I’m finding myself scurrying just to keep up with the wave of recent research and metrics regarding mobile usage. As long as I’ve been covering the mobile field, I have had trouble getting a handle on how much and how often U.S. mobilistas fire up the data channel on their phones. For activities like gaming and mobile search, I have seen wildly inflated figures passed around -- 30% to 40% penetration rates that don’t even pass a simple eyeball check on the street.
Unscientific as the sample might be, I spend a lot of time in airports, on lines, and in waiting rooms checking out the mobile activity around me, and the share of people peering into their phones to do more than speed-dial a friend remains visibly small. Shifting my location reorients my sample, so sitting in Starbucks at the local university reveals what some college-based mobile marketers have been telling me for months: the 18-to-24 demo is now starting to use their phones as portable PCs. You really do see a lot of these kids peering into their flip phones and two-thumb keyboarding.
I learned to trust my gut on these eyeball checks a few years ago when covering the gaming industry. Being a parent of a ten-year-old brought me into the living rooms of a lot of houses with kids, and invariably the main TV was running a video game, not TV programming. When the metrics companies finally caught up, they formalized what any parent already knew: the game console was eroding TV’s time share.
For the upcoming OMMA Mobile conference on June 29 in New York, we have asked some of the leading keepers of the numbers to come in and report more scientifically on our current knowledge of mobile metrics. I already anticipate hearing about a spike in mobile Web usage this year. Again, I use the subjective measure of my own patterns. In just the last six months, while at conferences, on commutes, etc., I have come to identify the phone as a medium. I have amassed a reliable collection of media alerts, feeds, and WAP bookmarks that I now consult habitually in a few spare moments.
M:Metrics reports that about 9.6% of mobile users accessed news or information on phones in March, which is not much different from the 10% they reported about the same activity in March 2006. On the other hand, content provider and m-commerce enabler Bango says it saw a threefold increase in mobile Web traffic coming from the U.S. So I still have no idea how much more WAP usage is going on, but my gut tells me that if I am doing more of it, then others are, too. In almost every case, however, it is a third-party publisher pulling me into the data channel, not the deck itself.
Now, more than ever, I have come to see that it is the third-party content providers that will be the real change agents in the mobile eco-system. They are the ones who will dial up mobile content for their users, not the carriers. As I talk to more and more content providers, the story is the same. The users of their WAP sites, wallpapers, ringtones, etc. all tell them that they are relatively new to using phones in these ways. “We didn’t know we could do this with our phones,” customers tell the publishers again and again. They are being drawn to the new platform by the third-party channel, not the carriers.
Once again, the carriers seem to be out of the media loop they themselves are building. They are terrible educators. At the sales level, they are not showing customers what they can do with their phone, and on the merchandising level, they are not teasing the user with enough demos, pre-loaded applications and bookmarks, to encourage using the data channel. And on the partnership level, they are not working with many publishers to encourage general use of the phone as an everyday media platform.
OMMA Mobile’s Short Code Theater
The one metric no one seems to question is the use of SMS messaging. Well over a third of mobile users sent a text message in March -- almost 70 million, according to M:Metrics. By any measure, that is a critical mass. And here is another example of a phone habit proliferating because of users, not the carriers. Apparently, the teens who first embraced SMS actually taught their parents how to use it by texting them. Again, I go to personal metrics. I know I can more effectively communicate with my 15-year-old daughter when she is out and about via SMS than by voice.
As a marketing channel, SMS has become much more reliable in just the last year. I test just about every short code a marketer tosses at me, just to see where they lead, and just six months ago I was appalled at the failure rate. So many short code queries went unanswered I started asking around about failure rate metrics in the industry. No one had any to share. This year, again using my gut metrics, the SMS situation seems much improved. And at OMMA Mobile we hope to show off just how well SMS marketing is doing.
We invite mobile marketers and brands to submit entries in our own OMMA Mobile Short Code Theater. Submit to us your best campaign that is initiated by a short code. It can be any mobile marketing campaign (video, WAP push, etc) so long as the consumer initiates the exchange with an SMS code. We will ask all entrants to put their prompt and a visual explanation for the campaign on a single PowerPoint slide that attendees can view and activate for themselves on their own phones during the show. Attendees will be able to vote on their favorite campaign via our own SMS voting system at OMMA Mobile. To get specific requirements for Short Code Theater, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.