Is There a New Digital Divide in Mobile Marketing?

by GameHouse

According to a recent Nielsen Mobile Insights study, there is a slight discrepancy in smartphone ownership between various ethnic and racial groups. Based on recent survey data, minorities are more likely than white people to own smartphones.

For example, the study found that 67% of Asian American mobile subscribers owned smartphones, along with 57% of Hispanics and 53% of African Americans. Among white Americans, only 45% of mobile subscribers currently own a smartphone.

What are some possible explanations for this “digital divide” in smartphone ownership, and what are the implications for mobile marketing?

  • Smartphones are cheaper than desktop computers: The traditional idea of the “digital divide” has been to point out that many minority communities in the U.S. have a lower rate of Internet access, often due to poverty. But as mobile technologies become cheaper and more widespread, it is becoming easier and more affordable for a wider swath of the U.S. population to get reliable access to the mobile Web. The rise of a mobile “digital divide” might be considered good news, as it indicates that many multicultural communities are gaining better access to the Internet via mobile devices and are adopting the new opportunities available by mobile media.
  • Age matters: Younger people are more likely to be early adopters of smartphone technologies, and minority communities tend to have more young people. The U.S. population of African-American, Hispanic and Asian people is younger on average than the white population – so the fact that young people are more likely to own a smartphone is also reflected in the racial/ethnic demographics.
  • African-American and Hispanic mobile users shop more from their phones: According to another study from the Integer Group and M/A/R/C Research, African-American and Hispanic consumers are the most likely to make purchases from their mobile phones. 18% of African-American smartphone owners and 16% of Hispanics regularly use their mobile devices to make a purchase, compared to 10% of whites. African-American and Hispanic shoppers are also more likely than whites to use their mobile devices to make price comparisons and search online reviews while shopping.
  • Parents love coupons: Another finding from the Integer/M/A/R/C study was that “the presence of children in any home (regardless of ethnicity) accelerates the adoption of digital technologies,” as parents look for new ways to entertain their kids, quickly find information on the go, and use electronic coupons to save money for the family. As minority families continue to make up a growing share of the U.S. population – as of July 2011, over 50% of U.S. babies age 1 or under were non-white – it’s reasonable to expect that the consumer behavior of minority demographics will parallel these trends.

What should mobile marketers do to respond to these growing trends and make sure you are reaching all of your prospective customers in an effective way through mobile marketing?

For starters, make sure your mobile marketing messages are appropriate for your audience. If you’re trying to reach a multicultural audience, make sure your messages reflect the make-up of your audience. For example, in a traditional print advertising campaign, it helps to use photos of diverse people to show that your company is reaching out to diverse customers. How can you translate this same spirit to mobile advertising?

If you’re trying to reach people who are not native English speakers, make sure your marketing messages are available in multiple languages. Especially for mobile advertising to global audiences, make sure your choice of artwork and design are culturally sensitive/culturally appropriate (do some research into multicultural marketing and design – some cultures view certain colors or number combinations as being inauspicious or offensive).

Most of all, keep in mind that the people viewing your mobile ads are likely to be more culturally and racially diverse than ever before. It doesn’t have to cause major changes in how you approach your mobile advertising strategies, but it’s worth remembering that America is becoming more diverse all the time, and this diversity is reflected in the way people are using their mobile devices.

What’s your take on this? How do you craft mobile marketing messages for a diverse, multicultural audience? What is the “right way” or “wrong way” to approach a diverse audience of prospective customers, and how has it changed with the shift to mobile advertising from traditional print media? 

By Ryan Morel

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