MBPT Spotlight: Numbers Game—My Smartphone, My Wand

A recent evening found me, like so many others, wondering what was for dinner. I rattled off some options for my nine-year-old. We were low on supplies, but had odds and ends: apples, carrots, chicken stock, Fruit Loops… and some leftovers that were not well received upon their debut, let alone for an encore presentation.

“I wish we had a wand,” said my Harry Potter-obsessed daughter, referring to a wizard’s most valuable asset, without which powers are limited.

“You can’t make something out of nothing,” I said, reminding her that food was one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration (even for wizards, easy dinners are not a given), “but you can summon food if you know where it is.”

I conjured up the Papa John’s pizza app. Had I been a more enterprising muggle (non-magical human), I could have searched for a recipe that combined chicken stock and Fruit Loops. Or bought groceries for pick-up or delivery. Or summoned the Schwan’s truck. Perhaps I had a wand after all!

Mobile Magic

By now, most of us are well acquainted with the magical properties of our smartphones, which bring knowledge and resources to our fingertips to such an extent that most of us now feel somehow vulnerable, our powers limited, without it.

ComScore’s year-end mobile report shows unique visitor growth from mobile devices at nearly 34 million (to 155 million) in 2013, while PC uniques grew just 2 million (to 224 million). In addition, more people are using multiple devices to accomplish tasks: As of December 2013, multiple-device usage accounted for 56% of digital unique visitors, compared to 46% of digital traffic the previous January. And for the first time ever, people spent more time on mobile devices (53% of total minutes spent) than they did on PCs in December 2013.

As a research analyst for a content provider, I have a professional as well as personal interest in the magical properties of the third screen. Our phones have become indispensable as facilitators of information, social interaction, financial transactions and entertainment (you can still talk on them too), and as such, they touch most facets of the brands we commune with every day.

Mobile optimized websites and apps dance before our wondering eyes like so many sugar plums. eMarketer reports 80 billion app downloads in 2013, a number predicted to double in the next four years. Google and Apple both reached the 1 million app milestone in 2013. If you can dream it, there’s probably an app for it; if not now, there soon will be.

Dialing and Dining

Food is essential to living, and also to lifestyle; like news, sports and social media, people want food content all day long, and the magic wand delivers. Mobile access to food and cooking content has accelerated rapidly—mobile uniques constituted 56% of comScore’s Lifestyle-Food audience in February 2014, compared to 43% a year ago. Category leaders had this concentration of mobile uniques or higher. Mobile visits to Scripps Food websites (FoodNetwork.com, CookingChannelTV.com, Food.com) nearly doubled in 2013, averaging 55% of all visits and 40% of page views.

Smartphones mean recipes are available anywhere and meal planning can happen on the fly—while commuting, in the grocery store, at soccer practice or while watching a favorite chef on TV. With the help of these magic wands, Scripps Food brands can increase their relevance and deliver higher value to consumers by being there whenever and wherever they are needed. PC usage of Food Network’s website peaks in the morning, when people get to work, and remains high through lunchtime. During lunch, website visitors like to consume short-form food video. PC and smartphone usage peak again in the afternoon as people start looking for dinner recipes and shop on the way home from work. Food Network television viewing, tablet visits and magazine readership take over at 7 p.m. as people flock to the sofa; long-form video plays are also more prevalent in the evening hours.

The Multiscreen Multiverse

As the connection between muggles and their smartphones has grown, so too has the propensity to pull out the phone even when other screens are available. Smartphone usage for Scripps Food websites is highest between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., consistent with post-work grocery shopping habits. But website visitors tell us they use their phones to access food content at home at least as often as they do in the store. Tablets are the devices of choice for accessing recipes from the sofa, but phones are used nearly as often as tablets in the kitchen.

For an increasing number of consumers, the mobile screen is not an extension of a brand experience, but the gateway to it. Not a third screen or a fourth screen (if you count movie theaters), but a first screen; and sometimes, the only screen. ComScore’s Food-Lifestyle mobile exclusive audience grew to 36 million in February 2014. That month, more than one-half of Food Network’s digital uniques came on mobile devices, and the mobile exclusive audience reached nearly 12 million. This growth in mobile traffic delivers a significantly younger audience—in February, a higher concentration of the valuable 18-49 audience for comScore’s Lifestyle-Food websites was mobile (74% vs. 55% on PC).

Millennials and younger digital natives are the true wizards of mobile technology. Investment in this platform is not just a way to remain competitive, but also the means toward building relationships with a new generation of consumers.

Forrester reports that mobile-shifted consumers are significantly younger and more affluent than the average American. The mobile audience for Scripps Food websites is also younger and more affluent: more likely to use smartphones to follow their favorite brands and to shop, and more likely to be the first to try new food products or new recipes and to post reviews and ratings for others to read. They love the blog format, and rely on websites for recipes more than personal recipe collections and cookbooks. And 30% of them have used a food-related mobile app in the last month.

A challenge for the industry is how to monetize the smaller screen proportionate to the value it adds to the brand experience. Michael Zimbalist, senior VP, ad products and research and development at The New York Times, addressed this issue most eloquently in a recent presentation at the Online Publisher’s Association meeting, calling for an ad model that values mobile’s contribution across all of a brand’s touch points, rather than as a separate (smaller) platform.

As tablets replace PCs for some tasks, it’s also becoming important to differentiate between phone and tablet experiences. Phones are more personal than tablets. Our users tell us tablets are nice, but that phones are essential. Omnipresent, indispensable and highly customizable, we form relationships with our phones that grow and evolve as we add new apps, music, video and games.

Harry Potter’s wand, which was made of holly with a phoenix feather core, helped him produce potions and Patronuses, and accompanied him on his journey to beat the greatest evil wizard of all time. But my phone is white and gold with an A7/64-bit core, 32MB, 1820 pictures, Skype, MobileDay, the usual social media suspects, two pizza apps, an episode of Phineas and Ferb (for emergencies), and, yes, Doodle Jump (I still play). It wakes me up in the morning, leads me through yoga, checks me into flights, plays music while I clean and supplies me with bedtime reading. It gets me to the nearest Starbucks, or the closest caffeine alternative. If my car breaks down, I can summon help.

In short, it’s everything I dreamed of when I was eight and needed money for a snow cone at the ballpark. It’s magic! And I would take it over a wand any day; unless, of course, I get that letter from Hogwarts.

Mobile in 2013: A Year in Review & Looking Ahead to 2014, comScore, Feb 2014
Mobile App Marketing: 10 Tactics Used by Successful App Marketers, eMarketer, Jan 2014
comScore Multi-Platform Key Measures, Feb’14
Adobe Analytics, Jan-Dec 2013
SNI custom research, 2011-2013