It seems the media world is abuzz with the impending TV upfront, the male 18-34 target market's drift from traditional TV viewing, and the accelerated pace of media fragmentation among U.S. consumers. One topic that has been largely overlooked is wireless marketing. This is an unfortunate oversight which can be traced to the widely held misconception that wireless marketing opportunities are only for companies that target teens.
A quick review of the wireless marketplace and its consumer base illustrates that this is simply not the case.
Wireless in the U.S. has reached a viable scale for big time consumer contact: 153 million consumers own, or have access to a cell phone today. The 2003 household penetration rate of cell phones is just above that of household Internet penetration for 203-68 percent of U.S. households own a cell phone versus 64 percent of U.S. households with dial-up or broadband access. Cell phone usage has moved into the mainstream with the rapid up-tick in non-voice features and functions-text messaging, mobile gaming, and Internet access via wireless application protocol (WAP) functions.
Many in the industry credit the consumer adoption of wireless non-voice features and functions to popular programs such as Fox TV's American Idol. The American Idol show, sponsored in large part by AT&T Wireless, helped to educate millions on the availability of text messaging. However, the cell phone has become the "third screen" for a vast contingent of valued consumers-over the age of twenty-one.
Teens and adults do not exhibit vastly different cell phone behaviors. A recent SMG IP study conducted among active wireless users ranging in age from 12-27 reveals key consumer insights that reinforce the viability of wireless as a marketing channel among certain segments of the adult population. For example:
*91 percent of 21-27 year olds who are actively using text messaging (send or receive text messages) do so on a weekly basis.
*Over half of the larger 21-27 active wireless segment indicated they were receptive to texting as a form of communication from sponsors.
*56 percent "strongly agree" or "agree" that signing up for sponsored text message alerts/reminders provides them with information they might not otherwise have easy access to.
Cell phone ringtones are another common feature that adult respondents utilize. Plus, they're an entertaining, added value that allows consumers to personalize their phone, which means they're more engaged in its functions. According to the sample of adult respondents, 63 percent are downloading new ringtones a couple of times per month. Ringtones enable these adults to express their identity, and they choose tones to reflect their personality.
*A staggering 100 percent of adults who use non-preloaded tones indicated that they "strongly agree" or "agree" that ringtones are a great way to personalize their cell phone.
*Among those who are downloading new tones, the majority (39 percent) do so directly off of their Internet-enabled phones.
Another popular non-voice feature valued by adults is the ability to access the Internet via a cell phone. The Internet is essentially in the pocket of many adult consumers and it comes in the form of a 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch cell phone screen. WAP access provided within many handsets provides the ability to connect adults to content that they crave. The small third screen does not replace the standalone PC, but rather gives on-the-go consumers the ability to stay on top of sports scores or current headlines and news briefs. Among adult WAP users:
*83 percent "strongly agree" or "agree" that mobile Internet content keeps them up-to-date while away from a computer.
*82 percent "strongly agree" or "agree" that mobile Internet content helps them feel connected to current events.
Sports, headline news and movie listings/showtimes, in that order, are the top three content choices accessed by adults 21-27.
Adult consumers are actively using the available non-voice features and functions of cell phones-certainly more so than current perceptions portray. Simply put, U.S. wireless marketing opportunities are available for more than just the youth market.
Huge, untapped potential exists for marketers to "test to learn," but more importantly to realize that viable, scalable opportunities exist now. A non-static landscape means that companies have a chance to communicate to receptive consumers in a space poised for growth. By taking advantage in the here and now, marketers will be better positioned to communicate with their consumers in the ever-increasing world of fragmented media.
Courtney Acuff is manager, mobile marketing, SMG IP, the digital and interactive unit of Starcom MediaVest Group.