For quite some time I was thinking about covering a wider scope of the mobile youth trends and behavior. Reading and looking for a body of knowledge, I got to know Nick Wright, a Research Associate at the Wireless World Forum, who is a co-author of the mobileYouth 2006 report. Nick has a BA in English and has worked in film journalism, English teaching and publishing. He joined Wireless World Forum in 2006 after a year living and working abroad in Russia and Turkey. Having made an incredible gesture, Nick will be my special guest at Xellular Identity during the month of November. First, I will be publishing the email interview conducted earlier, and later on Nick has agreed to answer your questions(!)
Well enough talking, let’s give Nick a worm to the stage!
Getting to Know Nick
-What brought you into the world of mobile?
What appealed to me when I joined Wireless World Forum 2 months ago was the consumer focus inherent in their approach to research. I had just finished a period teaching English to kids in Russia and Turkey and I knew the importance of appealing to young people and getting their attention. When I joined I knew as much as the next person about mobiles but within a very short time I discovered that this was an area where huge leaps in development were possible on a daily basis. It’s an exciting area to be involved in and it’s rare to see an industry so passionate about the possibilities that their medium offers. What we are trying to do with the mobileYouth report is refocus that passion to keep it relevant to the youth consumers so that all that energy isn’t lost.
-Other hobbies, fields of interest?
I’m an avid film buff but I temper the long time spent sitting in front of the screen by keeping active though running, rowing and yoga. Recently, it’s been an exciting time for me since the London Film Festival has been showing all over the city. The new, the strange and the classic jostle for attention around London and I’m frankly spoilt for choice. Last Sunday it set a world record for showing its much-anticipated, completely unknown “Surprise Film” on 50 screens at the same time (including a hospital, a prison and some lucky person’s living room). It turned out to be Robert Altman’s hilarious and touching new film “A Prairie Home Companion”, his first for 5 years. It was worth the suspense!
-3 birthday wishes?
1) A solution (or a basket of solutions) to solve the climate crisis we’re facing right now. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth comes at an all-too convenient time.
2) The persistence to train for the London marathon for next year
3) The Complete Stanley Kubrick Collection on DVD.
-What did you get for Christmas last year?
A Russian chapka from my parents: I was in Moscow teaching English and the benny hat wasn’t doing the trick any more!
-High influence of the peer group, the need to build an independent personality, search of identity… adolescence was always about those burning questions, so what has mobile to do with it?
The relationship between youth and their mobiles is not necessarily based on being “fun, cool, or entertaining”. It’s a key social tool employed in the dynamics of the peer group. Youth consume mobile products - as they do others - to make statements about themselves and their relationship with their peers.
Self-expression is such a key aspect of young people’s lives that they would rarely choose a non-branded alternative over an identifiable brand. 98% of teens for example would choose a brand/logo designed T-shirt over a plain one.
Mobile is most importantly a symbol of belonging to a group, both as a physical product (you must own a phone to be part of our group) and its communicative possibilities: texting is essential to youth not because of the content (very limited) of the texts themselves but because each text is a reaffirmation and a reminder that “I’m with you”.
If mobile operators are to make the most of this underlying desire for social interaction amongst youth peer groups, then they need to ask how they can benefit youth and improve their communication. So far the emphasis has been more about giving young people things to play with on their phone which don’t enhance or build on existing behaviour. The result is, at best, small-scale adoption and faddish blips but no long-term successes beyond texting.
-How is the mobile phone changing the lives of teenagers?
A pretty broad question! I think it’s fair to say that it’s allowed youth to remain hyper-connected at all times, to the extent that 14% of US mobileYouth surveyed admitted that they couldn’t live without their phones. Other surveys point to the fact that an increasing number of young people are bing admitted to clinics as “text-addicts”. Overall, youth may be building up a dependency on mobiles which have increasingly become a sign of social status and self-esteem: many admit to feeling depressed if they pass a whole day without receiving a text.
We found something similar in the recent vox pop survey we caught on camera last week. One person admitted that he didn’t know “how people survived before mobile phones” and almost all admitted that they loved texting. If you’d like to see what other information we gathered from the video interviews please visit this link.
