Mobile by the Numbers: Some Fresh Stats and Implications

Market research is in my professional DNA, and so one of the things I’m always thankful for when I count my blessings this time of year is the abundance of data that helps us understand how consumers are navigating their increasingly mobile-centric worlds. Last week, the IAB released a new study in concert with IAB China that compares mobile usage trends in the U.S. and China. The full report and comparative results are available on iab.net, but it’s also highly instructive to look at what the survey teaches us about Americans’ increasingly mobile lives.

The survey was fielded to two samples: a group of smartphone owners, and a group of tablet owners. Below are some selected data points related to three key topics the Mobile Center has been working on this year.

Mobile Consumers Do Respond to Ads

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Sixty-two percent of U.S. smartphone users, and 70 percent of U.S. tablet users, say they respond to ads on their device at least monthly or more often. That’s very promising. And what kinds of things do mobile users do in response to ads they see? Smartphone users’ most cited action in response to an ad was viewing a video (44 percent). I’m very intrigued that video ended up at the top of the ad response list. I interpret that to mean that although they don’t get a lot of love these days (including from me), mobile banners do actually work as invitations to learn more about a product or service, with consumers voluntarily engaging in video experiences following that initial ad message. The other most frequently cited ad activities were: receive a coupon (37 percent); download or purchase digital content (ringtones, apps, etc.) (31 percent); and sign up for an email newsletter (31 percent).

Morning, Bedtime, and Downtime Are Mobile Prime Times

We also asked consumers when they primarily did media-related activities on their smartphones or tablets. Of the specific “dayparts” we asked about, “when you first get up” (26 percent) and “just before bed” (22 percent) scored the highest — higher than while working, shopping, watching TV, etc. Mobile, unsurprisingly, also fills downtime in a consumer’s day: “waiting” (33 percent) and “relaxing” (44 percent) are the most often cited mobile moments. One of the things we’ve talked about a lot this year is the concept of the “new prime time” — it’s incumbent on advertisers not simply to advertise on “mobile” generically but to identify those key mobile moments when consumers are engaged with mobile content and likely to be interested in ads. Morning and late evening appear to be lucrative “prime time” moments. Advertisers should tailor messages so that someone who is really busy sees just a quick brand hit, while during slower or more relaxed moments they see the invitation to a deeper interaction with a brand.

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Phones and Tablets Are Video Devices

Finally, we asked consumers how often they watch two types of video content: full-length TV episodes and short video clips. Twenty-eight percent of smartphone owners, and 35 percent of tablet owners, say they watch TV shows at least weekly. That’s not a statistically significant difference. In terms of short video clips, regular reported viewing is practically identical. Sixty-nine percent of both smartphone users and tablet users say they watch such video weekly or more frequently.

The lesson here is that both phones and tablets are important video devices. Any sense that tablets are “better” or “preferred” for mobile video seems to be obsolete at this point. Phone screens are huge, and consumer behavior has shifted such that there’s little remaining prejudice against the palm-of-the-hand screen, at least for TV and short-form content.

A Tale of Two Mobile Cultures

Although I’ve cited the U.S.-specific data for today’s article, the fact that the study was a U.S.-China comparison merits attention. I’ll avoid overwhelming with comparative statistics, and rather highlight a three points of contrast between our respective mobile cultures.

  • In China, unlike the U.S., commuting time is a key mobile daypart, and marketers should think about mobile as the equivalent of “drive time radio” in the U.S.
  • Chinese consumers are even bigger mobile video viewers than Americans are — 71 percent of Chinese smartphone users watch mobile TV weekly or more often. Commuting time and possibly lower penetration of TVs help explain this.
  • Chinese consumers are much more likely to report interacting with mobile ads than U.S. consumers are. Marketers should therefore set higher benchmarks for success for mobile campaigns in China relative to the States.

As I’ve said previously, it’s important to realize that mobile is evolving differently in different places around the world. Adaptability is a vital trait in any mobile strategy, but it’s even more important for companies using mobile to reach audiences and customers internationally.

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