Mobile research (m-research): the insider’s guide to surveying your target audience using mobile

Whatever your target market, there is one device they are likely to have by their side all the time, everywhere. With many audiences, such as youth or jet-setting business men, mobile could be the only channel by which you can reach them. Yet, while m-research offers excellent reach and much speedier response rates than other forms of market research, it still has many limitations – not least that little screen.

This guide to m-research is divided into two parts. The first part was contributed by Dr Liz Nelson, chairperson of Fly Research. She has considerable pedigree, being the founder and chairman of Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), the world’s second largest market-research firm, now owned by WPP. The second part of the guide was contributed by Dr Lorenz Gräf CEO of Globalpark, a provider of enabling technology for mobile research.
Both experts are involved in the organization of the Mobile Research Conference (MRC) and the MRC Awards which take place on April 18-19, 2011, in London.
• Two lucky people can win free tickets for MRC. All other mobiThinking readers can claim a 20 percent discount for this event using the special code “FF-MOBITHINK”.
• Also see: Using mobile Web-based research to deliver insights into the mobile-only generation.

Guide to m-research, part 1 by Dr Liz Nelson

Q1. What is mobile research (m-research)?
It is any research done on a mobile phone or mobile device; wherever people may be - at home, work, out, abroad, etc.
Q2. How significant is mobile’s role in research today? What proportion of research is conducted via mobile today?
It has amazing potential, because it's the one device that almost everyone in the developed world carries with them at all times. In the developing world, it has better penetration than fixed-line phones or Internet. Today, however, the reality is that mobile represents no more than 2 percent of all market research carried out: that’s 1 percent mobile Internet-based surveys and 1 percent computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) – where interviewers conduct interviews over the telephone/mobile phone, guided through the survey by a computer program.
Q3. How is this expected to change over the next 5-10 years?
I expect growth of m-research to be proportional to the penetration of smart phones, tablets and mobile broadband. I predict we will see 10 percent growth in the next five to seven years. But if we see an increase in mobile broadband prices, this could inhibit growth.
One interesting trend is the use of mobiles in computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI), where surveys are conducted face-to-face, with interviewers reading questions from and recording answers on a mobile device, using a mobile broadband connection. Globalpark has been working on a large project of this nature with a market-research company. This involves conducting over 100,000 interviews per annum with shoppers as they exit the store using mobile phones. This idea appeals to market-research agencies, as it delivers face-to-face data in real time. Globalpark anticipates that market researchers using mobile phones for this type of data collection will discover the benefits of mobile as a self-completion methodology in due course.
Q4. How is m-research conducted to today? What proportion is SMS-based v mobile Web-based for example? Is this expected to change?
There are no statistics that I know of, but I anticipate that in the developed world it is pretty even between using SMS and using mobile Web for m-research. I consider SMS an evolutionary dead end, so expect its role in m-research to decrease rapidly, yet while mobile Web is on the rise it has not quite hit the mainstream yet.
In the developing world, international charities may be keen to use m-research to evaluate media programs and charitable activities, but SMS will give way to mobile Internet as the dominant medium if mobile users are incentivized via vouchers.
Q5. In what areas of research does mobile make the most sense today and tomorrow?
For hard-to-reach audiences and young people, teens in particular, mobile makes a lot of sense and is being used here, today.
M-research also makes a lot of sense in the business-to-business (B2B) sector, as surveying business people is similar to conducting youth surveys - both groups have good technology and limited-attention spans. But m-research is not being used much in the B2B, though Fly Research (the company I chair) does conduct these sorts of surveys.
As to the future, I can’t think of a group that – in theory, at least – will not accept surveys via mobile Web, but this depends, of course, on the incentives paid to respondents and on broadband costs remaining fairly low.
In the developing world, particularly, a lot will depend on the incentives and the growth of broadband.
Q6. What major advantages does mobile have over other research methods, such as online?
• Freshness of data, immediacy, richness of response (open-ended questions get fuller responses).
• Ease of sending supporting materials, such as photos.
• Ability to let respondents trigger the interview.
• Speed – 80 percent of responses come within 2 hours.
• Access – you can access more people than are online or on fixed line phones.
Q7. What are the drawbacks of m-research?
• Potential users struggle to visualize what a mobile Internet survey will look like (while most people are familiar with what an online, print or telephone survey entails).
• It has to be short: surveys can last no more than 10-15 minutes.
• Costs of downloading/responding to the survey must be covered by incentives paid to respondents. The cost of sending invitations to participate (via SMS) is typically higher than with online (email).
• Screen size remains a big limitation on survey size and question types. It also limits how much space one has to explain how to complete the survey.
• Survey sample groups are skewed today to technophiles (as used to be the case with online research).
Q8. How easy is it to get consumers to opt-in to mobile research? Do you have any tips for achieving this?
It is dead easy, as long as they are the sort of people that do surveys. A key approach is to be human and manage expectations appropriately, i.e. tell people what to expect. This is more easily done face-to-face or offline, as there is not much screen space to go into details on a mobile invite.
Q9. Who are the big players in m-research – who are the suppliers/consultancies that stand out?
Lightspeed Research; One Point Surveys and Fly Research. In terms of software for research, Globalpark is an innovator and leader in this area.
Q10. What are your top 5 tips for best practice in m-research?
• Keep surveys short.
• Focus on freshness. Mobile isn’t appropriate for “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” surveys.
• Incorporate the data into your business as quickly as you gather it.
• Use a mix of methodologies – mobile Web, SMS "nano surveys" (very quick), and don’t rule out using interactive voice recognition (IVR) as this can get responses from technically averse individuals who might ignore mobile Web surveys and SMS surveys.
• Keep surveys simple – don’t forget how small the screen is.
Q11. What is the biggest mistake in m-research?
• Trying to shoehorn in too many questions
• Assuming these people represent the population.

