In 2001, a writer named Mark Prensky coined the term digital native, a phrase now widely used to refer to those of us too young to remember when video chat and mobile phones were still the stuff of science fiction. Most of us are familiar with this concept by now: digital natives relate and adapt to changing technology with relative ease; the rest of us - digital immigrants - have to work a bit harder. And it seems nowhere is this generational divide more apparent than in the habits of mobile phone users. It is undoubtedly the natives, i.e., the youth who are shaping the mobile trends and etiquette of the future. And if we're smart, marketers will keep paying attention in the hopes of capturing some of them.
My company recently conducted a survey that elucidates some of the ways in which young people are changing the game when it comes to mobile phone use. Part of the survey focused on India, where it seems the under-18 crowd is much more relaxed when it comes to mobile phone etiquette. When asked if they'd ever been criticized by friends for using their phones in a social setting, 88 percent of the teenage demographic in India replied, "No, they're on their phones also," compared with just 59 percent of the 18+ respondents. For teens, using a phone in a social setting is much more the rule than the exception. So let's all stop shaking our heads at kids gazing into their phones, and instead try to figure out what it is they're looking at.
Bollywood continues to be India's favorite theme on mobile video views and searches, but regional content, news, and sports, particularly cricket, also figured in the top 10 in the first quarter of 2013. According to a recent GSMA report, the key driver of data consumption growth today is video content, with a projected increase from 852 petabytes per month in 2013 to 7,363 petabytes per month in 2017 - representing growth in its share of all traffic from 54 percent to 66 percent.
This increase in video consumption will mean different things in different places. Emerging markets like India for instance, where just 10 percent of mobile phone users own a smartphone, will be slightly harder to predict than say China, where that number is more like 70 percent, according to a recent Nielsen study. But it's pretty certain that video is the bandwagon to jump on; the latest forecast from Cisco predicts that by the year 2016 over 70 percent of mobile traffic will be video traffic.
In India, we also found that the under-18 crowd is far more likely to turn to their phones first when researching an important purchase. Eighty-six percent of respondents in that age group (there were over 40,000 total respondents in India alone) said they turn to their phones for product information before their desktop computers, compared with 58 percent of the 18+ crowd with the same response. Obviously, if your brand has not yet found a way to cater to mobile users, they better do so quickly; it won't be long before the natives outnumber the immigrants.
So what does all this mean for brands trying to harness some of the buying power of a younger generation? Most obviously, it means that mobile-friendly online content is now more of a necessity than ever, and will continue to be a dominant force in driving market trends. But the second piece of that equation, so often overlooked, is the power of using sharable formats to increase the efficacy of ad campaigns. Youth is all over social media; the easier it is to share, the more likely it is to spread like wildfire.
The combination of mobile technology and social media makes the sharing of information both immediate and ephemeral; we are all consuming information nearly as rapidly as we're leaving it to the annals of Internet detritus, and this is especially true with the younger crowd. So it's time to literally start thinking outside of the box. Campaigns should be created with mobile in mind first, not simply as an afterthought to television. After all, the natives aren't watching television - they're watching their phones.