The Cellphone Challenge Chris Dann, Marketing & Media
How do you feel about getting cold-called on your cellphone? Exactly.
One of things we love about our cellphones is that no service provider has created a directory… yet. So unless you volunteer your number, the only way you can be contacted is through ‘random digit dialing,’ the same technology that has been used for many years to get around unlisted numbers.
The rise of cellphone-only households is deepening a particularly vexing problem for fundraisers. A research methodology that engenders volunteer response that cannot be randomized does not produce statistically reliable information; and the best way to randomize sampling is to control selection at the outset. Landline phones have been the principal means of random sampling. Loss of ability to control sampling has been the main cause of unreliability of political polling in recent years. Inability to reach increasing proportions of the population has been the main cause. It’s a serious problem.
A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics finds that, as of December 2014, cellphone-only households are now the norm at 45.4% of U.S. households. 42.7% have both cellphones and landlines, 8.4% landline only, and 3.2% no phone.
The study goes on to report each of these categories by age of head of household. These data are not only significant for their imposition on randomized research but also for those organizations depending on the telephone for supplementary fundraising, since cell phone users are reluctant to give out their numbers except to friends and business colleagues.
By Age of Head of Household
Age range Percent
18 – 24 58.0%
25 – 29 69.2%
30 – 34 67.4%
35 – 44 53.7%
45 – 64 36.8%
There has always been a clear distinction in communications technologies between those we might call welcoming and those we might call do-not-disturb. This is a distinction that marketers – especially fundraisers – ignore at their expense. It’s pretty clear that while consumers are quite tolerant of such welcoming technologies as television and radio (albeit within commercial limits), the evidence is we have been pretty intolerant of do-not-disturb technologies, principally among them the telephone. Expressing increasing dismay, we have insisted on the privacy of unlisted numbers, then regulated do-not-call protocols, then blocking and filtering technologies like caller ID.
People may not – probably are not – thinking about the greater privacy cellphones offer when they line up for the newest iPhone or Samsung. But development of wireless telephone directories is as inevitable as the old phonebook was, and the challenges posed by increasing penetration of wireless telephones serve to remind us that the telephone is a do-not-disturb medium.