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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Mobile research: return to the wild west?

Mobile research presents a great opportunity to add insight to research, says Thomas Edwards, the boss of Synovate’s new mobile division. But as numerous providers seek to cash in, will it suffer from the same problems that online research did a few years ago?

Thomas Edwards, who was promoted to lead Synovate’s new mobile practice earlier this week, sees many similarities between the early online research market and its mobile equivalent. But there’s one big difference: the prevalence of the technologies and the speed at which they’ve spread.

He told Research: “We’re 10 years on and we’re still seeing places where online penetration is about 23%, but at the end of the year mobile penetration will be 75% [across the world].”

“There are so many suppliers that offer so many different things and they’re not taking into account whether this is a better way of doing things”

As it was with online, there are hordes of companies offering mobile research-related services – but not always enough care being taken to ensure that clients are getting what’s right for them. Back in 2006 the ARF’s Bob Barocci described online research as “the wild west”, with numerous companies clamouring to get involved and paying insufficient attention to quality. Are we now seeing something similar with mobile?

“It’s gone towards the wild wild west in the last couple of years,” Edwards said. “There are so many suppliers that offer so many different things and they’re not taking into account whether this is a better way of doing things.”

This has led to accusations that the research industry is thrusting the latest technologies on clients, rather than focusing on what may be best for their business, and Edwards agrees that buyers need a helping hand when deciding whether to go with a mobile solution.

“It is new to a lot of clients, you have to work with them, guide them and make sure that the right decisions are made,” he said. “The technology is great but at the end of the day our clients pay us for insights into their products and customer satisfaction levels.”

Edwards said Synovate bided its time before launching the new division, keeping an eye on what solutions were becoming available and running pilot tests with clients in selected markets before rolling the new offering out across the globe.

“A few years ago we had a lot of tech companies bringing out products. What we’re seeing now is companies opening up and accepting these methodologies”

Over the past few years he has seen interest in mobile research from both agencies and clients grow. “A few years ago we had a lot of tech companies bringing out products, but what we’re seeing in the MR industry now is that companies – especially the big companies that use traditional methodology – are opening up and accepting these methodologies.”

The potential benefits of mobile research are widely known, and have the potential to provide information for clients that traditional research methods can’t. Location-based services, for example, are a “game changer” according to Edwards, and in the long run he said that he believes activities such as product testing and online diaries will migrate on to mobiles and away from other methods.

But despite his belief that mobile will continue to grow, he is adamant that it will never replace traditional research methods. “Traditional market research is a rather large beast and mobile research is not going to tackle every problem that we have. The main thing it does is provide additional insight to the traditional methods.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I thin Mr Edwars assessement of the value of mobile market research is probably right. However, he did not mention about new research innovation brought about by smartphones and GPS technologies. Think about mobile enthography or mobile diaries for examples. These were not possible using "traditional methods". As more mobile research developers come into the fold, I have no doubt that more research innovation is coming our way!

    Jasper Lim
    Merlien Institute
    http://www.merlien.org

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  • It's great to see a large organization like Synovate adopting mobile research as part of it's global offering and have some one to champion it. It shows the seriousness and potential. Like any methodology, it has its own applications and areas where it will excel and areas where it will not. As a recognised force, I think Synovate can add value to this methodoloy by continuously pushing the mobile envelope and publish its findings for all to learn.

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