Mobile Use Patterns Across Generations

Steve Schmieder | Dec 11, 2014

Four Ways Age Can Matter in Your Mobile Strategy

This article is part three in a special three-part series on why you must build your mobile marketing platform now.

Millennials continue to lead the surge in mobile adoption, as 81% of 25- to 34-year-olds now own a smartphone.1 Research firm eMarketer says Millennials are “young enough to value smartphones but old enough to be able to buy them, suggesting that they will be smartphone power users for years to come.”2

Not only does a high percentage of Millennials use mobile, but nearly one in five is a mobile-only user, doing all Internet browsing, emailing, social networking and online news reading on a smartphone or tablet. In contrast, only 5% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 3% of those 55 and older access the Internet using only mobile devices.3

Effective mobile strategies are essential to reach this up-and-coming generation of Millennial consumers and business decision makers. But, there’s an even more compelling reason to pay attention to Millennials’ mobile habits: comScore says they are “a leading indicator for the broader media landscape (and) understanding how to market to this valuable demographic is vital to brands, agencies and media companies seeking to stay ahead of the curve.”4

That mobile tipping point has already arrived. In addition to Millennials, other demographic groups also show a striking upsurge in smartphone ownership and use. In 2013, 79% of those age 18 to 24, 69% of people 35 to 44 years of age and 55% of Americans 45 to 55 years of age owned a smartphone.5 Forrester Research reports Generation X is strongly embracing online and mobile commerce. Three-fourths of Generation X mobile users have purchased products or services online in the past three months, and one-third have purchased products on their phones. Meanwhile, Baby Boomers use multiple devices to stay connected in and out of the home. Only the Golden Generation, those over 65, seems immune to the potential of the smartphone.6

Generational Differences
Understanding differences in the way mobile is used generationally can help you best leverage the power of mobile in your marketing. Statista reports:

  • 84% of 18- to 29-year-olds use their phones to access the Internet, while only 45% of 50- to 64-year-olds go online with their phones.
  • 77% of 18- to 29-year-olds download apps, compared to the 33% of 50- to 64-year-olds.
  • 68% of people 18 to 29 use their phones to get directions or recommendations, while only 37% of adults 50 to 64 years old did the same.
  • Levels of mobile use by Generation X were closer to those of Millennials than to older adults.7

When it comes to actual shopping, older users are now following the lead of Millennials, using mobile devices throughout the purchasing process. While Millennials are more likely than Boomers and Seniors to use their smartphones every time they shop in a store, the majority of all three age groups said they consulted their phones in a store at least some of the time.8

Generational preferences can also drive the types of mobile platforms audiences use. Pew reports that while Android smartphone users outnumber iPhone users in all age groups below age 55, iPhones enjoy high popularity among Millennials.9 Use of tablets is particularly strong among Generation Z, those less than 25 years old, who treat their tablets as replacements for traditional computers. In contrast, Millennials and other working adults aren’t as likely to use tablets as often during working hours but tend to use them right after prime time in the evening.10

How to Appeal to the Top Four Generations of Mobile Users
Understanding your target and their needs is as fundamental as marketing gets, but it takes on added importance as you define your mobile strategy. Today, the four most active generations of consumers and business decision makers are embracing mobile in their own unique ways. Here are some tips to help you better address the four most active generations of mobile users and create an experience optimized to meet the expectations of your target audience and achieve your business goals:

