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Mobile Research

The Next Great Thing or Just Hype?

12th July, 2011

Spoiler alert: I'm not going to tell you that mobile research is all hype. If you've read anything I've written or heard me speak, you know that I am a passionate believer in this technology and have been for many, many years. However, now that more attention is being paid to mobile research, more experiments are being done, and more people are being forced to confront it, it's time to give you the good/bad/sometimes ugly perspective about using the mobile phone for research. The following will be a synthesis of my experience with what is now a pretty mature data collection technique and my tips on how and when to use it. Mobile Research

The first thing to understand is that mobile is not a one trick pony; it is a technology platform that allows us to capture insights using multiple different avenues. Market research is full of data collection tools (e.g., phone, mail, mall intercept, online, focus groups) but each of these methods offers a single way of collecting responses. If we're doing mail surveys, we print out the survey and mail it. With mall intercepts, we have people at strategic spots in the mall. With mobile, the difference is that we have a small army of data collection options available in a single device (mobile Internet, applications, text messages, the phone itself, etc.).

These options are both positive and negative for market research. On the positive side, we can utilize every possible data collection platform at our disposal to capture the widest mix of respondents. On the negative side, it introduces complexity because we have to select the most appropriate platform(s) that will get us the most representative mix of respondents.

Now let's get into the lessons we've learned over the past four years in order to see where we stand today.

  1. Mobile Research Has Specific Uses

    Mobile is an alternative platform to capture consumer insights. The first question you need to ask yourself is why are we reaching out to respondents on their mobile phone? If it's just because you want to, or because you have the technology, that's not a good enough reason. We have found that there are three questions we should ask ourselves to judge whether or not mobile is a good fit.

    1. Are the study objectives focused around the immediacy of an experience?
    2. Is mobile the content delivery platform? This is especially true if you have a mobile application that is location-aware.
    3. Is the target audience using mobile more than other platforms?

    If the answer is yes to any of these questions, mobile research is appropriate.

  2. Mobile Requires More Researcher Focus

    Many of us can relate to this paraphrased quote, "I didn't have time to write a short survey so I wrote a long one instead." In mobile, a short questionnaire isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. We have three minutes of attention span to get all the information we need, which typically equates to 8-10 questions in a mobile Internet/application study. Then factor in device limitations around the types of questions we can ask (i.e., simple formats, no large grids) and suddenly the prospect of writing a mobile questionnaire can become daunting.

    However, the extreme focus that mobile requires is a good challenge and often times produces the richest results. There is no fluff, no nice to haves, no 'well, let's just throw it in there." Instead, all focus is on the objectives and the necessary data to answer them. It will require creativity, it will require compromise, but in the end it will give you what you need.

  3. Mobile Sample Is The Trickiest Part

    Sampling is one of the trickiest parts of any research study so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it's also one of the lessons learned for mobile research. Sure, you could use a panel but why are you reaching out to them on their mobile versus another way? What is it about the panel (besides that they have a mobile phone and said we could survey them) that makes them meet the criteria we established for determining if mobile research is a good fit?

    Mobile is all opt-in based. Respondents need to raise their hand to say they want to answer our survey. Enticing them to do this is where the tricky part comes into play. Strong calls to action and incentives go a long way in making this easier.

  4. Plan for the Lowest Common Denominator, Always

    When conducting mobile research with an unknown audience (at an event or location), options for completing the survey give the best results and prevent wide skews. We always recommend including a phone-survey based option (Interactive Voice Response-based) since if people can't complete the survey via mobile Internet/text/app, they can most certainly complete it via IVR.

  5. Mobile Isn't Just Mobile

    We know all the cool things that people can do on their mobile phone and we know we have unique elements available to us that we don't get from any other source (GPS or other location-aware data). But let's not lose sight of one basic function that people use on their phone ' email. People are checking their email on the phone, which means that if we are sending out survey invitations via email, we need to assume that a significant percentage of those email invitations will be read on the mobile phone. Going down this path further, we need to assume that a percentage of those who are reading their email on their mobile will also click on the link to take the survey'on their mobile phone (or tablet for that matter). What happens if the survey is not formatted to work on mobile or tablets? This means we now need to consider our surveys being taken on all devices and plan/format/design/communicate appropriately.

So what does all of this mean? Is mobile research all hype or the next great thing? Based on my experience, it's somewhere smack in the middle. Mobile is a powerful research alternative and is a justifiable BSNO (bright shiny new object). However, mobile research has its place and won't be replacing any of the traditional data collection tools...yet. Ask me this again in a year or two though...

Joy Liuzzo

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