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Pay-per-call provider Ingenio and market research firm Harris Interactive released results of a survey (n = 4,123) today that shows interesting data around consumer preferences for mobile devices and advertising. These are important data, as any embryonic area requires knowledge of consumer preferences as a leading indicator of product development. Nowhere is this more appropriate than mobile search, where we are very much in a wild west phase of experimentation, speculation and product development.


In this survey, there are lots of takeaways that are telling of consumer preferences and are encouraging for mobile advertising and anyone who plays in this space, including Ingenio. Though mobile search and advertising are different from the PC environment, Ingenio Chief Marketing Officer Marc Barach contends that there are similar opportunities to build ad models. This is qualified, however, by the need to adapt ad formats and delivery methods to the specific needs of mobile users which these data attempt to discover.

A few high-level data points are:

  • Sixty-three percent of respondents claim their cellphones are very personal to them, while 49 percent indicate that they use their phones for more than just calls, including sending and receiving text messages (36 percent), and taking, sending and receiving photos (24 percent).
  • Breaking this down by age group, 74 percent of those 18 to 35 use their cellphones for more than just making phone calls. This compares with 20 percent of those ages 55 and up.
  • Over the next three years, 57 percent of respondents anticipate using their phones for more than just making and receiving phone calls. More advanced phone use will again skew heavily in favor of those aged 18 to 34 (75 percent) vs. ages 55 and up (33 percent).
  • Eighty-five percent of adults own a mobile phone compared with 71 percent who have a landline. Among those ages 18 to 34, 89 percent own a mobile phone, while only 57 percent have a landline.
  • Among mobile ad formats, 26 percent of respondents favored sponsored text links that appear as a result of searches (ads relevant to a search query). Twenty-one percent favor audio ads that play instead of ringing while waiting for a call to answer, followed by 20 percent that find text message ads acceptable.
  • In each category, younger generations found ads more acceptable than their older counterparts (i.e., 28 percent of mobile phone users ages 18 to 34 find text messages from companies to be at least somewhat acceptable, compared with only 14 percent of those ages 45 and up).
  • Among those who call 411 from mobile phones, commercial (74 percent) and restaurant (72 percent) phone and address listings are the most frequently searched categories.

So what does this mean for strategy development, ad placement, and the development of mobile search and advertising in general?

First, it’s interesting to note that the data are in line with previous Ingenio data that show impulse local searches (including restaurants, entertainment and hotels) representing two-thirds of mobile pay-per-call ad volume. The remaining third is for more considered purchases such as real estate and debt management.

What these new data tell us, according to Barach, is that combined with steady growth in financial and real estate categories, mobile users’ intent to use their phones for more than just calls in the future will equate to an increasing portion of searches in these more considered purchase categories.

These data are also generally important to begin to discern user preferences, around which to develop products and ad models. In the mobile space in particular, no clear and prevailing ad model has emerged.

“What we didn’t realize was how open the model is from a monetization perspective. What hit us on the side of the head here was that only 30 percent of users could recall seeing an ad on their phone,” says Barach. “People view their cellphones as a communication device that strengthens their personal relationships that they use all the time, yet the ad model has yet to find itself in this environment if so few people can ever recall seeing an ad.”

The Distance Left to Travel in Mobile Local Search

There are likewise lots of technologies and business models whose developments hinge on one another. Current standards in hardware, for example, restrict the consumer experience (small keypad, screen, etc.), which hinders mainstream adoption and, in turn, is detrimental to ad advertiser adoption. In the other direction, slow to develop content and ad networks hinder user adoption, and you end up with a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Add to this the carrier control that has stifled a great deal of innovation in mobile search, and you have an industry that is trying to break free of the early adopter stage where it has been stuck for some time.

The iPhone could solve some of these problems such as hardware restrictions and third-party application development for the WAP browser (safari in the case of the iPhone), which will be decidedly more robust than the WAP experience of cellphones to date and as a result possess possible killer app status in finally pushing mobile search into the mainstream (these dynamics were explored in a post last week). It will likely take the iPhone a few years to have this effect, during which time the price point will have to come down.

It’s clear in the meantime, based on these data and others we’ve seen, that a sizable opportunity exists with mobile advertising in standard and universal formats such as voice and SMS. And generally speaking, users’ need to find local information and act on it is presumed to be greater with the mobile use case than with online search. This environment also lets advertisers reach users at vital decision points when intent to buy is at more desirable levels.

Targeting advertising effectively, in a way that satisfies user preferences shown in this and in other studies, is where the strategy will lie on a tactical level. There are lots of implications in the demographic segmentation of these findings and the stated threshold for enduring different formats of mobile advertising. Multi-modal search and ad serving technologies being developed by the likes of Tellme currently show a great deal of promise in having the user-centric qualities highlighted by these data.

Meanwhile, pay-per-call in particular could have a great deal of relevance for the mobile search environment even more so than online where, by comparison, there is a physical barrier between the PC and the phone. When you’re dealing with mobile technologies, “it is, after all, a phone,” says Barach.

More data points from the survey are available in two different press releases, which cover consumer and advertiser metrics.


Related: Call Genie announced a partnership with Verizon today to provide enhanced directory assistance. Details to come later.

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