  1. Millennials—Make mobile a primary digital platform when targeting Millennials, the generation that leads the way in adoption and frequent mobile engagement. Users in the 25- to 34-year-old demographic expect and demand an optimized experience. They grew up with digital change. So, don’t hesitate to think mobile first, even if it means revolutionizing traditional user online experiences. Millennials strongly embrace apps—consider creating a rich experience apart from the mobile Web. Millennials are the most connected of all generations, sharing experiences and recommendations almost nonstop. So, make social and mobile text mainstays of your strategies to engage and stay in touch. When shopping, Millennials are more likely to abandon one store or product for another after consulting their phones. So, it’s important to check in with fresh, compelling offers before and while they shop. Be sure to address Millennials’ affinity for Apple products in your development strategy. While Android platforms win in overall market share, iPhone and iPad use is strong among 25- to 34-year-olds.
  2. Generation X—When developing mobile strategies to reach 34- to 49-year-olds, treat them like Millennials’ slightly older, but still mobile savvy, cousins. Generation Xers have more in common with their younger peers than with older groups, including high adoption and use of smartphones for shopping. As they take on greater responsibilities at work and at home, members of Generation X are especially driven to find the best value. Mobile couponing and other special offers can be highly effective ways to engage their interest both in and out of the home or office. While they may not quite match Millennials’ strong desire to be constantly connected, Generation Xers are heavy users of email and have also taken to texting in a big way, preferences you’ll want to leverage in your mobile strategy.
  3. Boomers—Americans 50 to 68 years old are still a huge force in business and the consumer economy and, for many marketers, too important to overlook. Younger Boomers, in particular, are active on multiple platforms, moving from traditional computers to tablets and smartphones throughout the day. They demand a consistent experience across platforms, making responsive Web design an essential consideration. That investment can also support the expectations of mobile users of all ages who still use traditional computers for work. Boomers grew up with the printed word, and they have comfortably made the transition from physical newspapers to news apps viewed on their phones and tablets. They’ll read your content, too, but be sure to make type easily readable and navigation simple and direct. Next to accessing the Internet, Boomers use their phones most for email. They are more concerned about privacy than younger users but will provide their location information and welcome your offers if you provide the right incentives.
  4. Generation Z—The under-25 generation is the first to grow up entirely with the Internet, coming of age as user experiences have been redefined by games, streaming video, social and other forms of online engagement and entertainment. Many are mobile-only users, employing their smartphones and tablets instead of traditional computers for tasks at school and throughout the day. They are heavy users of productivity apps, as well as the mobile Web. Appealing to this emerging generation of consumers and business decision makers is an opportunity to break free of convention. They expect Angry Birds, not traditional computing experiences. While the cross-platform preferences of older generations may require compromises in mobile structure and design, this is not so with Generation Z. With no connection to experiences of the past, they represent the first opportunity to step off completely and embrace a truly unique mobile-first model.

Mobile adoption may have gained momentum with Millennials, but it isn’t just for the young anymore. Marketers targeting all but the oldest audiences can’t afford to be left behind. By matching your mobile strategy to the adoption and preferences of your targets, you can connect and engage throughout their unique buying journey, improving your chances of landing the sale.

The Smartphone: Adoption Across Generations

To create and implement the most powerful mobile strategy for your business, start by discussing all the possibilities with the digital marketing experts at Blue Flame Thinking. Contact Steve Schmieder at or call: 312-327-5120 to learn more.

[1] Aaron Smith, “Smartphone Ownership 2013,”, posted June 5, 2013, retrieved August 2014.
[2] “‘Generation Y’ Leads the Way on Smartphones,”, posted Jan. 15, 2013, retrieved August 2014.
[3] Adam Lella, “Why Are Millennials So Mobile?, posted Feb. 7, 2014, retrieved August 2014.
[4] “Marketing to Millennials, 5 Things Every Marketer Should Know,comScore, Inc., 2014.
[5] Aaron Smith, “Smartphone Ownership 2013.”
[6] Gina Fleming, “Forrester Releases The Annual State of Consumers And Technology 2013, US Report,”, posted Jan. 29, 2014, retrieved August, 2014.
[7] Felix Richter, “The Generational Divide in Cell Phone Use,”, posted Sept. 24, 2013, retrieved August 2014.
[8] “Mobile Goes Universal: New Survey Shows Older Generations Embrace Mobile as Local Shopping Companion,”, posted April 14, 2014, retrieved August 2014.
[9] Aaron Smith, “Smartphone Ownership 2013.”
[10] Simon Khalaf, “The Tablet Four Year Report: An Identity Crisis and an Amazing Opportunity,”, posted May 9, 2014, retrieved August 2014.

Steve Schmieder - CEO and Founder

Steve continually calls upon his 30 years of marketing expertise to help clients and their brands get to a better place.

Lynne Hartzell - President

Lynne has been on the cutting edge of marketing for over 25 years, first as a Fortune 500 Brand Strategist and, now, as an agency leader.

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