‘Mobile Research’ = doing research when and where it matters!

MOBILE RESEARCH CONFERENCE ‘09 – London, 16 & 17 February

After a nice intro-date with clients about ‘Dedicated Communities’, I took the taxi to a conference hall at the border of London’s Regent’s Park to attend the ‘2009 Mobile Research Conference’. It’s the very first market(ing) research conference fully dedicated to conducting market research via mobile phones/devices. It were two very inspiring days, full of keynote speeches (with visions on the future of the industry in general and mobile research in particular) and cases from both academics and practitioners – which is a nice thing and too less seen in the programs of research conferences.


One thing is for sure, mobile research is one of the youngest domains in market research and a common language to discuss issues is still a bit lacking. However, in this article I will give an overview of the different possibilities and sub methods that are available right now. Next to that, I tried to summarize the pro’s and con’s of this ‘new’ methodology. For sure there are opportunities to take research forward, but we need to be critical to ourselves and not use the method because it’s new and fancy. In the near future we (at InSites Consulting ForwaR&D Lab) will start-up some pilot projects to explore the advantages and possible benefits of mobile surveys, discussions and observations. Of course I will keep you posted on this!

Let’s jump into the content…

No such thing as a free lunch…

There are different sub methods within the mobile research category: CATI among mobile-only consumers (which is not really ‘new’ of course), spoken surveys with voice recording (very niche), SMS enabled mobile surveys and mobile web enabled mobile surveys. I will tell you more about the last two.

First of all, when looking at mobile surveys you need to take into account that only a limited number of questions can be asked. Up to 5 for SMS enabled surveys (because it’s only one question per SMS that can be answered) and not more than 15 when it comes to mobile web questionnaires. Moreover, open-ended questions can only be asked once or twice in a project because of the drop-out this type of questions cause when applied to mobile.

If it comes to barriers for participants to take part in mobile surveys, the two main dimensions – besides having a mobile device that enables the needed functionalities (and software like Java) – are the ‘cost’ for taking part (the SMS communication or the cost for up- and downloading bites in the case of web enabled mobile surveys) and having the ‘skills’ to work with the mobile device easily, so the ability to fill out such a survey.

Also in terms of sampling you need to be careful. 55+ is under represented among mobile surfers and even (but less) among SMS users. Especially youngsters are heavy users of SMS and mobile web has a higher penetration among business people. Of course, this are two hard to reach target groups for which mobile surveying could be a great alternative.

smsIf we compare both methods (SMS and mobile web surveys), we can definitely say that for participants it is far easier to take an SMS questionnaire than a mobile web one. Drop-out in mobile web surveys sometimes even reaches up to 85% (one third of this participants because it was the first time they used the web functionality on their phone). But the biggest issue with mobile web is that the penetration is very low at this point in time, which makes it a rather niche application at this point. It could, for example, be interesting for researching youngsters. But only, if you provide them with the device and give them a free mobile contract during the period of the project. ‘Free’ that’s the keyword, because even in the case of SMS surveys participants do not want to pay, although loads of people participate in TV voting at much higher cost.

New opportunities… and challenges!

An opportunity for mobile research lies in the fact that the majority of today’s mobile phones give respondents the ability to take and send through pictures and even videos about specific moments in their life and this almost in real time. This enables auto-ethnography and… ‘day-in-a-life’ studies become richer due to the detailed time stamp.

In terms of sampling, using online panel members seems to be the most common practice next to using client databases. One of the future challenges will be to convince online panel members to subscribe for a mobile panel too!

Current applications of mobile research

Over looking all the practical cases presented, we may conclude that mobile research is especially useful when conducting ‘moment of truth research’: researching behavior, feelings and context during ‘shopping for’ or ‘consuming/using a’ specific product or service. Some examples: measuring customer experience during an event or festival, capturing felt emotions while watching a TV show,… Another application is brand awareness tracking of the sponsoring of brands directly after – for example – a soccer play. Research results of comparisons with online surveys show that awareness is far more accurate if you conduct the research directly after the match. The ability to catch emotions and behavior in the moment is the biggest USP of mobile research (more than 2/3 of the responses are gathered within 3 hours). Next to that there is the ability to capture to moment in a picture and send it to the researchers. But still, traditional online research of extended profiles of panel members are needed to have all the necessary data (age, gender,… and extra questions).

Geography Research!?

Google recently launched its location based mobile conversations software ‘Latitude’. One of the cases presented by an Estonian professor used a similar technique to follow participants’ movements and draw conclusions from that. Next to it, they used location based mobile ‘push’ surveys and triggered ‘pull’ questionnaires to collect additional information from the respondent: what he or she is doing at the moment, with whom, what are the emotions felt, which conversations are going on,… The question is of course how respondents will react to these kind of (new) practices!

The future is bright, the future is ‘fusion’!

Another vision that came across several times was that the future will be about integrating mobile into larger online research platforms like dedicated community platforms. Despite this, easy to use and set-up mixed mode platforms like Twitter (mobile and web) seems to be rather unexplored at this moment in time, although penetration is booming and the fact that it could give an extra qualitative flavor to mobile research.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating

liz_nelsonOne of the keynote speakers was Liz Nelson, 70 years old and to put it short the founding N in TNS and now one of the pioneers in mobile market research with here company QInsights. Next, to a visionary and passionate speech on the future of our industry (in which she definitely showed to be very up-to-date with the latest trends in the market) she asked us to dare and to dive into this domain of market research to explore it. In order to make it a mature methodology as soon as possible. And that is exactly what we will do from tomorrow on J.


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