OPINION16 October 2013

A connection is made

Mobile Opinion

Mobile phones collect a lot of useful data about their owners. By engaging with consumers about how they can use this data for their own direct benefit, Colin Strong believes that researchers will get closer to solving the value exchange conundrum at the heart of the industry.

I attended the MRMW Europe conference on mobile research last week, where I heard a range of presentations discussing the data collection challenges and opportunities surrounding the mobile channel. It struck me that mobile really could be the key driver of market research, moving forwards – although perhaps not in quite the way that many current practitioners of mobile surveys anticipate.

At the moment, a lot of the focus seems to be on the way in which we can shift data collection from the desktop to the mobile environment. And of course, whenever there is a shift in techniques, this brings all sorts of technical and logistical challenges. So we think very carefully about how we can ask sufficient questions, without damaging the quality of the data; how we keep participants engaged; what differences we can observe in the data when compared to other data collection techniques.

“It still feels as if our story of why consumers engage in market research is a little weak. Is it enough that we expect people to participate so they can engage with brands, to ensure products and services better meet their needs in the future?”

But we also look at the opportunities that mobile presents. Unshackled from a fixed location and time, we are able to talk to people ‘in the moment’ – at points where we can capture richer and real-time responses to the topic we are interested in, right at the geographic location the event took place.

So it looks pretty inevitable that, over time, most data collection will move to mobile devices. Indeed a sizable number of online surveys are already completed via a mobile device – whether this is the intention of the data collector or not.

And yet, it feels as if something is missing in the equation. It’s that awkward question for market research that we often stumble over: What’s in it for the consumer?

In one sense, this is no different to the challenge for all market research. But somehow it feels more pertinent with mobile research. Mobile devices are more personal, thus mobile research approaches have the potential to be more intrusive – so the stakes are higher. If we are going to interrupt people and expect them to engage with us at key moments in their lives then it had better be for a good reason or for a good experience.

Yet it still feels as if our story of why consumers engage in market research is a little weak. Is it enough that we expect people to participate so they can engage with brands, to ensure products and services better meet their needs in the future?

We all work hard to address this – shorter, more appealing surveys, panels and communities that develop and maintain engagement over time; the judicious use of prize draws and points systems. But still response rates are declining. What panel does not struggle to ensure, for example, sufficient representation of 16-24 year-olds?

I feel there needs to be a more compelling answer to the question of ‘What’s in it for them?’

Deal or no deal?

Mobile may hold the answer. Consider that mobile devices are increasingly able to capture an awful lot of information about individuals. The new iPhone 5S, for example, has an M7 co-processor which means that the gyroscope, compass, and accelerometer sensors can operate without degrading overall device performance. This means that tracking your activity is now easily done in the background making ‘Quantified Self’ applications much more viable than they have been previously. So it’s possible to track how much you are walking or running, or whether you are driving, and using it to infer, for example, whether you are asleep.

“The list of ways in which the relationship between individuals and brands could be improved by providing a breadth of data about ourselves (rather than the limited information they already hold) is potentially endless”

Colin Strong

Colin Strong

Add to this the increasing number of visual lifelogging wearable devices now available, such as Memoto, which will take a picture of what you see in front of you, every thirty seconds. Increasingly, technology is available to then code these pictures so they can be converted into meaningful data. Of course other devices can collect ambient sound, so it is possible to track what TV or radio advertising people are being exposed to. And, of course, other devices such as Google Glass will have a huge – but as yet unexplored – impact on the nature of the data that can be collected.

Of course, this has challenges – both ethical and practical. Will we, for example, be required to share this information with insurance companies? Are we comfortable with this level of data being collected about us?

But perhaps we become more comfortable if we start seeing the benefits that this may have for us personally and immediately rather than as a vague long-term benefit. At one end of the spectrum individuals with chronic health conditions may obtain huge benefits from tracking their health and comparing it with others. Not only to provide them with appropriate care but also to further research their condition. But we can also use this information to change the way we engage with brands.

If we can share data that we collect about ourselves then brands can respond in a much more intelligent, personalised way. So we may, for example, choose to share information about the full richness of our lifestyle relating to car usage. That way, automotive brands could find options that really do best meet our personal needs, not just in terms of choice of car but also related services such as in-car entertainment, places to stop on your journeys and so on.

Or perhaps you could share information about your movements and the ambient temperature of your home so that energy companies could find the tariff that best meets your needs. The list of ways in which the relationship between individuals and brands could be improved by providing a breadth of data about ourselves (rather than the limited information they already hold) is potentially endless.

By engaging with consumers about how they can use their personal data for their own direct benefit, we will move a step closer towards solving the value exchange conundrum at the heart of our industry.

This might feel like a long way off from some of our current concerns, about getting consumers to respond to surveys via their mobile device. But we may well look back at this time and see it as a transition – a period where we grasped the nettle of why consumers would actually want to engage with market research.

Colin Strong is managing director of GfK Technology UK

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