Behind the Numbers: 7% of Americans Are Smartphone-Dependents

Those of us who pay attention to international markets have come to understand that in growing markets like China, many people access the Internet via mobile alone.  The proverbial chicken has come home to roost.  The Pew Internet Project has identified 7% of Americans as smartphone-dependent according to their recent survey.

That is, seven of every 100 Americans accesses the Internet via his or her phone and does not have broadband at home or at work or school.

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This smartphone-only group included 15% of all respondents aged 18-29, 13% of all respondents with a household income of less than $30,000 per year , 12% of all African-Americans and 13% of all Latinos.  As the lower incomes would suggest, costs loom large over their smartphone experience: about half of all smartphone-dependents have had to cancel service because they couldn’t afford it or have frequently hit data caps

These findings have two broad and challenging implications for marketers.

1. Have a mobile-only communications segment/strategy

Many marketers talk about “mobile first” in terms of design, as they should.  However, they should also take a moment to think about what a smartphone-dependent customer might see throughout the communication stream.  Consider that channels such as display perform differently on mobile than on desktop.  Moreover, mobile users tend to spend more time in apps than on the web relative to desktop users.  Both of these factors mean that this audience will not see the bigger, splashier creative units typical in display, either due to a rational responsive design or because of platform constraints.

If your audience includes a younger demographic, or substantial numbers of Latinos or African-Americans, your marketing should accommodate their smartphone-dependent usage.  In fact, marketers should use browser-sniffing to create a segment of the audience who do not use desktops and develop specific message streams for them and act accordingly.

2. Keep it light

By “act accordingly,” I mean think about the limitations of the smartphone-dependent.  A user struggling to keep within her data plan will not respond well to data-intensive videos or microsites.  This user will simply disengage, even if she might have spent time with the video or microsite on a desktop.  Similarly, long forms or heavy text will turn this user off even more than usual.

Consider smartphone-dependents permanent audience members for Short Attention Span Theater.

At 7% of the US audience, the smartphone-dependents don’t represent a major force yet.  However, as mobile broadband continues to grow, they represent an audience to watch.  Make sure your brand doesn’t leave them on hold.

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