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Smart or dumb? Engaging the other 49.7pc of your mobile customers

June 19, 2012

Angelo Biasi

Angelo Biasi

By Angelo Biasi

On the first day of each semester of my New York University class entitled “Mobile Marketing for the Small to Medium-sized Business,” I ask students, “True or false. Everyone has or will have a smartphone?”

With little hesitation, the majority of students answer, “True.”

Though this is not yet the case in the United States or globally, I follow up with, “By when?” The average answer usually ends up at “around 2015ish”.

The truth is anyone’s guess, at this point.

Feature phone user stats to consider
So how big is the feature phone market? Who owns these devices? What are their true capabilities? And are they even worth marketing to?

For starters, the feature phone subscriber audience in the U.S. is still huge.

According to Nielsen’s February 2012 report, feature phone users make up 49.7 percent of total U.S. mobile subscribers. Using CTIA’s mobile wireless subscriber number of 331 million (December 2011), that equates to approximately 165 million subscribers, which is a healthy number.

It is likely some of your customers and stakeholders are a part of that 165 million. Let us take a look at which ones.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project from June 2011, reported on the following ‘Other than Smartphone’ (presumably ‘Feature Phone’) user statistics:

 Age: 18–24 (46 percent); 25–34 (35 percent); 35–44 (45 percent), 45–54 (58 percent); 55–64 (59 percent); 65-plus (45 percent)
 Income: $100,000 or less (44–57 percent), $100,000-<$150,000 (38 percent), $150,000-plus (25 percent)
 Race: White/Non-Hispanic (50 percent), African-American (45 percent), Hispanic (42 percent)

And if your market is global, it’s important to note that smartphone penetration worldwide is only 27 percent, with greater than 50 percent penetration in developed markets of North America and Europe, yet less than 20 percent in emerging markets in Asia-Pacific, Africa Middle East and Latin America. 1

No matter how you slice it, feature phone users on these mass-market devices represent a formidable group.

Inclusive integrated mobile strategy and opportunity
It is safe to say that when it comes to marketing to the widest audience of mobile subscribers with any one tactic, SMS messaging is king.

According to Portio Research, “Messaging still dominates (mobile operators’) non-voice revenues worldwide.”

Nearly all phones, including smartphones and feature phones, have text messaging capabilities built in. And most subscribers use it.

Eighty-one percent of today’s mobile phone users have sent or received messages in the last 30 days, according to Nielsen.

With marketing success metrics of nearly 98 percent open rate (83 percent within the first three minutes) and up to 45 percent response rate, it is no wonder smart mobile marketers still consider SMS messaging as a viable tactic to reach all mobile subscribers.

Mobile Web: Although feature phones are presumed to be accompanied by less extensive data plans and poor browsing capabilities, it is not always the case.

For example, Nokia recently unveiled two new feature phone models, the 110 and 112, both with Web browsing, social networking and gaming for the budget-conscious consumer and emerging market segments.

These less-than-$50 phones, with no contracts, access the Web through the Nokia browser which reduces data consumption by 90 percent by compressing Web sites to a cloud-based server, according to Nokia.

Expect more of this efficient user access to the mobile Web and therefore relevant marketer access to consumers to persist. Side note: if you do not have a mobile-optimized Web site experience yet, you could be missing out on not only feature phone users looking to access your content, but also the smartphone ones.

Applications: It is obvious that the more popular application ecosystems cater to smartphone users, making apps seem more akin to those types of devices and users.

The amount of available content, coupled with a growing developer community, make app markets attractive to those who have smartphones and serve as an incentive for feature phone users to upgrade.

What many do not know is that an app experience can still be had, irrespective of device or operating system.

Independent app store GetJar, for example, serves mobile applications across a variety of operating systems including Android to Java, mobile Web and more.

To date, GetJar’s nearly 600,000 apps made by over 450,000 registered developers, available on over 2,567 devices, have been downloaded over 2 billion times.

Feature phone users interact with apps.

For example, of those with phones running Qualcomm’s Brew and Brew MP platforms (250 million globally and 65.5 million nationwide), 31 percent currently use downloaded or pre-loaded apps.

Of those who downloaded apps, 72 percent report accessing them at least once a week. This illustrates a healthy appetite for apps and heightened user engagement.

Cross-platform app creation tools exist, those that support feature and smartphones, creating native Symbian, Java, BlackBerry, Droid, iOS and Windows Mobile apps as well as HTML and HTML5 webapp versions of the content, simultaneously.

Tools such as these are extremely beneficial for the hyper-local mobile marketer looking to reach mobile users in a certain radius where demographic profiles and mobile usage are uncertain or unknown.

Inclusive, integrated mobile strategy for engagement
Choosing the right tactics and deciding on the best integrated mobile marketing strategy for your business takes careful planning and a firm understanding of your customer, the market and usage.

Even if “…everyone will have a smartphone by 2015,” it is those smart mobile marketers that market without prejudice now, who will gain and sustain a competitive advantage for the coming months and years ahead.

Angelo Biasi is an adjunct professor for mobile marketing at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and vice president of business development for Didmo, Naples, FL. Reach him at

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