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Mobile MR: Hope or Hype?

Here is why I think mobile MR has crossed over from hype to hope. We’re seeing broad adoption from suppliers and clients, projected increases in use, and players that are delivering both data collection technologies as well as access to a global population of respondents.

planet hype

It’s no secret that I am a believer in the future of mobile research. In 2008 I recognized that the pace of technology adoption for mobile was going to force a massive shift in how brands engage with consumers, and that trend meant that market research would have to follow suit. I guess you could say that I was an early adopter re: mobile hype.

The truly interesting thing about mobile is that it, like the internet in the first part of the new millennium, is not just a communications channel but also creates an opportunity for a whole new way to conduct research due to the devices themselves. The medium dictates the mode. The idea of simply migrating the online research model to a mobile platform is certainly part of the equation, but it’s a boring one. Mobile allows us a level of creativity, immediacy and engagement that has been rare in the world of insight collection.

OK, so that is why I am a fan, but what about the industry as a whole? Well, it looks like folks are finally getting it. We may all be drinking the same kool-aid here, but I think mobile as a major new approach for insight collection has switched from hype to hope. The rest of this post will be about why I think we’ve reached the tipping point.

The GreenBook Research Industry Trends Study for Fall/Winter is just about done with field. It’s a broad survey of trends in our industry and in it we cover the topic of new and emerging techniques, as well as projected usage, pretty extensively. The results for mobile are surprisingly optimistic. Here are some basic findings:

Which of the following research techniques and approaches have you used for a client or commissioned from a supplier? Mouse over each if you need a definition.

grit chart 1

22% of respondents say they have used mobile surveys in 2010, with smaller numbers using mobile qual, ethnography, and apps. That is far above what we expected going into this study, and is on a par with social media research and MROCs as rapidly growing techniques. 22% is a pretty powerful number, but looking ahead things get even more interesting.

What use of these techniques and approaches do you see ahead in your future? Mouse over each if you need a definition.

grit chart 2

If we combine the response for likely to use “Sometimes” and “Often”, we get a whooping 52% of respondents who plan to use mobile for surveys, with over a fourth of all respondents planning to use other mobile methods as well! It seems as if we have indeed crossed over from hype to hope regarding adoption of mobile as means of conducting research.

Another interesting finding comes from the Predictive Market module of GRIT. We asked respondents (over 400 so far) to predict the growth of the same emerging techniques over the next 12 and 24 months. Mobile far exceeded the projected growth of all other techniques, in this case even the ever popular social media and MROCs. What we are seeing here is not just widespread current and projected adoption, but also the development of a strategic future vision for market research in which mobile is going to play a central role.

And for the record, the sample is very well balanced across all segments of the industry globally. As far as we can tell there is no tail wagging the dog here; this is the broad based consensus of the industry as a whole.

In recent days we’ve seen a plethora of news releases that validate these findings as well. Yesterday Research. broke the story that iPhone app-based research platform Thumbspeak has partnered with Nielsen Mobile to help the media research giant recruit for its behaviour tracking panel while giving it the option to collate additional attitudinal data through surveys of Thumbspeak users. When the largest research company in the world, especially one that makes a big chunk of it’s revenue by collecting data from large representative samples  of consumers embraces a method like this, you know it’s time to pay attention! Here is the rest of the story from Research.  

The deal between the two companies runs through to the end of 2011. Thumbspeak users are being invited to register as Nielsen Mobile panellists, after which they will be instructed how to configure their phone to enable the company to monitor their use of various features, like voice communication, text messaging and web browsing, as well as app usage.

Thumbspeak CEO Dean Wiltse says users of the soon-to-be-released Andriod version of the survey app will also be invited into the Nielsen panel. Both the Android and a BlackBerry version are due to be released before the end of the year.

Wiltse said Thumbspeak on iPhone has seen 100,000 downloads since its release this summer. Users have to create an account and answer a series of attribute questions before they can start taking surveys, and Thumbspeak clients can use this data to target questions at specific types of users.

Version 1.5 of the app, also due to be released before the end of the month, adds the ability for users to manage their profile and update them with additional information to aid the targeting process.

Functionality to enable private, company-branded groups is also include in the new version, with an unspecified “large winery” set to be the first to create such a group, recruited via its customer base, said Wiltse.

Thumbspeak is just one example of this burgeoning market though, as well as only one of the ways this channel can be used. Mobile surveys and tracking are the tip of the iceberg; Gongos Research is taking a best-of-both-worlds approach and is creating mobile MROCs!

