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A Year Of Mobile Marketing Metrics: How Smartphones Ruled and Revealed Our Lives in 2015

By Christi Eubanks | December 30, 2015 | 0 Comments


This December, I (and supposedly a record-setting 78 or so million other lemmings) braved the Apple store crowds to procure a new iphone. I’ve signed up to give Apple $32.41/month in perpetuity, in addition to my data plan, for the privilege of an annual hardware upgrade. Like 80% of other American smartphone users, according to Pew, I convince myself this is a small price to pay for the single item I used most in 2015. Ironically, my new phone was the only thing I purchased in a physical store this holiday. So apropos for my year-end reflection and this week’s content theme – mobile analytics. It went by like a blur, but according to my Instagram feed, it’s been a great year.

Before I go any further, let’s get one thing straight, though: 2015 was not “the year of mobile.” If you were waiting to celebrate this year, I’m sorry to say that you missed it. I’m not sure if there was an official year ever decided, but we’ve been hyping it since at least 2011 when smartphones out-shipped PCs, and then again when time spent on mobile exceeded desktop.  That’s not to say there were no 2015 milestones worth remembering, just that I dislike hyperbole.

So, what do our phones tell us about how we spent this year?

We spent a lot of time on our phones – three hours per day in fact. That’s more than on any other connected device, though still less than the average American spends watching TV (a statistic that continues to catch this cord-cutter off guard). Interestingly, that time was largely in addition to, not instead of, other screens (some of us still gotta work at least two hours per day and, more importantly, watch live sports). Desktop and traditional TV are definitely in decline, but not as sharply as mobile time is increasing. eMarketer data suggests mobile time spent will grow to 3:15 in 2016, but that’s only a single digit increase.

P.S. This phone usage data is self-reported and some researchers think time is grossly under-reported. Especially when you consider that 87% of millennials say their phone never leaves their side.

Not all of that time was spent on distraction. Ok, so a lot of it was: 93% of millennials, admitted to using their phones to stave off boredom at least once a week and 47% to avoid human interaction. (Gen Xers, were not much better at 82% and 32%). It may restore your faith in humanity to know that Candy Crush revenue and app store rankings have declined over the year, but your hopes will be somewhat tempered by the news that King, its maker, is being acquired by Activision/Blizzard for a staggering $5.9 billion. It wasn’t all YouTube videos (we watched 40 mins / session) and games, though.

We did productive things too. We Googled stuff – mobile search exceeded desktop this year – like health information (62% of us) and directions (67% of us). Fifty-seven percent used our phones for online banking, 44% for realestalking (or legitimate house hunting), and 43% for job hunting, according to Pew. As of this writing, App Annie has the Fitbit app as the number two iOS free download, behind YouTube – I guess it’s really all about balance in 2016.

We also made an economic contribution. We shopped! And I don’t just mean we reverse showroomed; we put things in our carts and hit the buy button [hallelujah!]. Mobile generated $0.37 of every dollar in 2015, according to Adobe. The National Retail Federation says more people holiday shopped online than in store this year. Both Adobe and IBM reported that mobile shopping traffic (57%) exceeded desktop shopping traffic on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday [looks like someone was shopping under the table while Uncle Bob talked politics]. Custora estimates 36% of Black Friday purchases were on mobile, which is consistent with what Adobe and IBM report as well, while Facebook Atlas credits mobile for 50% of transactions for the holiday weekend, higher for Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day. Interestingly, Smart TVs were the top selling item; it all comes full circle. Santa quite literally phoned it in from someplace tropical, thanks to his Amazon Prime membership (Amazon did 36% of all Black Friday sales). Based on his higher average order value and likelihood to convert, I’d guess the big man is an iOS user.

You might say 2015 was the year mobile marketing and mobile data really began to matter, and the implications for 2016 are huge.

As we raise our glasses to auld lang syne, my wishes for you, dear marketers, are these:

Advertise smarter. Advertisers spent half of their digital budgets and 16% of their total budgets on mobile media, according to eMarketer. Still, as Mary Meeker pointed out in May of this year, there is a huge (around $25 billion) opportunity gap when you consider media spending in the context of time spent. Sadly, $1.3 billion went to fraudulent installs, clicks and impressions, the IAB found. We’ve got some work to do in 2016. One thing we can do to improve that is…

Conquer cross device ID and measurement. This is not easy stuff. But like eating more kale and drinking less wine, it’s worth your best effort. Leading data-driven marketers are 3 times as likely to be investing in mobile data, to this end (clients only). We should see some marked improvement in vendor offerings this year to help get you there.

Think outside the app. While it’s true that most of the time spent (3.6 times to be exact) on mobile is in app, mobile doesn’t have to be synonymous with apps. Beacons, IoT, of course, mobile web and mobile payments will need to be addressed or at least planned for in your 2016 mobile data and analytics strategy. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to connect your mobile data and strategy to those other vitally important marketing channels. May your 2016 be about more than installs.

Measure meaningfully. For the record, that doesn’t mean looking at your percentage of web traffic that comes from different devices and calling it a day. Gartner’s Data-Driven Marketing survey (clients only) told us that 18% of companies either aren’t investing in mobile analytics at all, or don’t think it’s a very important activity. Which puts mobile analytics right up there alongside social analytics as the most under-appreciated measurement category. But, that was my glass-half-full analyst personality talking. It also means an overwhelming majority of companies do think mobile analytics is important and 38% of them plan to increase investment in the coming year. Clients can check out our Market Guide for Mobile Marketing Analytics for guidance navigating the very fragmented vendor landscape.

On a personal note: may you experience 2016 fully and presently, and not just through your cracked screens. (That’s my resolution.)

Happy New Year, Marketers. It’s going to be a good one.


The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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