However, overall it is fueling the more extrovert and allowing shyer teens to communicate more easily. One of the more interesting findings is that mobiles have come to take the place in youth culture traditionally held by cigarettes. They provide or allow private communication, the activity is carried out largely unsupervised and they effectively create a rare private space for youth to interact in.
The most popular aspects of the mobile are features that can be adapted to suit the needs of youth. Texting is easily understood (though it needs practice to reach the blurry speeds of some of the more proficient) and adaptable to the stage where adults find the language unintelligible. Wallpapers and handset choice allow for personalization which allows youth to express themselves and advertise their identity as part of their peer group.
One of the reasons for the low adoption of new mobile services is because youth cannot access the service easily either due to budget or the difficulty of setting up the service to begin with. One of the key factors in reaching the youth mass market is the ease of use of a service which allows it to become widely accepted across peer groups.
- Is there a special usage of the mobile phone when it comes to youth? Usage patterns? How youth’s usage/consumption of mobile services differ from other segments?
Youth are compulsive texters, as I have explained. Globally they spend four times as much on texting as the average mobile phone user (US$ 6 a year compared to US$ 1.5 across all ages). 29.8% of their ARPU is on data services, compared to 11% across all age ranges. There is a lot of room to exploit future data services for the youth market as long as operators exploit existing youth behaviour rather than churning out technological features that have little relevance to kids’ lives.
-What is the market size of mobileYouth?
Currently youth from 5-24 make up 28.1% of the mobile phone ownership market. They spend US$ 130 million on mobiles which is 24% of the total spend on mobiles for all ages. Youth spend on data services is US$ 38 million and, importantly 80% of that spending is on texting. Youth spend on data services is 43% of the total, which shows just how heavily they rely on text as opposed to voice to communicate.
-Do culture and orientation influence mobileYouth behavior? How?
Although we argue that the underlying social drivers behind youth consumers are broadly similar, there are superficial cultural differences that have often been given too much emphasis when, for example, some industry professionals dismiss Korean and Japanese youth markets as “gadget-obsessed”. These markets are far more developed in their adoption of the mobile internet and the uses of camera phones but these are all easily explained in other terms that the Japanese being obsessed with technology.
Japanese and Korean youth have even higher levels of mobile data service ARPU than youth globally: 47.6% of mobileYouth ARPU was data, compared to the global average of 29.7%. One of the most popular mobile services in Korea is a mobile social networking site named Cyworld, which is essentially an extension of MySpace in that it allows youth to create their own virtual rooms and literally buy furniture to decorate it. It’s hugely popular (90% of Koreans in their 20s have used the service) and provides a perfect environment for youth to fulfil five of their basic social needs, as we identified them: Social Networking, Communication, Status display, Personalisation and acting as a Behavioural Platform.
To explain: Social networking essentially allows youth to keep connected to all their friends, reconnect with older friends (as in the case with Bebo, a UK-based social networking site for school students, for those children forced to move school) and meet new people with similar interests.
Communication is simply the ability to communicate via as many routes as possible: text, voice, IM, PM, e-mail etc. Cyworld allows consumers to interact in all these ways.
Status Display and personalisation are shown by the ability to adapt and personalize in a way that shows off the young author’s identity, likes and dislikes (specifically related to music), friends, profile and the customizable room. As in real life, the virtual world holds virtual objects that convey status in the same way as branded Nike trainers or ownership of the latest music does in real life.
Ultimately, since so many youth are on Cyworld, it essentially forms a behavioural platform for youth as well. By this I mean it presents a set of rules, perameters and structures for youth to interact around. A great way for youth to advance their status is to become a master of a certain behavoural platform. Specific sport varieties are also behavioural platforms so, for example, if you are a great skateboarder you will be given a higher status amongst your skater peer group. In the same way, collective familiarity with a certain platform, when everyone has access to it and understands the “rules”, tends to strengthen peer group bonds and the attachment to the platform itself.
Thank you Nick! :)
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For the second part of the interview and more insights about the mobile youth behavior, the mobile music market, and the future of this market - don't forget to tune in next Thursday!