Is limiting the unlimited the way to serve the mobile appetite?

Written by: on June 22, 2018

The all-you-can-eat buffet has been described in Food and Wine magazine as “the epitome of American gluttony.” That title is now in jeopardy.

To hear Apple and Google these days, mobile has become for some like the Bloomin’ Onion, or the equivalent of 3,080 calories in one sitting. We know that we are full at 2,000, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.

Social networks. Push notifications. Time spent watching videos. Netflix. YouTube. And more. Each adult mobile user in the U.S. spends 3.3 hours per day on mobile devices, according to Mary Meeker’s latest report. According to the NPD Group, the average U.S. smartphone user now consumes a total of 31.4 GB of data on a monthly basis (including both Wi-Fi and cellular). Cellular data usage among consumers with unlimited plans is 67% higher than those with limited plans, per NPD.

How did we get here and what does this all mean for marketers?

First off, is the present any different than what we could’ve — or should’ve — imagined? We have given users unlimited data, high-definition large screens, content to entertain, inspire and teach, and access to almost anything wherever and whenever. Should we have believed that mobile users who have unlimited plans wanted just a few bites of the mobile’s version Bloomin’ Onion? Did we expect consumers to spend hundreds of dollars on a device to just keep it in their pockets? Have we not conditioned our customers and prospects to come to us on mobile any time and at all times?

Now Google and Apple, whose operating systems are in the hands of 99% of mobile users in the U.S., have introduced efforts to enable us to help ourselves. At its I/O conference in May, Google unveiled tools to help create balance. It said that 70% of users want help. Recently, Apple introduced Screen Time, which, when released this fall with iOS 12, will give Apple customers app and device usage information and lets them limit access if they want to cut down. Screen Time features include activity reports, app limits and new “do not disturb” and notifications controls designed to help customers “reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their families.”

Notable for marketers, iOS 12 gives customers more options for controlling how notifications are delivered. Users will be able to manage notifications to be turned off completely or delivered directly to a special notification hub. Siri can also make suggestions for notifications settings, such as to quietly deliver them or turn alerts off.

Screen Time creates detailed daily and weekly reports that show the total time a person spends in each app they use, their usage across categories of apps, how many notifications they receive and how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad. People can take control of how much time they spend in a particular app, website or category of apps. The app limits feature lets people set a specific amount of time to be in an app, and a notification will display when a time limit is about to expire.

This changes everything for marketers. Or does it? It’s always been about delivering value: quality not quantity. The fact that so much time is spent on mobile devices may indicate to some that marketers are succeeding. But the savvy marketer understands that these upcoming tools give consumers the power to shut off the unwanted features and to curate exactly the individual experience that they want.

Meaning, campaigns will be affected. In a nine-month period ending in March of this year, brands sent 300% more push notifications than in the previous nine months, according to Adobe. With consumers soon having the ability to dispatch pushes away from the home screen, more care and thought will be necessary to ensure that those messages sent to consumers are viewed in a timely and actionable fashion.

Measurement of programs will also need to be adjusted. A key metric since the iPhone debuted has been time spent. Clearly, marketers and developers must rethink the idea that it’s all about how long they can keep mobile users engaged.

So is mobile going to give the gluttony descriptor back to the buffet? Time will tell. Surely, all-you-can-eat mobile usage works for tens of millions. Many are entertained, more productive and enjoy access to friends and family that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Plus, their waistlines aren’t affected.

It’s all about choice and perceived value. The former will definitely be driven by the latter. Soon more than ever.

This article was originally published on Mobile Marketer.

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Jeff Hasen

Jeff Hasen

Jeff Hasen is Wunderman Thompson Mobile's Senior Strategist and is one of the leading evangelists in mobile and emerging technologies. He enables brands to get closer to their customers in times upended by new devices and behaviors. The results are increased sales and loyalty and businesses doing the disrupting rather than being disrupted.

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