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Wireless Culture: Young, and Young at Heart

Three-quarters (74 percent) of U.S. adults say they currently subscribe to wireless mobile telephone service -- more than those who say they currently subscribe to wireline (landline) telephone service (58 percent).

About one-quarter (24 percent) of cell phone users consider the mobile phone their primary means of communication, and two in five (41 percent) say their wireless phone service provides them with a sense of personal security.

These are some of the results of a nationwide online survey of 1,125 U.S. adults (aged 18 and over) conducted by Harris Interactive in August, 2006. Of note, in April 2005, one in ten (9 percent) U.S. adults said that they had abandoned their wireline telephone service completely in favor of using their wireless phone service exclusively.

At that time, another five percent said that they were seriously considering joining the 'wireless culture' and would switch within a year, and forty-seven percent said that they were somewhat considering it. Currently, approximately 13 percent of U.S. adults use only a cell phone or plan to do so within the next six months.

"Ma Bell could become a name for Trivial Pursuit before you know it," said Joe Porus, Vice President and Chief Architect for Harris Interactive. "More and more consumers are cutting the cord and going wireless only. Ultimately consumers see wireless as a more convenient, cost effective and personal form of communication."

More than half (55 percent) of those who plan to use only a cell phone six months from now say this is because they like the communication flexibility that a cell phone offers, while 30 percent say that their wireless plan is actually less expensive than their wireline phone plan.

Despite the high percentage of current cell phone users, many adults are reluctant to discontinue their wireline service and go exclusively with wireless or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. Thirty-seven percent (37 percent) of those keeping wireline say it is because wireline service works even when the power is out.

Other key reasons cited for keeping wireline service are to have the ability to call local 911 (31 percent), followed by excellent network reliability or no dropped calls (31 percent) and the ability to always get a dial tone (25 percent). This indicates that despite the advances in technology, some people like the security of the 'traditional phone company.'

While this particular market study doesn't mention any demographic segmentation results, it's well known from prior studies that the 18-34 year-old consumer is most inclined to devalue the need for wireline phone services. However, the persona of the 'wireless culture' isn't just about the affluent young consumer, it also resonates with the young at heart -- regardless of age.

I believe that the telecom service provider's tradition-oriented marketers have difficulty comprehending this customer segmentation paradox. AT&T's utilization of their innovative Blue Room microsite is an example of an appreciation for the appeal of digital media, but an incomplete execution of a marketing strategy that fully applies this key consumer engagement asset.

A case in point; a link to the Blue Room home-page is buried within the primary AT&T residential customer website, and it's not featured at all on their Cingular Wireless website. IMHO, mastering the process of mapping consumer lifestyle and interest attributes to the application of service provider offerings is an untapped opportunity.

Moreover, if telecom providers are intent on moving up the personalized service value-chain -- beyond commodity price-sensitive offerings -- then they must evolve their fundamental marketing skills. The art and science of persona-based market segmentation is at the root of any successful market development strategy.

Besides, knowing when and how to act on emerging consumer culture trends is so much more than a mere tactical detail; it's an essential ingredient to projecting a brand identity that associates the growing linkage between communications and entertainment services.

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