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Customer Segmentation Example: Minimalist Phones

Customer Segmentation Example: Minimalist Phones

6 Categories of Consumers Who Want Their Phones to be Dumb (at Least Some of the Time)

Everyone wants the newest iPhone with the most features, right? Wrong. In this customer segmentation example, we’ll discuss a new trend: minimalist phones, and how one minimalist phone company called BoringPhone is using customer segmentation to advertise the way that their phones can be flexibly used.

I personally discovered minimalist phones because I am trying to be less in the thrall of my smartphone. Like many people my age, I check it compulsively, and I find myself zoning out on it even when I know I need to focus. For me, the key offenders are YouTube and Google Chrome, because I like to watch videos or read news stories and Wikipedia articles on my web browser when I should be working or sleeping. When I don’t have my phone with me, I don’t engage in these behaviors, so I started wondering about a phone that didn’t have access to YouTube or to a web browser.

Customer Segmentation Example:
How Can a Company Succeed with a Product Consumers Use Less?

Minimalist phones were created by people like me, who wanted to use their phones less. These phones often have a few key features, such as texting, calling, and the ability to download and play audio files (read: eBooks, podcasts, music, etc.). Some even have more advanced features, like a GPS or even a camera. However, they usually lack the ability to browse the internet, and all the products I have seen in this genre lack the capacity to download social media apps, like Facebook or Instagram, or even more utilitarian apps like Uber or Venmo. 

The point of these restrictions is that the phone is less distracting, which might be becoming a more popular goal. According to CNBC

“a contingency of young people in the U.S. [are reverting] back to dumb or minimalist phones” 

This customer segmentation example is aware of the repercussions of excessive smartphone use on productivity and mental health. 

Customer Segmentation Example:
The SIM Card is the Secret

Crucially, it is possible to use the same SIM card for these phones as you would for an ordinary smartphone, allowing users to divide their time between two phones without a service interruption or the need for multiple plans. Indeed, it is this functionality that undergirds this customer segmentation example, because different customer segments emerge from different ways that consumers can combine a minimalist phone and a regular smartphone.

Customer Segmentation Example:
The BoringPhone is Built on Segmentation

Today, we will mostly be focusing on the BoringPhone, and how it is marketed. The BoringPhone has a camera, GPS, and even a WiFi hotspot, but it does not browse the internet or access any app store. According to Media, what the phone does do, it does well: it has “a very good camera (rear and front)” and is in general “a high quality phone with a great design.” 

Customer Segmentation Example: Minimalist Phones

However, its customer segmentation strategy truly sets it apart. This customer segmentation example is somewhat unique, as BoringPhone has incorporated customer segmentation into their marketing materials. On the front page of the BoringPhone website, the company has six different use cases listed. These are: 

  1. “The Ranger” 
  2. “The First Phone” 
  3. “The Weekender” 
  4. “The Wilde Family” 
  5. “The Detoxer” 
  6. “The Stoic” 

Here is where the customer segmentation begins. The people at BoringPhone have identified two overlapping categories of users:

  1. Kids vs. Adults 
  2. Consumers who have other smartphones and switch out SIM cards vs. Consumers who only use the BoringPhone 

Below is a chart of BoringPhone’s categories as they fit into these customer segments:

Children use the phoneAdults use the phone
Only the BoringPhone“The First Phone,” “The Wilde Family”“The Stoic”
BoringPhone + Other Phone“The Ranger,” “The Weekender,” “The Detoxer”

Customer Segmentation Example Unpacked

Moving cell by cell, we can now unpack this customer segmentation example. Starting with the bottom right, we have three use cases that rely on having both a BoringPhone and a regular smartphone: the Ranger, Weekender, and Detoxer. 

  • The Ranger uses the BoringPhone outside of the house and the iPhone inside, in order to only catch up on social media when she is at home, relaxing. 
  • The Weekender uses a regular smartphone during the week when required to be available for work via email, but switches to the BoringPhone to enjoy uninterrupted weekends. 
  • The Detoxer switches to BoringPhone for weeks at a time in order to ‘detox’ from the normal smartphone. 

