Telephone manufacturers may be poised to reap rich rewards from the burgeoning mobile market, but according to field marketing specialist EMSChiara, they could do with improving their branding. Last Christmas, mobiles were the best-selling gift item in the UK, surpassing children’s toys the Furby and yo-yos in terms of unit sales. About 2.5 million phones were sold in the last three months of the year. Sales have continued to boom, with 4 million units sold in the first half of this year. Purchases are unlikely to slow in the medium term, with experts forecasting there could be as many as 1 billion mobiles in use worldwide in the next four to six years. EMSChiara interviewed 920 respondents at entry and exit points to mobile outlets across the UK. Of those entering the store, only 22 per cent were shopping with a particular brand in mind. Furthermore, of the 50 per cent who did not have a brand in mind, 33 per cent said they would purchase a phone based on the salesperson’s recommendation. Smaller percentages attributed their choice to friends’ recommendations, the phone’s design and other promotional offers. When re-interviewed as they left the store, 15 per cent had purchased a different brand to their initial choice. Of these, 53 per cent were influenced by an in-store special offer; 33 per cent by the salesperson’s advice. Other influencing factors included: price (16 per cent), promotional deals (16 per cent), ergonomics (13 per cent), recommendation by friends (ten per cent), media advertising (six per cent) and other reasons (six per cent). “As a product, mobiles have similarities to other complex consumer products such as PCs. Cellular phone technology is advancing at such a rate that consumers are looking to retailers to provide advice on what best suits their needs,” says Richard Thompson, chairman of EMSChiara. “With the convergence of PC, Internet and mobile technologies forecast over the next 12 to 18 months, general consumer confusion over cellular products is likely to increase.” Of the brands surveyed, Nokia was the most popular, with 40 per cent of respondents saying they were planning to buy one. Ericsson was nominated by 30 per cent of respondents, NEC by 20 per cent and Panasonic by ten per cent. Those who went to the store with a brand in mind were likely to purchase that brand, with only a small percentage of consumers being dissuaded from their original choice. Some 80 per cent of consumers who did not purchase their original choice said they switched on the salesperson’s advice. The highest rate of switching was from an Ericsson to a Panasonic product. “Traditional research methods can play an important role in building overall brand confidence,” says Thompson. “Clearly, there is a high level of confidence in the top brands, which has been created through marketing. What is not clear to consumers is which cellular product best suits their personal lifestyle needs.” In terms of consumer phone use, slightly under half the respondents said they were buying for the first time. First time purchases were more common among women – at 56 per cent. Of the respondents who had already bought a phone, the majority were likely to be making a second purchase. Only 24 per cent of male respondents, and no female respondents, said it was their third, fourth or fifth purchase. Of those more likely to change their phone regularly, 33 per cent claimed it was to keep up with technology (52 per cent of these were men), while two per cent changed because their phone was faulty. Nine per cent changed phones because they switched networks; four per cent because the new phones looked more attractive. Among those buying a phone for personal use, 41 per cent said they would use it every day; 50 per cent occasionally. Seven per cent said they would only use their phone for emergency calls. Two per cent restrict phone use to retrieving messages. With nearly half of those surveyed using their phones every day, the future looks bright for mobiles. Some 43 per cent of respondents went so far as to say they were buying phones because “it’s just the norm to have one”. It is clear manufacturers need to be more savvy in their marketing and branding activity.