New report says mobile use higher among older users than previously thought; yes, but…

A new report from InsightExpress suggests that mobile penetration and use may be much higher than widely thought.

Key points:

  • …mobile penetration was high across all ages, at 85% and 82% for Gens Y and X, respectively–meanwhile, 80% of younger Boomers surveyed had a mobile phone, followed closely by older Boomers at 79%.
  • Boomers’ handsets were just as cutting edge as their younger counterparts, as 75% of younger Boomers and 68% of older Boomers had phones that supported text messaging–compared to 86% and 82% of Gens Y and X, respectively.
  • Gen Y led the pack in actual text-message usage with 43%, followed by Gen X with 22%–but some 16% of all younger Boomers and 10% of all older Boomers sent or received text messages daily.
  • …while about half of Gen X-ers (51%) and Gen Y-ers (47%) had phones with mobile Web access, the Boomer generation wasn’t too far behind–some 39% of younger Boomers and 32% of older Boomers could surf the Web on their handset.
  • Actual usage of mobile browsers still has a ways to go, however–with less than 10% usage across every age bracket. Of those mobile Internet users, some 40% of Gen Y could recall seeing an ad, while 25% of older users (Gen X, younger and older Boomers) did.

Joy Liuzzo, director of mobile research at InsightExpress, points to the sorts of applications that might drive even greater adoption of mobile by older demographics: “Think of a pharmaceutical company with a product that’s supposed to be taken once a month,” said Liuzzo. “Users could create an account on the company’s Web site and register for an SMS reminder.”

A couple of observations here. First, while there’s nothing here that should surprise those of us in the industry, the data is of possible use in demonstrating the viability of mobile to those we’re marketing to. Every little bit helps when you’re making the case for something new.

Second, I wish we could get researchers like InsightExpress to discussing generational issues in more accurate and productive terms. They’re off in their generational definitions (Xers are about 28-46 right now – I guess they’re closer than a lot of companies I see trying to talk about the subject, but I wish they’d go read some Howe and Strauss). Further, anytime you hear somebody using the term “Gen Y” you know they don’t get it. That nomenclature lends the false impression that the cohort is somehow a follow-on to Generation X, which is the opposite of the truth – Millennials are a direct and aggressive reaction against Gen X, and our ability to think about these issues isn’t enhanced by a lazy and misleading vocabulary. Pet peeve – sorry.

Additionally, I would quibble a bit with the report’s conclusions. For one thing, I’m not at all sure Boomer use is driven by the fact that they’re “starting to see the benefits of text messaging.” Liuzzo says, “They realize that sending a text message is quick, they can check in with someone, make sure everything is alright and it’s done. No need for a phone call.” Maybe, but a majority of the Boomers I’ve talked to will tell you that they use texting because of their kids. Sure, that can socialize them to the medium and open the door for commercial applications, but at this point I expect that the salience of non-personal uses is lower than this report suggests.

Finally, while mobile advertising is exploding (I think I read that it was expected to double in revenues generated this year), it’s a serious mistake to link usage and awareness of mobile Web to ads (as that last bullet point above seems to be doing). There are lots of business models and use patterns that have little, if anything, to do with mobile advertising. So I’d hope future research will look at these issues more broadly.

[Thx to Greg at Mindthwack for pointing me toward this.]


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