What’s in a Mobile Number?

Sometimes I get caught up in the numbers, the stats associated with facts. And not just industry stats. I don’t know how the girl who barely passed geometry in high school and took a nature of math course as her math requirement in college ended up with numbers being an integral part of her career.

And it doesn’t matter if it’s a “Numbers” episode or a blurb in the “Go Figure” section of “Wireless Week,” snapshots of data stay with me for long periods. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that several days after I first read a brief article related to the teen market in “Wireless Week,” I was still thinking about the numbers — and the greater implication those numbers have on the mobile industry.

Almost five years ago, the teenage segment was the mobile demographic. You couldn’t read an industry publication (electronic or otherwise) that didn’t have some bold headline or special section related to tweens, teens, or young adults. Entire cottage industries within the mobile ecosystem sprang up to accommodate this segment.

To be fair, I too used the target demographic as the springboard for my career. By creating a research study that delved deeper into the behaviors and motivations of teens and young adults who owned or had access to mobile phones, I combined my research skills with an interest in a new communications platform and, in the process, shed my “digital media analyst” moniker for good.

Over the course of the next two years, I worked with a few youth-oriented brands and successfully brought early (read: simple) mobile advertising programs to fruition. I relied heavily on the insights gleaned from that first research study to justify the new channel and help educate clients on why it belonged in a larger digital strategy. It seemed as if we hit the jackpot: the right target, a proprietary study, and a handful of early adopting clients.

As time went on, the emphasis on the age range of that study and the subsequent follow-up initiative seemed to matter less. It was more about the overall behaviors and motivations of those using mobile, not the motivations and behaviors of a certain buying demo.

I guess that’s why I wasn’t all that surprised to find that the numbers indicate market saturation for the 12 to 17 year old set, according to the “Wireless Week” article.

Today, there are 262 million domestic mobile subscribers, according to CTIA.org. In 2007, the teen market accounted for roughly 16 million subscribers, according to MultiMedia Intelligence, with 91 percent of females and 78 percent of males having cell phones. Additionally, according to BIGresearch, 54 percent of 8 to 12 year olds will own mobiles by next year. The numbers start to get a little more interesting when future projections are added to the mix. According to the same MultiMedia Intelligence study, the number of mobile teens age 12 to 17 in 2012 is estimated to total just 17 million. That is a slim difference of only 1 million subscribers.

While it’s true that the teen market segment consumes in mass and still has a higher average revenue per user (ARPU) than the overall market — largely due to their texting and purchase of premium content — a scant add of a million subs somehow doesn’t seem right. Or is it in fact just what the market needs to generate lasting advertising revenue?

As the mobile industry continues to evolve down the dual path of mobile advertising (buyable media-based solutions) and mobile marketing (custom-created strategic solutions), the mobile universe in totality will mean more than when it’s segmented by demographics. I base this statement on broad-based conclusions from that very first research study I conducted.

In that study, once you looked past the traditional age segments of 12 to 17 and 22 to 27, you see broad-based themes of mobile devices enabling human connections, serving as a lifeline to the outside world, allowing for self-expression, and providing entertainment. Mobile engagements that provide value to consumers, regardless of their age, is what will create revenue and increase brand activity in the marketplace.

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