OPINION9 September 2015

Making the most of mobile


Last year marked a tipping point for mobile. In 2014, numerous studies revealed how, globally, more people now access the internet on mobile devices rather than desktops or laptops.


Mobile isn’t just changing the way we access the internet, it is changing the way we live our lives. Communication is no longer just immediate, it is ubiquitous. This facilitates new hyper-specific ways of marketing to consumers, with brands now able to say lots of little things to lots of different people, instead of relying on mass media advertising.

So why, as an industry, are we so poor at making full use of mobile?

Our own tipping point is fast approaching. In September, Research Now estimated that a fifth of its survey starters were on mobile devices and that 49% of emails are first read on mobile devices. But in the main we continue with the same techniques in both qual and quant, tidied up and reformatted for smaller screens but not fundamentally rethought.

To understand how mobile technology might actually change market research, we need to go back to what makes mobile technology different:

  • It’s immediate: You can ask stuff right now, about right now
  • It’s local: You can ask stuff right here, about right here
  • It is passive and observational as well as active and interrogatory: You can find things out without asking anything at all – particularly about right now and right here

The problem, I think, is that the market research industry hasn’t yet figured out what to do with information about the here and the now. We’re so used to not being able to do it that we don’t even think to ask. We sell ourselves to clients on our ability to answers questions of Why, and Who and What and clients respond by framing their briefs to us in that way too. But mobile allows us to answer questions of Where and When better than ever before.

Here are three things this allows us to do:

1. Right Here

In a recent study, we looked at casual dining restaurants – the mass market high street chains that stretch from ASK to Zizzi’s alphabetically and, roughly, Pizza Hut to Carluccio’s in terms of expense and quality. Reviewing the work with a potential new mobile partner we realised that we were struggling to find much extra we could say about the Who, What and Why of the sector by adding a mobile element. But what we could do was add the Where. Our partner could use passively collected mobile data to make the general frameworks built to understand the survey data (behavioural customer segments, consumer journey types) local and specific.

They do this with a platform that records movement through space via cell and Wi-Fi networks. So as people move through town choosing a restaurant they could plot where they went. Once in the restaurant they could record the time people spent, who they spent it with, and how often they returned over the coming weeks.
So instead of research just informing head-office strategy, this mobile layer of data collection could inform decision making right down to the level of individual stores.

2. Right Now

Traditional research tends to ignore some rather important contextual factors that have a huge impact on what people think, feel and do. And not just complex stuff, it also disregards simple everyday stuff like the weather. Mobile-first businesses don’t make that mistake. Uber’s surge-pricing model makes pricing dependent on demand in the moment. If you want a car at the same time as everyone else you’ll have to pay more for it. It’s a contentious implementation of this capability but there are ways this thinking could help more traditional businesses too.

Purchase intention for a nice cold beer must be higher on a hot summer’s afternoon than an icy winter’s morning. Mobile’s immediacy allows us to map those dynamics by interviewing in context. This can help make volumetric models more accurate by recording data that covers the full range of different purchase moments, but it can also inform the kind of hyper-targeted communications that marketers are using mobile for. If you know when people are most likely to purchase your product or service you know when to communicate with them.

3. Right or Wrong?

The immediacy of mobile also allows us to go from asking what should work to what does work. A curious feature of many technology platforms in this space is that they are not just research platforms. They can also be used to serve ads to users’ devices. Tech companies like to hedge their bets when it comes to revenue streams.

By using technology that combines these capabilities we have access to real-world A/B testing. Not only can mobile technology measure click-through but the active and passive data collection would allow us to understand the effect communications have on behaviour, live, with real ads, real people and real purchases.

This development challenges the long-held sacred division between marketing and market research and if these advancements in mobile technology can be implemented successfully, the gap between the two could be significantly reduced. And again it takes us from research being the bearer of general advice to it being a guide to detailed action.


The thing that links all of these potential uses is specificity. Mobile adds granularity way beyond the expectations of traditional research – and traditional researchers. We can localise findings to help brands cater to people’s needs right here, we can understand what people want right now and we can be far more detailed in our understanding of the effectiveness of our interventions.

These abilities make research fit to answer the types of questions that our clients are (or at least should be) asking when thinking about their own use of mobile. They take us into informing the huge number of small tactical decisions that business make, not just the monolithic strategy and crucially, they mean we can guide better decision-making.

Stefan Schäfer is a principal at Incite, which has recently partnered with mobile solutions provider, Sceneskope