Millennials and Their Smartphones — It’s Personal

Millennials wouldn’t be classified as millennials without technology, especially smartphones. Millennials grew up with technology and so, smartphones have become ingrained into their daily routines. For example, millennials frequently use smartphones to seek bargains when shopping. Emarketer’s Millennials and Their Smartphones: How Many Have Them and What They Do with Them states, “more and more millennials have acquired a smartphone and become more and more conversant with its capabilities. They have passed the point at which it is something to be toyed with indiscriminately.” What millennials have gained is a sense of what works for them and their likes and dislikes about the smartphone. With technology evolving, the challenge is to see if the technology can allow them to do more on their phones. Nora Ganim-Barnes, a professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts simply states, “They want to do more.”

For millennials, smartphones go everywhere they go and is the center of their worlds. A July 2014 Deloitte poll asked 18-to 24-year-olds to say how much time elapses between waking up and checking their phone (not used as an alarm clock). Fifty-two percent say within five minutes, twenty-four percent check it immediately.   A June 2014 Zogby Analytics poll indicated, eighty percent of 18 – 34 year olds stated, “when I wake up, the first thing I do is reach for my smartphone.” Seventy-eight percent also reported spending more than 2 hours daily using it. Another specific use for smartphones is boredom. According to a Pew Research Center survey, ninety-three percent said they used it at least once during the week to “avoid being bored.” With millennials always on-the-go, filling their downtime by checking their smartphones makes sense. The frequency in which they “upgrade” or get a new smartphone shows the importance of improving technology to the user. Millennials continually want better features and functions to prove status or simply to have the newest technology.

Millennials have also become heavy app users as a way of personalizing their phones. Smartphone users ages 19 – 33 have an average of 46 apps and used at least 24 of them monthly (Annalect survey). One struggle for new app developers is trying to zero in on the wants and needs of millennials since they already know what they want from past experimentation with apps. Related to app usage, gaming is another high use smartphone feature. In the survey, almost half of millennials used a gaming app daily on their mobile device. Experimenting with apps gives them the option for finding the best functionalities to meet their needs. For those “app happy” millennials, downloads trigger an emotional reaction. Pew Polling respondents said app usage made them feel happy (85%), productive (78%), grateful (66%), distracted (73%), frustrated (45%) and angry (22%).

Even with high app usage, ninety percent of mobile phones will be used this year to access the Internet on a monthly basis, according to Further studies found fifty-nine percent of 18-to 24-year-olds and fifty percent of 25-to 34-year-olds said the Internet was their “primary source of news and information.” Social media also plays a large role in Internet usage with ninety-one percent of millennials using their phone for social networking (Pew Polling). One of the attractions to smartphones for millennials is the ability to post or share pictures/video on social media. Video messaging is gaining traction with apps such as SnapChat offering 10-second video messages. Millennials are reluctant to waste time therefore, spending time watching long format videos is not an option. Millennials 13-34 watch videos on their smartphone for a little under 2 hours. Streaming music is also having an impact with sixty-two percent of 18 – 24 year-olds and fifty-two percent of 25-34 year-olds saying they used their smartphones to stream music.

As much as millennials use their smartphones only thirty-seven percent say it has transformed their purchasing behavior (Telefonica). In an Annalect poll, only forty percent stated they used their phones for an actual purchase compared to sixty-five percent via a computer. Of those forty percent that use their smartphone for purchases, many are pursuing for a deal. Thrive Analytics ‘In-Mobile Usage 2015 study’, found fifty-four percent of searches in-store are for deals, fifty-one percent to compare prices and thirty–nine percent to look at reviews. Some millennials simply take a picture of an item to get feedback from others later (4 in 10 fromPunchTab). This need for feedaback and deals effects how purchases are made because some millennials are “often in the position of wanting that great thing and not necessarily being able to afford it unless they get the best possible price” (Erin Bilezikjian-Johnson, Annalect Group).

With millennials having a great personal attachment to their smartphones, when it comes to unsolicited contact on them, many feel it to be intrusive. Brands should be aware of when and how they are contacting millennials. From a Razorfish survey, seventy-five percent say “it’s an invasion of privacy when brands target me on my phone.” What does this mean for marketers? Ads that take location into consideration are the most receptive along with context (Annalect). Personalization on ads is key to spark millennials’ attention. found a majority of millennials were concerned about tracking activity but was worthwhile for receiving relevant information. Marketers need to target millennials at the appropriate time with coupons, sale alerts and messages about important events while they are going about their daily routines (Thrive Analytics). For a more effective ad, making sure ads are location-based is crucial.

Millennials are ever evolving right alongside technology, so reaching them takes creativity and personalization to be successful.



Jason Peaslee

Jason Peaslee is the Managing Partner of Thrive Analytics, a marketing research and analytics consulting firm. His career spans more than 20 years in marketing, advertising, product development, research, and business management. Before founding Thrive Analytics in 2010, he held several senior leadership roles at AT&T, Reynolds & Reynolds, Berry Network, & The Berry Company.

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