OPINION9 March 2010

Mobile research – are we engaged?

News Opinion

When you’re at a conference and the people sitting to your right, left, and in front of you are all on their mobile phones while the presenters speak, the question of whether mobile is a valid medium for research seems to have answered itself.

That was the scene at Globalpark’s second annual mobile research conference in London today. It almost felt rude not to be tweeting, taking a photo, checking your work email or reading the news while the presenters spoke.

But despite the attendees being absorbed in their BlackBerries and iPhones, the evidence suggests that the mobile revolution is yet to come for the broader world of research. The medium is still at an awkward early stage in its development.

Tim Macer of Meaning shared results from his firm’s latest MR software survey, which showed mobile research accounting for only around 2% of quantitative research revenues, as opposed to 47% for online.

Research has some work to do to keep up with the mobile-isation of life, warned Guy Rolfe of Kantar. “It’s amazing how many surveys are programmed to close when they realise [the respondent is using] a mobile,” he said.

So what’s the problem? Not lack of interest, if today’s turnout is anything to go by. And not cost, if the panelists are to be believed. How cost-effective a project is depends very much on the client and the target audience in question, they said. Moderator Tim Macer suggested that costs might arise less from the technology than from the analysis of the masses of “auto-ethnographic” data that results from some mobile research. One of the day’s presenters spoke of receiving 30,000 photos of food from German children (great, but who’s going to look at them all?)

The key to using mobile successfully may lie in integrating it with other tools, as part of research’s multidisciplinary future. For example, text messages – considered by some to be a lost cause for surveys because of their brevity and stop-start nature – have been successfully put to use by Mesh Planning to collect real-time feedback on ad campaigns and exposure to brands.

Richard Windle of Ipsos said it is important not to see mobile as “just another way of collecting data”. He warned researchers to avoid making the same mistakes that were made in the transition from telephone to internet research, and to think carefully about the strengths and weaknesses of this new medium.

By far its greatest strength, according to the participants in Meaning’s survey, is convenience. If mobile surveys aren’t easy to use, don’t bother fielding them. And convenience is not just about whether the survey works properly on your phone, it’s about offering respondents a choice of ways to take part. That’s another argument for integrating mobile with other methods – something Coca-Cola’s Linda Neville says the industry may have been “a bit slow to talk about in the past”.

Speaking to Research, Globalpark’s CEO Lorenz Gräf stressed the importance of survey design: “The art of designing a questionnaire is very important and it gets more important the worse the conditions get. On a small screen it’s more impotant to find the right words, and of course it needs more testing. It’s more complicated to design it right.”

Keeping in mind Windle’s advice about not repeating historical mistakes, the challenge of coming up with good mobile surveys can be seen as an opportunity to put the focus on top-notch design from an early stage. When asked about quality, instead of talking about screen size and radio buttons, Gräf goes straight to the issue of engagement. “The questionnaires are not really engaging, they ask too many facts,” he says, in a tone that suggests ‘facts’ is something of a dirty word. “‘What’s your gender?’ is not an interesting question because I know the answer. An interesting question is one you have to think about, like, ‘Who’s going to win the World Cup?’ But the people who administer surveys are no longer well trained in doing surveys. For our company there are two solutions – we train our clients to make them better at it, and we develop standards.”

Coca-Cola’s Neville said research agencies need to find ways to give clients confidence in mobile. “We don’t like risk,” she said. “We want to know what we’re buying.”

That sort of confidence may only come with time, but with more and more people going ‘mobile-only’ and fewer relying on their landlines, research’s mobile revolution can’t not happen. Neville was optimistic when asked if mobile could pose a threat to MR. “Is it a threat or is it an opportunity to raise its profile?” she asked. “Mobile could be one of the ways of actively showing we’re keeping ahead and finding new ways of doing things.”

Such hopeful comments have been heard in the industry before, but at least in this case there is definitely time to get it right.

2 Comments

11 years ago

We've done almost 100 mobile studies now in the past 3 years. Mobile remains slightly challenged by the small screen size, and a strong need for brevity - not something the MR industry has been renowned for really. Key drivers will be geo location information and a desire for fresh data. But surveys do need to be short and sweet (and researchers need to see this as a strength and opportunity and not a disadvantage!)

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10 years ago

With respect to changes in the digital world as a whole, Google expects digital coupons map change, when in 2015 more than 80% of the coupons will be voluntary (Opt-in) versus only 20% today, expect underscoring the industry’s growth trend over the past year. Long-term forecast Google expects that by 2020 the world will be 10 billion mobile users worldwide, with “only” 5 billion active users online. more at http://www.mobile10.org/?page_id=513

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