Guide to m-research, part 2, by Dr Lorenz Gräf

Q12. Are there regions or countries in the world where m-research makes more sense?
Engaging consumers and capturing feedback from them through mobile phones is applicable wherever there is large adoption of mobile devices – or at least a representative sample available. We are seeing slightly more activity in Europe than in North American, perhaps due to the population embracing text messaging earlier. Developing nations that lack the infrastructure for landlines are also a target for m-research – and there is great work being done there thanks to companies such as txteagle.
Q13. What types of organizations/businesses use m-research today?
We see activity across sectors and industries. The key question is: is the target audience the researcher wants to reach more readily available through mobile phones? For example, it makes sense for a financial consulting organization to use m-research to gain insights from high-level executives of financial institutions around the world in order to publish its quarterly economic report, because the only opportunity to engage these busy individuals is during their travel or “in-between” time – i.e. where a mobile is the only option. Also lately, we have seen considerable interest from media and agencies interested in discovering more about the profiles of smartphone app users, it makes sense to understand mobile users by engaging with them via their mobile device.
Q14. How do companies typically conduct mobile research? Is it usually through a third party or in-house?
There is no “typical” way, though there are certainly some great niche m-research agencies out there with valuable experience to share. Third parties are more likely to be involved when companies don’t have a large market research or consumer insights department to support the technical and tactical elements of the work.
Q15. Does m-research tend to be part of the opt-in marketing list?
It is always about following consumer preferences and choice. In this smartphone era, it is no longer necessary to have mobile phone numbers to conduct mobile research – you can do this via mobile Web, applications and email, plus mobile social networking is also growing in importance. Should you get permission to engage through these channels? Of course!
Q16. Do companies tend to see mobile research as something similar to online research? Is this a mistake?
Mobile is connected to online research. The only mistakes would be to ignore the special needs of the device due to screen space (questionnaire design and usability) and the special opportunities the device presents due to its personal nature (immediate, in-the-moment access and portability to virtually anywhere).
Q17. What have been the recent landmarks in m-research?
There are no “landmarks” to speak of; it’s more of a progressive evolution. The excitement around tablet computers such as the iPad and the discussion around how they can be used in research have been interesting. It is noteworthy that the ESOMAR (the industry association for market research) Task Force recently expanded its Guidelines on conducting survey research via mobile phone to include mobile Web – the industry is taking notice and acting upon this.
Q18. Why are you introducing the MRC Awards?
We are introducing the MRC Awards to promote recognition of the level of innovation that mobile is bringing to market research. There are some great stories out there that the industry would benefit from hearing. It should help to break down some of the myths and uncertainties that surround the field. We believe that sharing openly will help to shape the future of market research, and an awards program was the next logical step once the Mobile Research Conference had been established. The awards are free to enter.
Q19. What are the most useful resources – sites, must-read books, associations etc?
This is not intended to be self-serving, but the archive of materials around MRC is a useful resource. On the MRC site, there are presentations and articles, as well as links to subsequent blogs, from respected international leaders.
Otherwise, the Mobile Marketing Association seems to pave the way for research – where advertising dollars go, so will research dollars.
Q20. What are the trends or technologies to watch in m-research?
The trends to watch for in mobile research are the same as they are for marketing research and customer engagement, in general. In order to engage with individuals and get valuable input from them, you need to “fish where the fish are.” And, more and more, they are on their mobile phones and in social networks. The next stage is opening up private discussions within these channels to foster win-win relationships between brands and consumers (or, companies and employees, government and citizens, etc.)
Q21. What else?
It is an exciting time, with the blurring of lines between marketing and market research. The predominance of social media and mobile technologies are shaping the communication styles and preferences of the next generations. It is a matter of survival for market research, but there is a huge opportunity to create real value from uncertainty – by applying a structured process to discover meaning, and take more timely and informed actions.

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Rating for this article:

This is really thorough, will reference on my blog - one question, to what extent do you think Siri is going to play a role? Or at least, the technology behind it?

That is what you call RICH information. I just happen to see that most of the trends, comparisons, and samples that you imply are mostly towards Quant research and not Qual. Does it automatically mean that Mobile Research is more applicable for quant research?

Thanks for the compiled information.

This is really exciting. With so many cheaper Smartphones being launched this year, I think the growth for M-Research would be much more higher than 10 %.

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