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Smartphone Personalities October 2014

The smartphones we know today—thin devices with a color screen and multitouch interface (touch screen)—changed the mobile-phone marketplace with the introduction of Apple's iPhone in 2007. Smartphone adoption is rapid. In the United States, for example, in 2012, 43% of adults owned a smartphone; in 2013, 53%; and in 2014, 63%, according to GfK Mediamark Research, our US national data partner.

Smartphone use is currently in the crosshairs. In a spate of recent books and articles, the public receives warnings that widespread use of smartphones will put users on information overload, shorten attention spans, make young people socially inept at personal interactions, and degenerate memory further.

Smartphone use is currently in the crosshairs. In a spate of recent books and articles, the public receives warnings that widespread use of smartphones, with easy internet and social-media access, will put users on information overload, shorten attention spans, make young people socially inept at personal interactions, and degenerate memory further. The warnings make no mention of two important facts: First, not everyone uses smartphones in the same way or for the same activities. For example, even though young adults—Millennials—are the most likely of all generational cohorts to own a smartphone (86%), more than half of Baby Boomers own them, too. Second, the majority of young people, in search of their identity, are already light on information and detail, with or without smartphones; highly social; and often irrationally optimistic.

VALS™—a segmentation that examines the intersection of consumer psychology, demographics, and lifestyles—provides valuable insights about smartphone users. A VALS analysis of technology-device ownership, smartphone owners, and social-network enthusiasts reveals four distinctly different smartphone personalities.

Innovators are technology's power users. They want to have the best technology option, regardless of their situation. Seventy-five percent own a smartphone—the second-highest group to do so. But overall, they own the most toys (devices). Somewhat more than one-third own the mobility trifecta: a laptop or notebook, a tablet, and a smartphone. Multiple mobile-device ownership is a lifestyle choice—a tablet doesn't replace a laptop or notebook computer. Average Facebook visitors, Innovators who own smartphones are almost three times as likely as others to have visited LinkedIn in the past 30 days; Tumblr, Twitter, and Yelp are other favored sites. Their internet activities vary widely. In fact, the only activity they are less likely than all adults to engage in is online gambling. Active consumers, Innovators are more than twice as likely as other groups to spend more than $800 a year online; almost nine in ten Innovators bought online in the past year. They lead in all product categories except hunting, fishing, and camping equipment and religious products. Department and specialty stores are favored places to shop online for clothing, shoes, and cosmetics. Highly curious Innovators have a broad worldview—they have context in which to fit new information so their chances of information overload are small, even though many Innovators are connected 24/7. Most Innovators have excellent social and communications skills both online and offline. About 30% of Innovators are Millennials, 23% are Gen Xers, and 40% are Baby Boomers.

For Achievers, device ownership and use is often about bragging rights; connectivity is about convenience. More Achievers own a laptop than own a desktop. However, over half own a desktop; somewhat more than one-third own a tablet. Next to Innovators, they are the most likely consumers to own a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone; not quite one-quarter do so. Typically, all Achievers' behaviors reflect the norm. For example, they are average in visits to all social-networking sites except Pinterest, the one site they are more likely than average to have visited in the past 30 days. The majority of Achievers' online activities also reflect the norm—except their use of chat rooms (few have the time), online dating (the majority are already married), video-game downloads (another time issue), and online gambling sites (they prefer to spend disposable income on tangible objects that are visibly showable). Conversely, Achievers are more likely than average to engage in online activities that present a time savings, such as obtaining financial information, tracking investments, and obtaining real estate information. However, Achievers' most-often-used app is for playing games—a stress-relieving diversion. Only half as many Achievers as Innovators spent $800 or more shopping online in the past 12 months. Favored purchases are for items such as airline tickets and hotel reservations, automotive products, baby accessories, cell phones and accessories, home furnishings, and toys and games. Favorite online retailers are J. C. Penney, Macy's, Pottery Barn, and Victoria's Secret. Often overwhelmed by life in general, few Achievers run the risk of information overload because they rarely seek information that doesn't pertain to them or their family. Nevertheless, conflicting information can cause paralysis. Achievers' attention spans are already short because of many demands on their time. One-third of Achievers are Millennials, one-third are Gen Xers, and 30% are Baby Boomers.

Nine in ten Experiencers are Millennials. Experiencers are the reason that Millennials are characteristically optimistic. They require a lot of stimulation and variety and are often irrationally self-confident despite their inexperience. Their personality is evident in their use of customized technology devices, social networks, and physical and social activities with friends (not online). For example, Experiencers are more likely than all consumers to go to bars and nightclubs, to go dancing, and to go to the beach. Almost all (four in five) own a smartphone, and almost three-quarters own a laptop or notebook computer; MP3 players and video-game consoles are other favorite devices. Experiencers use all these for internet connections. Of smartphone users, Experiencers are one of three personalities that are above average for having spent five hours or more on the internet yesterday. Music apps rank first; Experiencers are the only group to list "watch a movie" as one of their top five activities with apps. Experiencers are above average for all social-network activities. However, fewer than 10% on Facebook rate or review products and services, invite people to events, send real or virtual gifts, or click on an advertisement. Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and YouTube are other favored social-media sites. Experiencers buy little online—most likely the result of limited finances rather than lack of interest. Typically, Experiencers love to buy. They are above average for taking an online course or class, listening to music online, and looking for employment. Over half pay bills online, but only about one-third look for financial information. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Experiencers are in danger of going on information overload. First, most don't distinguish between national and international news and cultural (celebrity) news. Second, most information doesn't stay with them beyond their interest or need of the moment.

Three-quarters of Strivers are Millennials (21% are Gen Xers). Sometimes people confuse them with Experiencers because they share a number of typical young-adult activities. Nevertheless, the two groups are dissimilar. Whereas many Experiencers are early technology adopters, Strivers are not. Strivers emulate Experiencers to the degree that finances permit. Strivers rarely lead in any consumer behaviors because they have relatively low levels of curiosity or disposable income, and they are more disenfranchised than engaged. Of the four smartphone personalities, Strivers lag somewhat behind the other three types in device ownership and online activities. Somewhat more than two-thirds of Strivers own a smartphone, slightly more than half own a laptop or notebook computer, and about one-fifth own a tablet; only 13% own all three devices. Of smartphone owners, the highest proportion of Strivers spent between two and five hours connected to the internet yesterday. However, they (along with Innovators) are more likely than average to have spent ten hours or more; Strivers are the only group to be higher than average for spending less than one-half hour online yesterday. Average Facebook visitors, Strivers are below average for visiting many other social-networking sites—especially work- or employment-related sites such as LinkedIn. However, they are more likely than the norm to look for employment online. Along with Experiencers, Strivers download video games. They are below average for shopping online—those who do are most likely to spend $100 or less in total. Generally unfocused and undisciplined, Strivers might go on information overload if they were interested in information gathering—which they are not. Social skills with non-Strivers are often a challenge but not because they spend too much time online.

To learn more about smartphone personalities, contact us.