Marketers Sell to Mobile Users, Not Subs

There are times when counting things one way, compared to a slightly different way, yield results that largely are the same. But for mobile marketers, counting mobile "subscribers" and "mobile users" will produce distinct results that do matter. 

The differences are that "subscriptions" are not equal to "users" because some users have multiple subscriptions. If you usse a mobile broadband card or dongle, plus two cell phones, you have three mobile subscriptions, for example. 

Mobile marketers want to reach people, not devices or subscriptions, so the method of counting makes a difference. In Europe, for example, many studies show mobile penetration to be at or in excess of 100 percent, but that is because many users have multiple subscriber information modules, each of which has a phone number, and counts as a subscription, even when only one SIM is in active use at any time. 

For marketers, the number of mobile users is a more useful figure because it more accurately describes the audience, and thus potential reach.

So how big is the actual U.S. mobile audience? Reserchers at eMarketer estimate that mobile penetration of users is 76.5 percent in 2009, or 235 million people,  rising gradually to 255.4 million in 2013, or 80 percent penetration.

By way of comparison, subscriber fgures from CTIA – The Wireless Association show there aer 276.61 million mobile subscriptions in service as of June 2009. That would work out to about 90 percent penetration of people. 

That 13-percent difference might not make a great deal of practical difference, except that the difference in estimates means the potential reach of any mobile marketing campaign might potentially reach 41.6 million fewer people. 

In the context of a mobile campaign that might not be so crucial, especially when marketers target one specific device or one specific carrier. But the difference in potential reach could be quite large for any campaign that tries to reach most users, and will certainly be reflected in the cost of any campaign. 

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