OPINION29 July 2011

Mobile research: No time like the present


Jay Pluhar of research software and services provider MarketTools says that when it comes to adopting mobile research techniques, fortune will favour the brave.

The area of mobile research continues to heat up as the research industry works to figure out the best way to integrate it into existing methods. Growing industry buzz, coupled with rapidly changing technology, makes it hard to ignore the potential of mobile as a new research platform. But we market researchers are typically a conservative lot, tending to gravitate toward tried and true approaches – so for some the inclination is to wait and see what shakes out. Mobile surveys still only account for a tiny proportion of research revenues – and it looks even smaller when you consider levels of mobile phone and internet usage.

By accelerating the integration of mobile into our research we can take advantage of an outstanding opportunity to discover new insights and deliver greater value, and there’s no time like the present to get started.

“The ever-changing nature of mobile technology lends itself to an experimental approach”

The world has gone mobile, and so has the web
Consider the rapid and widespread adoption of mobile technology: according to IDC there are currently 4.6 billion mobile devices in use worldwide, and that number is estimated to increase to 5.9 billion in 2013. The global population is 6.9 billion.

In addition, more and more people are using their mobile devices to access the internet. IDC estimates that while 450 million users worldwide access the internet by mobile today, that will increase to a billion in 2013. Mobile is now the internet access point for young people in most countries, according to research by MobileYouth.

What does this mean for researchers? In order to continue reaching the respondents who will provide meaningful data for research projects – particularly for research involving youth and emerging markets – it will become increasingly important to incorporate mobile technologies into our studies.

Mobile connects us to consumers in new ways
In many cases, traditional research is an ‘appointment-based’ interaction, with participants expected to take time out of their days to participate in studies. Today, more than ever, people are more likely to avoid committing to appointments in their busy lives.

Because it’s harder to get people to engage in market research, mobile offers new and effective ways to reach out to research participants. Smartphones provide the opportunity to connect with consumers when they’re on the go, and to capture in-the-moment behavioural data. Smartphone sales already exceed shipments of PCs, according to IDC, and significant numbers of smartphone users use their devices to go online everyday, and when in stores.

Tablet devices like the iPad provide researchers with tools that make research easier and more effective. For example, MarketTools has used iPads to conduct on-site interviews for a major CPG company. A wireless connection allows researchers to segment customers in the grocery store aisle in real time, delivering a highly customised interview process. The user-friendly iPad, together with a highly focused survey experience, makes the research process more interesting for respondents, improving the quality of participant engagement.

Mobile lets you learn as you go
The ever-changing nature of mobile technology lends itself to an experimental approach. Rather than waiting for just the right time to initiate a mobile plan, dive in and let your mobile research strategy take shape as you go. It will benefit you to stay open to opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

The opportunity to learn from new technologies is what motivated one of our UK-based clients to experiment with integrating mobile solutions into their research program for a luxury ice cream brand. We’re beginning with brief point-of-sale surveys designed to compare the effectiveness of response to QR codes compared to old-fashioned URLs for loading mobile web pages. The brand will also use mobile for ethnographic studies, in this case collecting data via mobile photo and video diaries to better understand the core target customer’s everyday behaviour.

We’re also working with a global CPG client in Latin America, experimenting with mobile as a way to reach a broader cross section of consumers, in a region where internet penetration is only 31 per cent but mobile penetration is 88 per cent.

As companies discover new ways to measure and collect feedback through mobile, new business insights and opportunities will follow.

The first-mover advantage
This spring’s GreenBook Research Industry Trends study asked research professionals about their interest in using various techniques in the future. Fifty-four per cent expressed interest in mobile surveys, 31 per cent were interested in mobile qualitative research, and 29 per cent were interested in mobile ethnography.

This level of interest indicates that there is a real risk to sitting on the sidelines as mobile research takes off. Now is the time to gain experience using mobile technologies to learn best practices, push research boundaries and deliver new insights. Those researchers who start moving now will be the first to drive real value from mobile research.

Jay Pluhar is vice president of strategic accounts at MarketTools, which provides software and services for research and feedback management. He contributes to the MarketTools Blog.


13 years ago

Jay, I tend to agree. Mobile must be part of the modern researchers toolkit, including all of mobile voice/SMS/APP/WEB etc. Ignore at your peril. But more importantly understand first. It is a multi-channel channel. It is qual and quant. It is ad hoc, continuous and panels. It is the web in your hands. And already many surveys (online) are completed via mobile. For sure. A recent talk I gave at the Mobile MR Conference in Atlanta emphasised Relevance. Maybe modern mobiles are just not relevant to some of the naysyers out there? Maybe they (still) have Nokias :-) Learn more about Mobile at the upcoming Mobile Insights Conference in London on Oct 27th.

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11 years ago

oaoEi9 Very neat blog article.Really thank you! Want more.

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