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Mobilizing Market Research: Industry Insights (Part 2 of a 9 Part Series)

In part 6 of a 9 part series on the evolution and implications of mobile data collection methods in the field of market research, Carrie Robbins summarizes the state of the industry through interviews with 15 industry thought leaders from firms involved in mobile research.


Editors Note: This is part 2 of a 9 part series by Carrie Robbins, a recent Master’s Degree recipient who did her thesis on Mobilizing Market Research: The state-of-the-art, future evolution and implications of mobile data collection methods in the field of market research.

Here is the link to Part 1: Why Go Mobile?

Since the GreenBook is also a Co-Sponsor of the Market Research in the Mobile World Conference, for the next 9 weeks as we run up to that event we’ll be posting a new section of Carrie’s report here. Registrants of the event will get access to a complete version that will be available via download. Carrie will also be attending MRMW11 and participating on one of our expert panels at the event!

This truly is a comprehensive review of the current state of the industry, the views of many industry thought leaders on what the future holds, and of current best practices being used. It should serve as a great resource for anyone interested in or actively engaged in utilizing mobile technologies for research-based initiatives. Enjoy!

By Carrie Robbins

The background research on mobile methods, detailing the benefits and uses as well as the limitations, give a good indication of why proponents of mobile research urge others to adopt it. Surveys of market research firms have quantified what the industry thinks of this new method (Macer & Wilson, 2009a ; 2009b ; 2011 and Murphy 2011 ), but a more in-depth, qualitative understanding of what leading experts think about the topic could be useful to supplement these numbers. This qualitative approach offers insight into when and how mobile methods can best be leveraged, going beyond the numbers to take an in-depth look into the mobile market research landscape.

Further, many industry leaders and firms have published case studies individually; therefore an overview of what mobile proponents think of these methods is opportune. The Industry Insights section of this white paper aims to offer just that – a summary of what some of the industry experts currently say about mobile research methods. In speaking with these thought-leaders, themes emerge regarding the convergence of market research with other industry sectors and a shifting relationship between researchers and consumers. The interviewees provide a thorough look at the state-of-the-art of the market research industry as it pertains to mobile methods.

Fifteen industry leaders were interviewed during March and April 2011 to determine their opinion of the state of mobile methods, the future of these methods as well as the implications of a shift towards mobile to the field of market research. The interviewees consisted of both professionals from market research firms who use mobile methods for data collection, and those whose organizations’ create the technology used for such research. Firms that provide samples for the specific purpose of mobile research were also included in the interviews. The interviewees are listed below, and the following is an overview of the collective opinions of these industry experts.


First Name Last Name Title Company
Vivek Bhaskaran President and CEO Survey Analytics
Greg Bovitz President Bovitz Research Group
Mike Clarke VP/GM Lieberman Research Worldwide
Elaine Coleman Chief Research Officer and Co-Founder Resolve Market Research
Chris Hobson Chief Operating Officer Txteagle
Palanivel Kuppusamy Founder iPinion Surveys
Kristin Luck President, Chief Brand Egvangelist Decipher
Michael McCrary Managing Director Cint, AB
Leonard Murphy CEO BrandScan360
Ari Popper President, North America BrainJuicer
Joanne Robbibaro SVP, General Manager Lieberman Research Worldwide
Kristin Schwitzer President Qualitative Research Consultant Beacon Research
Sabine Stork Senior Partner & Owner Thinktank
Cris Sunada Senior Field Director Lieberman Research Worldwide
Jim Whaley VP & Social Media Consultant Globalpark USA


The Current State of Mobile Methods

When asked how they define mobile data collection methods, most experts mention mobile devices including smartphones, feature phones, basic cell phones as well as tablet devices. Leonard Murphy, CEO of market research firm BrandScan360, defines mobile methods as

An approach that’s optimized to engage consumers in real time at the point of their experience to give feedback on that experience via a mobile device. And a mobile device would primarily be a mobile phone or tablet.

