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Do Consumers REALLY want FM chips on Mobile Phones?

All other things equal, the best way to assess future behavior is to look to past behavior.  That is, rather than ask consumers what they might do tomorrow, ask them what they actually did yesterday.  This gives you behavioral data rather than simply attitudinal data, and it allows people to tell you what they actually do rather than what they think you might want to hear.

For example, much discussion has swirled around the presumed appetite in the US for FM chips on mobile phones.  Note that I am not talking about the appetite for radio content via downloadable apps on mobile phones, but FM built right into the proverbial box.

More than one industry survey claims that consumers would use FM radio if it were to be built into their mobile phones.

What these surveys ignore, however, is that there are many phones on the market already which feature FM radio built in.  So it makes sense to ask not “will you use FM if it’s built in” but “have you ever used FM radio as a decision factor in the mobile phones you have purchased?”  In other words, if FM radio built into phones matters, then we would expect consumers to use this as a decision variable in their choice of phones.

After all, FM radios can literally be built into anything.  If you built it into a toaster, consumers might well say they’d “use” it.  That’s not the issue.  The issue – from the standpoint of manufacturers who must safeguard the feature set and user experiences and unique selling propositions of their devices – is what will motivate consumers to purchase their device over any other.

Now you might argue “well, sure some mobile phones contain FM radios, but not that many.”  Exactly how many is “enough” to prove or disprove your point?  Isn’t this the same supply-based logic that confounded the radio industry at the time HD radio was introduced?  The notion that “if we build it they will come” was wrong then and it’s wrong now.  And when it comes to devices and electronics, it’s wrong – period.

So, in conjunction with VIP Research, I asked a national sample of more than a thousand radio listeners ages 10-54 whether they had ever specifically looked for a mobile phone that contains FM radio (full report here):

As you can see, the vast majority of radio listeners did NOT seek out a phone that contains FM radio.  FM radio is simply not a feature that motivates decision-making about which mobile phone to buy.  Could it be because FM radio is freely available already in every home, work, and car?

If consumers are not looking for a phone that contains FM radio, why not?

The vast majority said that the presence or absence of built-in FM radio was simply not a decision factor in which phone to choose.  They wanted what they wanted for other reasons.

And the rest generally said that it wasn’t about the phone they preferred, it was simply that the presence or absence of FM built-in didn’t matter.

In fact, both of these responses are functionally the same.  In neither case does built-in FM sway decision-making to or from one device or another.

What about that small fraction of respondents who DID look for a phone containing FM radio.  Did they end up buying one?

The majority of this small group did indeed purchase a mobile phone containing FM radio.

In other words, few consumers are looking for mobile phones that contain FM radio, and those who are can evidently find one.

Here’s a video where I dive into these numbers in greater detail:

Prefer audio?  Try this:

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So what’s the takeaway?

Is it that radio as a medium is irrelevant to consumers on mobile devices?  Of course not.

The takeaway is that mobile phones are not vehicle dashboards, they are not home stereos, they are not boomboxes,  They are barely even phones.  They are mobile computing and connection devices custom-designed by each consumer to reflect their own personal identities and accomplish tasks that they themselves deem worthy.  They are the perfect illustration of control in the hands of consumers.

Broadcasters have a terrific opportunity to create experiences on those devices which are different from “the FM band” and more station-specific and content-specific.  Experiences which extend beyond the brand rather than limit to its over-the-air execution.  Experiences which invite interaction and customization and engagement.  This is what these devices are about. They are not simply a “new distribution vehicle” for the same old same old.

So go boldly onto mobile devices.  But go on consumers’ terms, not yours.

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