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Mobilizing Market Research: Moving Forward & Using The Mobile Toolbox

In the final part of a series on the evolution and implications of mobile data collection methods in the field of market research, Carrie Robbins explores mobile methodology selection and gives a series of examples of the major applications for mobile research today.


Editors Note: This was originally planned to be the 7th post in 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. I’ve decided the remaining sections work best as a single post, so I have combined 7-9 into this, the final post in the series.

Here are the links to the previous sections:

Part 1: Why Go Mobile?

Part 2: Industry Insights

Part 3: Benefits & Current Uses

Part 4: Limitations & The Future

Part 5: Going Forward – The Mobile To-Do List

Part 6: Best Practices and What’s Next?

We’re at the end of this great series and we’re going out with a bang! This final post explores some of the variables to consider when determining what mobile research is appropriate for your study, dissects what the mobile revolution means fro market research industry, and gives a series of examples of the major applications for mobile research today. It truly is the “meat” of the series and will enable everyone interested in deploying mobile research to have a solid base to start from.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, we have been posting a new section of Carrie’s report here to serve as a primer for the industry on the topic of mobile research. 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.We hope you’ve enjoyed it reading it as much as we have presenting it for you!


By Carrie Robbins

Why does a shift towards mobile methods matter, and what are the direct implications of this emerging new methodology? Luck explains that it challenges researchers to think harder and more creatively about how they gather information. The way in which sampling is addressed may become more flexible (Murphy). While an increase in participation and improved data quality may occur (McCrary), more direct interaction between consumers and companies could potentially threaten the field of market research (Whaley). The face of market research will surely shift, as it becomes increasingly integrated with marketing (Bhaskaran), advertising, gaming and other industries and as the business model changes and it must compete with new sectors  (Murphy). Market research will have to work across new industries  (Murphy) and will potentially gain a more global scope and insight (Whaley, Schwitzer). These methods will allow us to tie behavior and activity to attitudes, an exciting prospect for the future of market research (Whaley).

Guidelines to Mobile Method Selection

The following is a quick synopsis to guide the selection of a mobile method, based on a series of common research aims and assembled from the interviews and background research:

Desired Outcome Mobile Research Method
Maintain an ongoing dialogue over time through frequent short spurts of information Mobile panel or community
Understand how a consumer relates to a brand or product in his or her home or in the “real world” Mobile diary or ethnographic study
Understand event-based behavior Mobile diary or ethnographic study
Map respondents while quantifying behavior Mobile survey with geolocation data or QR code
Map respondents while obtaining qualitative insight Mobile diary or ethnographic study with geolocation data or QR code
Quantify something in field (ex. prior to focus group, for mall intercept or movie exit) Mobile tablet survey
Understand momentary/one time locational attitude or behavior across individuals Mobile survey or polling with individuals based on geolocation data (from panel or community members) or as identified by QR code


The advent of social media and the convergence of methods of communication and media on mobile devices have altered the way in which people communicate and the devices they use. This has caused rapid and considerable change in the field of consumer research. A shift in market research towards the consumer experience seems to be taking place, as is a merging of market research with other fields of business such as marketing, advertising, and gaming. As Hobson observes, “There’s less focus on the methodology and more focus on being a strategic partner and business adviser,” or gaining actionable insight in innovative ways, such as via mobile research. Mobile is not ideal for one-time users as it is difficult to gather enough information from one interaction with a single consumer to say anything relevant or representative of a group. However, a move towards ongoing dialogue with consumers means mobile will be an effective tool for gaining contextual, in-the-moment feedback and a productive way to build a relationship with consumers over time.

Applications used by communities or panels are the best way to create ongoing dialogue, and if they can be transformed into entertainment or social experience through location-based game-like platforms, users will be more likely to embrace and use them repeatedly. In this way, mobile market research can change the face of market research to be more enjoyable and engaging. This will guarantee a high level of participant satisfaction while also obtaining insightful and actionable data.

Extended Mobile Research Toolbox

Surveys and Polling

Surveys and polling are conducted with participants on their mobile phones via a mobile web browser or an application.  They also can be conducted by text message (SMS) or by keyword and short code, whereby a text message prompts the mobile phone user to reply with a keyword to an abbreviated phone number (for example, text MOBILE to 55555) (Decipher, 2011). Mobile surveys and polls can be used to gain instant POP (point-of-purchase) feedback, and to drive purchases with tailored coupons sent directly to a consumer’s device based on his or her self-reported behavior and preferences (Decipher, 2011). They also can be used to gauge customer satisfaction immediately following a transaction or experience. This represents a decided advantage over online surveys, which depend on consumer’s recall of an experience at a later time.  Surveys on tablet devices such as the iPad or Android Tablet also are beginning to be used in conjunction with other methods. For example, market research firm “Mind The Gap” uses iPad surveys to augment qualitative research. Surveys are conducted prior to a focus group in order to quantify individual preferences and gain real-time insight.  These findings are then used to drive group discussions (Decipher, 2011).

Mobile Ethnographies

MMS (multimedia messaging service) allows for images and video to be integrated into mobile research methods. Innovative market research firms are capitalizing on this capability for projects that resemble ethnographic studies, in that they allow the researcher to obtain interactive user generated content that shows consumers in their natural habitats. MMS is also very useful for diary studies, where participants are asked to log in entries over a period of time regarding their habits, preferences, and consumption behavior (Beacon Research, 2011).

Mobile MROC’s and Panels

MROC’s (market research online communities) are “a solution for market research to create a more enhanced qualitative research process that leverage[s] the social nature of Web 2.0” (Barber 2011: 1). MROC’s and panels have recently gone mobile. Communities and panels fulfill similar functions in market research, although it should be noted that there are distinctions between them.  The main distinction between communities and panels is that communities tend to participate in qualitative research whereas panels participate in quantitative research. In addition, communities provide a forum for participants to interact, whereas panels normally do not (PluggedIn, 2008). The extension of online communities and panels to mobile devices allows researchers to harness the power of a large group of reliable participants while permitting participants to contribute to the conversation without being tethered to their laptops or desktops.

Location-Based Mobile Research

Identifying and mapping the location of participants based on geolocation data embedded in their mobile devices adds value to mobile market research methods. This information can be used to map and analyze consumer attitudes, perceptions, and behavior using GIS (geographical or geospatial information systems). Currently geolocation data is put to use for social media and location-based games such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places (Hari, 2011). Participants can virtually ‘check in’ to different locations and are awarded badges based on the frequency of their visits. It is also used for location-based marketing, whereby a consumer’s location is identified in order to send them tailored advertising or drive purchases with customized coupons. Increasingly, market research firms engaged in mobile research are adding location identification capabilities to their mobile research toolboxes.

Mobile In the Field

Mobile devices have long been used to aid researchers in the field.  Now, inexpensive apps, plugged into a mobile device allow organizations to incorporate them into areas previously ruled by pen and paper. These devices can be used for mall intercepts, interviews, focus groups, and surveys and polls. As more business applications are created, market research firms will have increasing flexibility to select cheap, customizable solutions that fit the needs of their field researchers.


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4 responses to “Mobilizing Market Research: Moving Forward & Using The Mobile Toolbox

  1. Congratulations, Carrie, on a very enlightening and comprehensive evaluation of the state of the mobile research market and other interesting ancillary tech-related applications. It will be interesting to compare the current state vs. Next year at a similar time frame given how quickly the landscape and key players are evolving.

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