parents resolutely wouldn't be. Our research has shown that early adopters in mobile technology are more likely to have higher incomes and be sociable opinion leaders living in urban environments. These, along with several other tendencies mean the benefits realised by early adopters are greater and more varied than for mainstream users.

For instance, I might access Foursquare to find out what my friends recommend in my nearby vicinity. Presented with this choice, my parents would approach Foursquare in the same way I'd approach Farmville, Jeggings or Justin Bieber. With dread and horror.

  • Usage does not always correspond to value:

Farmville usage within Facebook is worryingly high. Yet, I'd be surprised if it were the main reason its users were on Facebook. It is their friendship networks that are most valued.

Similarly, social media may be the most heavily used type of service on the mobile internet, but it is not the most valued. Even among daily mobile internet users, it is satisfaction with maps and location-based services that correspond most closely with satisfaction of the mobile phone as a whole. They may not be accessed as often as Facebook, but they prove their value when stumbling around South London at 2am on a Thursday night while feeling tired and emotional. Trust me.

  • Seek to surprise

Maps and location-based services highlight a unique advantage that the mobile phone possesses over a computer - access to time and place sensitive information. This relevance can clearly be of benefit.

Yet these services are rarely promoted in mobile marketing. The surfeit of social media messages can actually be off-putting - non-users of social media feel alienated, while users view access as a standard feature. More companies should look to Apple's display marketing (I almost made it through the article without mentioning them), highlighting the range of apps available and the benefits of using them.

My parents would certainly value a navigation service or a barcode scanner above access to Facebook. If only they knew about them.

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Simon will be speaking at this year's MRG conference in Malta from 3rd to 6th November. Click here for more information or to book your ticket.

To read his blog, click here.


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