In the early 1900s, author Kin Hubbard said, “A bee is never as busy as it seems; it’s just that it can’t buzz any slower.” A century later, things haven’t changed much — except that today, those bees are us and that buzzing comes from our mobile phones.

Survey data tells us that consumers regard their mobile phones as catalysts for productivity. Considering the amount of time consumers spend using the device and how essential they characterize the technology to be, it’s easy to take their word for it. But not so fast: Mobile tracking metrics show that consumers rarely ever conduct productivity-related tasks on their devices. In fact, the official US productivity rate has dropped to its lowest point in the past two decades.

In this case, the conflicting data points are not wrong, they are complementary — and the resulting insight is even more valuable than the sum of its parts. A combination of Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, mobile tracking numbers, and ConsumerVoices output reveals that consumers engage far less frequently in productive behaviors than expected — and suggests a new understanding of what “mobile productivity” really means.

Upon deeper reflection, consumers suggest that being productive on a mobile phone no longer means "getting things done" or, in the economic sense, measuring output in relation to input. Instead, participants in Forrester’s ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community say that being productive on a mobile phone really means being available or accessible. Having Internet connectivity is synonymous with being productive, as consumers have the capacity to carry out an activity — whether they actually do so or not.

In a recent report that I published with my colleague Roxana Strohmenger, we note that “although individuals might not be engaging in financial or retail transactional tasks frequently, [consumers still] expect their mobile phones to facilitate tasks that make their life easier.” Therefore, in addition to developing a broad understanding of mobile’s influence, marketers should lend a keen eye to understanding consumers at a micro-level. In this way, marketers can avoid common misconceptions about consumer behavior and motivations and instead build effective mobile engagement in the most relevant way.

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