We can see that even within this larger segment, the people at BoringPhone have further segmented their customers by usage patterns. All of this customer segmentation helps people to imagine how the product might fit in their own lives. 

Next, at the top right, we have the adult who only uses the BoringPhone: the Stoic. According to the BoringPhone website, this user would only use BoringPhone, not having a normal smartphone at all. The name ‘Stoic’ highlights another interesting aspect of this customer segmentation example: evocative naming. As an author for Elle magazine puts it, “stoicism has become the philosophy that everyone is talking about.” The philosophy seems to have special appeal to young men, especially those in the tech field. By choosing the name ‘Stoic’ for this customer segment, the people at BoringPhone might be hoping to appeal to all the 20-something tech bros who fancy themselves stoics. 

Finally, in the top left are the two examples with children. BoringPhone suggests that it might make a good first phone for a young person, or even that the whole “Wilde” family could exclusively use BoringPhones. These two segments showcase an important section of the customer base for the BoringPhone and for minimalist phones in general: parents looking to protect their children from excessive smartphone usage, either by simply giving the child a BoringPhone or by switching the whole family over. This quadrant does not involve use of another phone, which makes sense because the entire function of the BoringPhone in this case is to delay or even avert the purchase of an ordinary smartphone for a child. To me, this is the most striking part of this customer segmentation example, as the people at BoringPhone have identified that not only might someone want a minimalist phone for themselves, but also for their child. Indeed, insofar as the purpose of a minimalist phone is to limit the tendency for quickly-rewarding but compulsive smartphone use in favor of activities that might have more delayed gratification, it makes sense that the phone be marketed to someone other than the user. Just as it is easier to put your dog on a diet than it is to lose weight yourself, so it might be easier to commit to a BoringPhone for your kid than for yourself.

Customer Segmentation Example: Minimalist Phones

A Customer Segmentation Example that Helps Consumers Imagine Being a Customer

Overall, by incorporating customer segmentation into their marketing material, BoringPhone helps different kinds of customers see the appeal of their product. The possibility of moving the SIM card between phones helps to create a diversity of use cases, which BoringPhone lays out in this customer segmentation example.

In fact, while BoringPhone might have the most extensive customer segmentation example, other minimalist phones, like the Light Phone, also use customer segmentation in their marketing materials. For example, the Light Phone website informs readers:  

“Some users swap their existing SIM between their phones, others prefer a unique number for each phone, and most of our users use the Light Phone II as their primary phone, often with a much cheaper service plan.” 

The Light Phone website does not give these different groups of users different names (and so the BoringPhone takes the cake for the most effective customer segmentation example). However, this basic use of customer segmentation still serves the same fundamental purpose as the other one, which is to show customers how their product can be used in a variety of different situations by a variety of different people. 

Ultimately, the BoringPhone is a wonderful customer segmentation example in marketing, and the minimalist phone trend is a great new product example as well, because I believe they will become more and more popular. Many of these phones are actually sold out right now, so there is clearly some demand for the products. 

And what about me? Will I get a minimalist phone? Not for now. Most minimalist phones focus on limiting the number and type of apps that you can download, but I have noticed that most of the apps on my phone do not cause me any issues: for example, I am not spending hours distracting myself with the Lyft app. So, it is not clear to me that the restrictions on these minimalist phones are actually well-targeted. Furthermore, if I had a minimalist phone, I could not do any mobile banking, nor could I call an Uber. 

I actually think there is a market opportunity for a different kind of minimalist phone, one that specifically restricts entertainment apps but leaves room for more utilitarian programs, though unfortunately I think this would be very difficult to accomplish technically (how does the phone know what an ‘entertainment’ app is? You couldn’t just give it a list, because new distracting apps emerge all the time). However, perhaps I will soon be writing an article to tell you about it, if such a product emerges!

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