Some of the experts did not consider tablet devices in this definition, arguing that they are too similar in size and format to laptops and desktops to be considered a separate mobile category. Kristin Luck, President of market research firm Decipher, makes an argument for tablets as a mobile research tool, explaining,

“it is different…It’s kind of like a hybrid between a mobile device and a laptop…It is inherently more portable just because of its design.”

Vivek Bhaskaran, President and CEO of software provider Survey Analytics, describes mobile as both a research-facing and consumer-facing tool, as it can be used to aid researchers in the field in addition to being a means of connecting with participants through their personal mobile devices.

In general, the interviewees noted that mobile methods have existed for a while, but in a much more basic form – mainly through SMS polling. This generally consists of sending a text message to a consumers’ mobile phone and having them reply with a numbered response option. Both Luck and Bhaskaran consider this method to have limited capabilities and a fundamentally weak consumer interaction. Mobile methods recently have taken on a much more interesting and dynamic role, thanks to an explosion in connected mobile devices with online capabilities. Although Michael McCary (Managing Director of market research firm Cint, AB) considers this method to be in  its third iteration (text being the first, web-based the second and app-based the third), he and  the other interviewees described mobile methods as emerging and in a state of exploration and experimentation.

When asked about the state of mobile methods, Jim Whaley (VP at Globalpark USA ) was careful to make a distinction between different actors involved in the methodology, including end-user clients, respondents, and market research agencies as well as those actors who provide the technology and the best practices needed to use it. Whaley’s insightful distinction between actors allows him to point out that the state of mobile methods is different depending on the point of view of the various actors. He states,

From a technology standpoint there are really no limitations at this point in time…from an agency standpoint…they still are…struggl[ing] with the idea of…their sampling methodology.

Some interviewees compared the current stage of mobile methods to the emergence of online methods. Some interviewees, such as Luck, believe people need time to catch up and get used to the idea of mobile methods before embracing them. However, Bhaskaran thinks there is actually less resistance to mobile from the market research community than there was to online methods because people do not want to be behind the trend. He states,

…I’ve been through these kinds of paradigm shifts…in 2003 and 2005 the paradigm really shifted…online…The difference that I see right now is that during that time there was enormous resistance from the entire market research community to go online…I think this time around I have not seen that much resistance…So I think that’s good news.

Palanivel Kuppusamy, Founder of mobile survey provider iPinion Surveys describes the move towards mobile as being driven by an increase in smartphone users, while Murphy describes a sort of ‘perfect storm’ of distinct elements, stating,

…Social media was this explosion in terms of the ability to get unstructured, unasked feedback…At the same time…was the smartphone revolution…So there are these two converging technology drivers that really kind of changed the equation. And at the same time, there was the recession…research became very commoditized…They all kind of converged where mobile becomes this ideal delivery system.

The interviewees emphasize the importance of mobile methods, explaining that they are imperative in order to combat drop-off in traditional online surveys. Luck states:

“We did a big study for a client of ours and we found that almost 40% of the people coming into the survey…were actually accessing it from their mobile device.”

Mobile is also considered an effective way to generate an increase in participation, which is currently seen as a serious problem in the field of market research. Bhaskaran explains:

“…The fundamental key…is engagement really…It’s got to be fun, it’s got to be engaging, it’s got to really be something the users want to do rather than they are forced to do.”

Mobile is considered a useful way to engage younger participants, and a shift in paradigm to a participant-centered model, in which the researcher goes to the participant, rather than the participant coming to the researcher.

A desire to stay ahead of the curve of emerging methods also is cited as an important consideration. In Bhaskaran’s words,

“We want to get a head start over everybody else…It’s better to start a little bit early than come into the party a little bit late.”

This is Part 2 of a 9 part series. The next section will be posted the week of May 30 and will explore the benefits and current uses of mobile research approaches.

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