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Mobilizing Market Research: Limitations & The Future (Part 4 of 9)

This is part 4 of a 9 part series by Carrie Robbins. In this one, we're getting into the meat of the matter; what are some of the current limitations of the mobile model and what does the future hold for us as we overcome these limits.


Editors Note: This is part 4 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 are the links to the previous sections:

Part 1: Why Go Mobile?

Part 2: Industry Insights

Part 3: Benefits & Current Uses

In this one, we’re getting into the meat of the matter; what are some of the current limitations of the mobile model and what does the future hold for us as we overcome these limits. Many thought leaders participated in giving Carrie their views and I think you’ll find it very informative.

Many references are cited in this piece. For a complete list of all of the references click here.

Since the GreenBook is also a Co-Sponsor of the Market Research in the Mobile World Conference, for the next 5 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 main limitation of mobile research is the short length of mobile surveys. Hobson explains, “The promise of immediacy is somewhat balanced by the challenge of the small screen and the fact that somebody doesn’t want to be sitting with their mobile phone for two hours answering a survey.” However, Luck sees the short nature of mobile questionnaires as an opportunity for more thoughtful research. She states, “There’s been a lot of industry discussion about survey length and how it impacts data quality and respondent satisfaction…You just have to do much shorter surveys on mobile, you don’t really have a choice.” Luck considers this aspect of mobile surveys to be an improvement over longer, traditional versions.

Many interviewees note penetration as a limitation of mobile methods (including President of BrainJuicer North America Ari Popper, as well as Coleman, Luck, Sunada and Robbibaro). Although this should become a non-issue in the future as smartphone penetration deepens, a representative sample is currently difficult to obtain through smartphones alone, unless of course the population of interest is smartphone users.  In addition to limitations on penetration, mobile methods can lack depth, and due to their self-reported nature are not as open to examination as other methods.  The inability to dig deep and obtain detailed information is a shortcoming mentioned by Robbibaro and others. Stork similarly explains that it is difficult to get at the inconsistencies that usually emerge when data is self-reported, as it tends to be with mobile.

Other more minor limitations of mobile are that participants can experience technical difficulties (Schwitzer), app-based research is impacted if people do not wish to download the app (Popper), and Stork warns that in emerging markets affluence can affect entry into a study rather than age, as tends to be the case in developed countries where mobiles are generally used more frequently by a younger population.

At the same time, Murphy suggests that rather than focus on the limitations of mobile, one should consider mobile to be a shift towards building stronger relationships with participants. Bhaskaran also refers to it as a paradigm shift rather than allowing the limitations to deter him. He champions the idea of reframing how research is done, insisting one must reach participants through their preferred channel, which appears to be mobile.

The Mobile Future

Though not currently a widespread method, an increase in mobile research is predicted in the near future. As previously mentioned, Murphy’s 2011 GRIT report shows that firms foresee an increase in its use in the next year. Interviewees believe this will occur much more quickly than the uptake in online research did, citing the exponential acceleration in technological advancement and adoption described by Moore’s Law (Murphy, Coleman), as well as a rush to stay ahead of the curve (Bhaskaran). As smartphone adoption increases and mobile research becomes more popular, mobile methods will become normalized and may cease to be referred to as a separate technique, becoming integrated with other methods (Stork).

Many agree that integration across mobile methods as well as between the back and front ends of mobile research systems will occur in the future (McCrary, Popper, Coleman, Murphy). In this way, mobile will become increasingly agile, or ‘smart’ (Murphy). A few experts suggest that the personal mobile device itself might change, becoming something between a mobile phone and a tablet device in terms of size and capabilities (Murphy, Coleman). Mobile devices could allow finger movements to be tracked on touchpad screens, which may lead to a better understanding of how consumers explore advertisements and other web components (Murphy).

While Clarke and others admit that the future of mobile is unclear, most interviewees are in agreement that there is a need to establish best practices and to gain a better understanding of the ideal contexts for mobile methods. Popper points out that like any new method, it will solve some problems while creating new ones.

Most interviewees agree that app-based research is the future of mobile. Bhaskaran explains that this is because companies like Apple “have invested very, very heavily in each of these [app] systems…and obviously all these are a great revenue generator for them. So…they will…not let it die.” Coleman goes a step further and speculates that apps will continue to become increasingly sophisticated and more richly embedded into the actual hardware of the device itself as mobile browsers become a thing of the past.

However unclear the future of mobile may be, most interviewees agree that the technology has brought about a shift in the relationship between researchers and participants that amounts to a type of continual conversation. Hobson refers to it as a shift away from “monolithic questions and answers” towards an “ongoing dialogue.” Interviewees also expect social media to become increasingly interconnected with mobile research (Murphy, Bhaskaran, Stork, Popper, Whaley, Luck). Whaley predicts the integration of social media will incite a shift away from the use of panels and towards the use of communities where participation takes on a more social aspect for members. Luck anticipates that geolocation data  also may be combined with pshychographic information culled from social media . The result could be used to profile participants for segmentation purposes, to perform network analysis, to map influence and to understand how word-of-mouth travels in the real world.

Another evolution expected by the interviewees is that the overlap between market research and marketing on mobile devices will expand. Bhaskaran offers as an example of this the flow of coupons and discounts to participants’ mobile devices upon the completion of a mobile study. McCrary also predicts that measuring the effectiveness of mobile marketing will emerge as a new field, and more customer satisfaction and relationship management will be conducted through mobile methods. These changes would fundamentally alter the market research landscape, leading to the convergence of the market research field with marketing, advertising, and other industries.

This is Part 4 of a 9 part series. The next section will be posted the week of June 6th and will detail a “Mobile to-do list” to help move mobile research adoption forward.


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