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Do People Really REALLY want FM on their Mobile Phones?

Another study from NAB has been issued which supports the notion that consumers want FM on their mobile phones.

And, like all studies about what people WILL do rather than what they HAVE DONE in the past, it’s flawed.

You can ask people what they value and what they have done and they will give you an answer that represents their best frame on reality. But ask them what they intend to have for breakfast tomorrow morning if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, and their answer will be far less predictive of actual behavior.

The NAB study asked some interesting questions, including this one:

During times of emergencies, such as blizzards, hurricanes, tornados and local or national security threats, a cell phone with a built-in radio would let you listen to local weather and other emergency alerts as they are happening. How important would this feature be to you?

That’s a decent question and it’s about what folks value, not how they predict their future behavior.  However, the question assumes no trade-off.  It assumes that the consumer makes no choice in how they would access this information.  It doesn’t, for example, ask them what form they would prefer to get their emergency information in (e.g., TXT, radio, email, tweet, etc.).

That said, it’s interesting to note that the fraction of consumers who consider this to be “very important” is actually down from 34% to 29% since 2010.

Then, after priming consumers with this value proposition for radio (and priming is a form of bias), they ask the “money question”:

When thinking about purchasing your next cell phone, would you consider paying a one-time only fee of 30 cents if you could receive access to local radio stations through your phone? This option would not require using a data or calling plan and would be a one-time only charge when you purchase the phone. Would you…[strongly, probably, or not consider this option]?

Now we’re into the “tomorrow’s breakfast” question.

The truth is that it’s easy to answer “yes” to this question because it lives in a bubble, whereas the real world features the nagging inconvenience of choices and trade-offs.

For example, we could ask this same question about receiving local radio stations in your toaster or your golf cart or your new tie. Actually, the idea of an extra 30 cents for radio in a new tie is a pretty good one!  Maybe I should have held that one back.

43% say they’d “strongly consider” the option of 30 extra cents for radio on their phones (ahem, but shouldn’t this be way closer to 100%?!  It’s 30 friggin’ cents!)

It’s a silly question for another reason – if you actually had two versions of the same phone, one with radio and the other without, and one was 30 cents more than the other, 100% of consumers choosing between those phones would buy the radio-powered one!

It’s easy to say “yes” to a small price point for value.  It’s tougher to trade that value off other value and determine what phone (not what radio) one is actually going to buy when at the point of purchase.

And then the study goes on to ask a truly absurd question:

Regardless of whether you own a cell phone or not, if your phone was equipped to receive local radio stations without using applications (apps) or your data plan, for which of the following, if any, would you use this function? Please select all that apply….[weather, music, emergency information, etc.]?

So now we are asking to consumers to imagine owning a phone (if they don’t) and further imagine that they are unable to use any apps or data on their device (note we are specifically not asking them if they would prefer to get any of this information by TXT, which is how Kenyan Coffee farmers will be getting it, and their grid isn’t better than yours).

So what does it all add up to?

I think it would be fabulous if radio were part of every mobile phone.  But I think it’s up to the consumer to vote for that feature at the cash register.  And it’s our value proposition, not a survey statistic, which will drive that outcome.

There are phones with this capability built-in – even in this study 16% of consumers say their phone contains a radio. Are they right?  Do FM-enabled mobile phones possess 16% of the market?  If so, then isn’t that a far better argument for FM on mobile phones than any biased construct that aims to predict future behavior without trade-offs?

And why is the selling point obsessed on emergency information when “the grid” goes down?  What about the convenience of using the same radio dial consumers are comfortable and familiar with transplanted to their favorite mobile device?

This is not a tough discussion.  Either consumers value the feature and actually buy the phones – or they don’t and won’t.

Rather than deal with hypotheticals and maybes, why don’t we deal with ways to make the cash registers ring for sellers of mobile devices?  Why don’t we deal with what consumers actually want, not what they say they might want later?  Why don’t we ask device makers how radio could help them sell more and better phones?

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