Listening to Users, Part IV: Location and Segmentation
By Steve Wallage, Thu May 13 09:15:00 GMT 2004

In the third of four interviews about how the mobile industry should meet users' needs, Michael Hulme of researchers Teleconomy talks about how carriers don't get location and segmentation of their users.

Michael Hulme is director of the International Centre for the Study of Media, Technology and Culture at Henley Management College and a visiting senior research fellow at Lancaster University Management School. He is also the founder and non- executive chairman of Teleconomy, a research company specializing in organization and behavioral research in relation to strategic futures.

He has done a lot of work on the usage of mobile technology, including the 'Me, My Mobile and I' research for Teleconomy. This has been particularly aimed at finding out how consumers will use new mobile technologies. It takes account of context, early experiences, barriers and opportunities to adoption, and use of functions. Hulme has also worked as head of strategy at a major UK corporation, and works on local and governmental bodies on urban regeneration.

TheFeature: Don't you think operators are starting to offer attractive and potentially very profitable location services?

Hulme: I think they are still far too simplistic. The operators only think in terms of where the person is located. The operators only think, "That person is near the shops," they don't think any further, and thatís complicated enough. Take an empty location. If itís a restaurant, people will avoid it because they think it's unpopular. If itís a bank, people will rush in!

TheFeature: How should the operators start thinking?

Hulme: An individual brings his or her own dispositions, or characteristics, to each location, shaped by their lifestyle and the type of person they are. Teleconomy has identified five such disposition types. These will all vary by the time of day, their mood, whether they are working, type of contact and so on. The actual location is meaningless without looking at the individual and their emotional and behavioral characteristics. These all affect their receptiveness to different types of mobile messages.

TheFeature: This all sounds very complex and highly customized.

Hulme: Not really Ė remember mobile operators have a lot of this information already but choose not to use it. They need to think about targeting services based on a user at a particular place, at a particular time with a particular background. Mobile operators need to fundamentally change the way they think about their customers.

TheFeature: Isn't this great in theory, but impractical in practice?

Hulme: Not at all. Look at the retail industry. They develop spider's webs charts to do exactly this sort of thing -- to map their customers' likely behavior. It is a well understood and tested strategy. Look at all the thought that goes into a supermarket Ė the placing of product, the music, the ambience, the store layout and even the smell. The mobile industry does not think at all in this way.

TheFeature: What's the easiest application along these lines?

Hulme: Probably such areas as management and ordering. Remember the usage of a mobile phone is changing rapidly towards a data device. People use it to develop their own photo album using MMS. We are starting to do a lot of research on the youth market. Not because it is necessarily the largest opportunity, but because it is a great way of understanding future trends. We found that 10- to 12-year-olds don't think of the mobile device in terms of voice at all, but as something to hold their life, such as games, photos and so on. Operators should think about how to help people control their lives using the mobile device. Think in new ways about the space and have areas such as a trash can. Think about such things as disposable services.

TheFeature: Do 10- to 12-year-olds really influence other users?

Hulme: Absolutely. First off is their parents. Parents of young kids tend to be much more savvy mobile users. Itís a great way to understand how the mass market will use mobiles going forward.

TheFeature: So what should operators do to segment their users?

Hulme: It is a complex area and when I talked about a disposition thatís not quite the same thing. But it will be very worthwhile for the operators to properly segment their customers. Age can be a poor guide, and there is certainly little relationship between age and the dispositions that Teleconomy has identified. Operators need to understand their customers' lifestyles and then overlay their dispositions and characteristics. Mobility means moving between 'spaces' and through emotional changes. Take our research Ė one group is particularly open to the idea of billboard advertising. This sort of information should be gold dust to the operators.

TheFeature: In conclusion, what are the key lessons for the mobile industry?

Hulme: To really understand your customers. To understand the importance of the mobile device to users. Although often it's an intangible value, people losing their mobiles talk about losing part of their lives. This creates real opportunities for the mobile industry. Finally, to look at lessons from other industries Ė retail is a great example.