Black consumers' smartphone penetration rate this year will be slightly lower than that of whites and the U.S. population in general, according to an eMarketer report, and the gap is expected to widen in the next several years. The same pattern applies to mobile internet usage, with penetration among blacks slipping below that of whites and the total US population, after having been slightly above both at the beginning of the decade.
"A focus on number of users doesn't tell the full story," said Mark Dolliver, eMarketer analyst and author of the new report, "Black Consumers and Mobile: Digital Lives Lived in Motion." "If mobile usage is no longer more common among black consumers than the rest of the US population, it is nonetheless more important to many of them. They have a higher-than-average propensity to use their phones as their chief means of going online. Indeed, the widespread adoption of smartphones among blacks has helped to close the old digital divide' in internet access while perhaps creating a new one in the kind of online usage people typically experience."
A year-long survey by Experian Simmons that concluded at the end of November 2011 got a glimpse at some of these differences. Black mobile phone owners were more likely than their white counterparts (19.5% vs. 11.8%) and respondents in general (13.7%) to agree with the statement, "My [mobile] phone is an expression of who I am." Blacks were also more likely than whites and respondents in general to agree that, "I use my [mobile] phone in many different ways to get the information I need," (46.7% vs. 38.7% vs. 40.6%) and that, "My [mobile] phone connects me to my social world," (38.4% vs. 32.2% vs. 34.0%).
Differences between age groups on such matters are apt to be at least as significant as differences between racial groups. For instance, black respondents 18- to 34-years-old were twice as likely as their 35- to 49-year-old counterparts to view their mobile phone as an expression of who they are.
"If mobile marketers are attracted to the black mobile audience because they view it as disproportionately large, their thinking is out of date," said Dolliver. "The real reason to reach black consumers via mobile is that usage plays an outsized role in their involvement with digital media. They are far more likely than whites to report using smartphones as their principal means of accessing the internet. And they overindex for mobile engagement with a range of online activities, including mobile viewing of online video."