I recently had a chance to chat with Greg Heist, VP, Research Innovation & Technology at Gongos about the potential of mobile research methods. I was immensely impressed by his grasp of the technology, creativity, and overall hunger to revolutionize the process of market research. Plus, he’s a darn nice guy, which really made the conversation a pleasure!

Rather than recap what we talked about, here is an except from Greg’s blog that will give you a sense of how Gongos is re-inventing market research.

Recently, Facebook began publishing statistics about its user base. I want to highlight some of their statistics about mobile and talk a bit about what these facts point to about the future of online research communities.

The first is this: There are more than 100 million users currently accessing Facebook through their smartphones on a monthly basis.  This represents approximately 20% of all Facebook members.

Now, think about this statistic for a moment:  To me, this implies that people are already comfortable with the concept of participating in an online community via a smartphone.  With numbers of this magnitude, we’re not talking about a”fringe element” or something that only early adopters do.  Nope. When over 100 million people are doing something, its clearly something that has mass appeal.

Perhaps even more compelling for a researcher is this:  People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active as non-mobile users.

Simply put, smartphone users are far more engaged than their non-mobile peers.

This makes a lot of sense, since it’s much easier to steal a snapshot or update your status “as it happens” when all you need to do is pull your phone out of your pocket.

But, the story gets better.  Projections show that within 12 months more people will be buying smartphones than feature phones. This tells me we are quickly reaching a powerful tipping point that will have ramifications for the research industry for years to come.

Despite not having a fully-functioning crystal ball, I’m lucky enough to be paid to foresee major trends in consumer behavior, and figuring out what it means for marketing research.  In doing that a couple of years ago, our mobile research strategy was born.  Embracing the two megatrends above led to the launch of iCommunities mobile for iPhone and iPod touch.

Gongos is part of a growing category of market research suppliers that are leading the charge in defining what market research will look like over the next decade. I fully expect others to emerge as well, but until then they and other pioneers of the new techno-cultural world we live in will help blaze the trail for the rest of us.

Finally, the last piece of the mobile puzzle is coming into play; access to respondents. Until now one of the limitations of widespread adoption of mobile techniques has been the challenges of access to representative sample. The online panel companies emerged to help address the same issue when MR went online, but other than a few trial balloons  by a handful of providers, no one has emerged to deliver on this need for mobile. Well, let me introduce you to txteagle, because it looks like they may be about to make it happen!

txteagle helps global organizations learn, educate and grow in emerging economies by leveraging the power of the mobile phone. Through a network of over 2.1 billion mobile phone subscribers across 80 developing countries, txteagle leverages the emerging market workforce for two inter-related services; i) GroundTruth: gathering local data and opinions ii) GroundSwell: leveraging those insights to improve consumer engagement.

GroundTruth is a patent-pending mobile data collection platform that provides unique insight into the opinions, needs and behaviours of consumers in emerging markets – from brand reputation and product performance, to pricing and even local product availability. These insights are incorporated in GroundSwell, txteagle’s mobile consumer engagement platform.

GroundSwell enables global organizations to engage with their next billion consumers in emerging markets. As these economies undergo rapid expansion, hundreds of millions of consumers are joining the middle class – resulting in trillions of dollars of new purchasing power. txteagle’s GroundSwell mobile engagement platform provides clients with the ability to communicate and incentivize over 2.1 billion people.

Founded by former MIT faculty member Dr. Nathan Eagle and Dr. Ben Olding from Harvard’s Statistics Department, txteagle has raised funding from top-tier investors that include Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Flywheel Ventures and Esther Dyson.


I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to consult with txteagle as they develop their overall strategy for entering the MR space, and I can tell you that these guys have the potential to be a game changer. They are already working with some of the biggest brands in the world and largest MR firms, all before even making a formal entry into the industry. txteagle is truly a case of the supply creating the demand; once a few folks learned about what they had done for BPO, the requests to help engage heretofore impossible to reach global populations via their mobile devices have started to flood in. It’s early yet, but I expect BIG things from them in 2011 and beyond.

So there is the evidence of why I think mobile MR has crossed over from hype to hope. We’re seeing broad adoption from suppliers and clients, projected increases over the next 24 months, and players that are delivering both data collection technologies as well as access to a global population of respondents. It’s time to get ready folks; this rocket is about to launch!

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