By Ben Leet
It is the summer of 2012. As I sit on a busy train during my morning commute, fellow passengers are glued to their mobile devices – almost all smartphones. Most people are not talking on these phones. They are pinching and scrolling, browsing and thumbing. They are streaming information as fast as it’s released- a visual sign of the future of human behaviour. In fact, scrap “future” – it’s here, right now, and is only expected to proliferate. So I wonder why we continue to question whether our industry should adopt mobile research as a core methodology?
Morgan Stanley predicts that the number of searches done on mobile handsets will overtake those done by PC in the next year. Others posture that the mobile internet will overtake desktop internet usage within three years. Alarming though this sounds, it’s a real environment for the consumer – they, we, have the internet in our pockets 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Why would we open up a PC or notebook to do our browsing, surfing, buying, networking, organising when we can do it with just a few clicks without moving from our chairs?
So what does this all mean for the MR industry?
As researchers, we have to understand this shift in behaviour, and see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. Our survey respondents haven’t changed, but the way that they use technology has. If we as an industry are not able to keep up, then we risk losing our most prized yet undervalued asset – our consumers, respondents, the people who regularly provide the feedback we need to do our jobs and sell our products.
Of course, I’m not suggesting we try to cram a 30 minute online survey into a mobile device. That just won’t work. But what we can do is make use of this new behaviour to devise new methodologies that can be sold to our client base and generate additional revenues for the MR industry as a whole.
One potential innovation is geo-targeting: the only other methodology that can successfully create a geo-targeted survey is a face-to-face researcher and clipboard, which is expensive and not particularly twenty-first century. Instead, why can’t we push a survey to respondents that’s relevant to the particular location they are standing in? Consumers could elect whether or not they wanted to participate, would be paid an incentive if they chose to respond. As a result of technology, the data is also likely to be of higher quality because people have actively chosen to participate rather than having to be coerced at the store exit. The power is in the hands of the participants that we value.
Another very simple example of the benefits of mobile research is the ability to reach younger audiences. A few weeks back, a group of friends and I were camping with no power. Most of us turned off our mobiles for most of the time, but this one 16 year old spent at least an hour a day trying to find power so that he could stay in touch with friends. Once again, my aha! moment was triggered by observing human behaviour. Mobile is the way for the MR industry to engage with the ever elusive 16-24 age group.
Conclusion? It’s not the audience that’s the problem, we are! This guy has better things to do with his time than responding to an e-mail inviting him to take a 20 minute survey for a few cents, but get him to download a cool app with relevant rewards and an interesting (and short!) survey, and the response rates will rocket.
As an industry, we have to start thinking more about this consumer behaviour and tailoring methodologies to suit it rather than continuing to push the same boring and lengthy online surveys to audiences that just aren’t interested. Why ask people to stop at a store exit with arms full of shopping bags rather than simply pinging them the same survey through their mobile? Just because the clipboard approach has worked in the past doesn’t mean that it will work in the present mobile age.
And respondents are the lifeblood of our industry – without their opinions, we have no product, service or value that we can add. In fact, without respondents, we have no MR industry at all: therefore we must keep pushing forward with mobile methodologies to simply keep up with consumer trends, before those same consumers disengage with us entirely. So let’s move with our market, and get started on mobile today