Mobile phone users under the age of 16 are extremely sophisticated, with deep brand experiences and preferences. This raises significant questions for network operators, handset manufacturers and service providers regarding how best to engage an increasingly important market segment.
You could be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu. After all, rising mobile phone use amongst children is not a new phenomenon. As long ago as 2004 the Guardian was reporting growth in ownership amongst under-10s, and media coverage concerning potential health concerns can be traced back even further. However, our ever-increasing reliance on, and immersion in, mobile phones and the digital services we use them to access, justify revisiting the topic.
Recent data from GfK reinforces just how prevalent mobile ownership amongst under-16s has become (2.5 million 12-15 year olds, almost 9 in 10, now have one). Furthermore, this is the age group cementing the shift in behaviour from passive entertainment, such as television, to more active digital and online activities. As such, it should come as no surprise that the value placed on their mobiles increases accordingly.
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It would be easy to assume these younger consumers are neophytes, new to the category with few preconceptions. Not the case. While 12-15s may be the first to acknowledge the importance of the technology, many of them are the same children the Guardian was reporting on five or more years ago. Instead, as many as 85% of those acquiring a phone are already on (at least) their second handset, and already hold the assortment of brand perceptions that follow this prolonged involvement in the category.
As established users with a penchant for advanced features and functions (camera, music, and games usage are all high, alongside social networking, IM, and email), it comes as no surprise that entry-level handsets have limited appeal. While the majority (70%) of phones in this age group are being gifted, three-quarters (74%) of users were involved in the selection process, with medium and high-end handsets flourishing and above average spending. Unsurprisingly therefore, style and functionality will be key to handset manufacturers, for whom it will be necessary to attract the end-user as much as the purchaser.
The scenario facing operators is less clear. Selection of network and tariff, nominally a decision of less outward importance to younger consumers, remain primarily the domain of the purchaser (in contrast to handset, just 49% and 45% of 12-15 year olds influenced the choice of network/tariff respectively). How then, do operators approach these consumers? Given their focus on handset, clearly an appropriate and desirable range is a prerequisite. Beyond this however, high levels of gifting and relatively low interest in network/tariff imply it's the gifter, as much as the end-user, who needs to be won over.
Mary Robinson at GfK Telecoms Research Panels highlights the importance of the under-16 market for network operators:
"Recent GfK findings for contract phones show that 83% of adults replacing their mobile chose to remain on the same network as before. With such high levels of loyalty in the adult market, the product propositions and brand experiences of the under-16s become massively important. Ignore them at your peril."
Ultimately, when this generation hits adulthood and consumption becomes self-sustained, they will already be sophisticated mobile users consuming a range of services and content. Harnessing their demand will be a key revenue stream in the future mobile marketplace, and the brand preferences already developing will play a significant role.
For handset manufacturers, operators and service providers, the prize is a significant one.
Source: Cellular News