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1 Topic, 5 Blogs: Mobile Surveys in Market Research

Posted by Josh Mendelsohn on Fri, Jan 15, 2010

The question posed to the group of 5 Bloggers this month was: "Mobile surveys - For/Against, Pros/Cons, Right Situations/Wrong Situations?" Links to my fellow bloggers Annie Pettit, Joel Rubinson, Bernie Malinoff and Brandon Bertelsen can be found below.

Mobile devices are changing the way people interact with brands, each other, and market research.  From the reduction of land lines among younger consumers to the prevalence of internet usage via smart phones and the proliferation of text messaging as an option.  Below I have laid out some of the factors contributing to the research industry understanding and adopting mobile research as a concept.

1.       "Guys, where are we?" - Charlie on ABC's Lost

Three or four years ago there were a plethora of SMS (text-message) based survey tools developed and launched in the market. Many were self serve but simple, others tried to simulate the full traditional survey experience with skip patterns and longer questionnaires.  Some were connected to panels (e.g., Greenfield and Market Tools) and others were simply opt-in (e.g., Invoke Solutions).   While all of them gathered great initial interest, none really took off for three primary reasons.  1)  The market and use cases were not fully conceived.  2) Client side researchers weren't ready to limit the amount of information they could acquire from respondents and 3) Most of the systems weren't built to connect well with other feedback mechanisms.

In the end, while SMS based surveys received a small amount of adoption (primarily for event feedback), we learned that what was a seemingly simple landscape, one where people were paying to text to vote on American Idol, wasn't exactly what it seemed.

2.       "Right now, hey, it's your tomorrow" - Van Halen

While it pains me to quote the Sammy Hagar version of Van Halen, the truth is that the use mobile technology is changing so rapidly that consumer adoption makes today and tomorrow the same, depending on who you ask.  For iPhone and other smart phone users, the mobile web is about getting the same functionality as a computer with simpler formatting.  For traditional cell phone users, texting is still optimal as mobile browsers are often slow and frustrating.  So, what does that mean for researchers?

  • Be patient. As with all technology adoption, the industry talk is well beyond the average consumers. Most people still do not own the most functional mobile devices and building gen pop. surveys around this functionality would be foolish.
  • Don't try too hard. One of the upshots of great web browsers on mobile devices is that if people choose, they can complete traditional surveys wherever they are. In fact, many of the progressive interactive research techniques discussed last month can be problematic because flash applications are not available in mobile formats.

3.       "The customer is always right" -  Stew Leonard's and other respectable stores

Stew Leonard'sResearchers need to let people participate in the way they desire, not the way we desire.  For example, when I was at Invoke Solutions we ran a test of a mobile survey asking grocery shoppers to opt-in and answer a few simple questions while shopping.  This seemed like a simple, valid idea on paper, however people shopping with kids or carrying groceries had no interest in filling out a survey, even for a small incentive.  It was too much hassle.  Yet, when we ran a program embedded in a promotional event that had on site fulfillment and a number of people prompting people to participate, we saw success.

4.      "We're at the crossroad my dear, where do we go from here?"  - Alicia Keys

With all of the potential downsides of mobile research, there are some great opportunities to grow. 

  • Qualitative research via "self-ethnography" or "diaries." Having a device on your person at all times mean you can always record what you are thinking and doing via text, photos, or recordings. A few years ago I saw my friend Rebecca from Dunkin' Brands speak about a program where they had teens record what they were thinking and doing every time they wanted coffee. The information was incredibly deep and useful. At the time they shipped each participant a digital recorder. In today's world they could have simply given them a number to call or text to.
  • On-site feedback. Promotional events are by their nature participatory experiences and people are willing to give their feedback. In addition, event staff are on site to encourage people to opt-in and handle incentive fulfillment.
  • Everything else. Consider making every questionnaire as mobile friendly as possible. Consumers treat their devices the same as their computers and you don't want to unintentionally block people from participating. That may mean shorter, less interactive questionnaires that include more open ends.

In all cases, we need to continually put ourselves in respondents' shoes and think "would I fill out this survey?"  Just because you can utilize mobile technology doesn't mean that you should.  And just because you haven't in the past doesn't mean you can't.   It is all about asking yourself what the best solution is for the problem you are facing.  

Read the other blogs:

Joel Rubinson of the ARF: post coming shortly at http://blog.joelrubinson.net/

Annie Petit of LoveStats: http://lovestats.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/1topic5blogs-the-only-thing-cell-phone-surveys-are-good-fer/

Bernie Malinoff of Element 54: http://element-54.com/2010/01/1-topic-5-blogs-mobile-surveys/

Brandon Bertelsen: http://www.bertelsen.ca/market-research/1-topic-5-blogs-mobile-surveys


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Posted by Josh Mendelsohn. Josh is our VP of Marketing and loves live music, pugs, tv, great food, market research, New Orleans, marketing, Boston and sports. You can follow him on Twitter @mendelj2 and at The Better Research Blog 

Topics: methodology, mobile, research design