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#IIeX Focus Series – Technology & Market Research 2014 (1 of 5): Mobile

In the first part of a five part series examining where market research is in technology adoption, Phil Rance looks at the state of mobile research leading up to the IIeX Europe conference in Amsterdam.



By Phil Rance

Introduction: dynamism and inertia

Ahead of the IIEX Europe conference in Amsterdam, I’ve tried to pull together my thoughts on where we are in use of technology in Market Research. It has turned out to be longer than I had planned, so I will publish in bite sized chunks over the next few days, and then revise my opinion post-conference.

Dynamic changes in technology and communications are naturally affecting the market research industry, along with other marketing services, and indeed all businesses and public services. Market research depends on communication to create and share new information, so the shifts in communication channels and data technologies go to the heart of our business. However market research is also inherently conservative, accuracy and continuity being critical to many clients, so there are forces of inertia which hold the industry back from making full use of new technologies until they are mature.

Mobile: already here but not quite there

The first iPhone was launched in 2007, and smartphones now make up more than 50% of adult phone usage in the UK. The iPad was launched in 2010, and adoption of tablets for media consumption and online activity has been very rapid since, and now makes up more than 24% of households in the UK, and more than 30% of all internet access[1]. Taken together these two categories of device have meant that consumer usage of online services has rapidly become more mobile, more integrated into daily lives, and more fragmented.

For market research, this means that “traditional” online surveys are increasingly being carried out on tablets and smartphones. Studies suggest[2] that 20% of online surveys are now started on mobile devices, and this holds true for our own experience at Quadrangle. This presents technical and presentational issues including higher drop out rates (around double in our experience) due to less mobile friendly survey formats. Perhaps more importantly for research it means surveys are being conducted in a different context: on the train, on the sofa, as well as at a desk.

Within the world of mobile research there are various options for deploying surveys with different strengths and weaknesses. The easiest to deploy (and the default that you are probably doing anyway, even if by accident) is a standard online survey rendered in a mobile browser. However, this also leads to the worst respondent experience and therefore the greatest likelihood of drop-outs or poor data. Next easiest is a standard online survey adapted to mobile, however this also runs the risk of a long survey which is not much fun to take on a small touchscreen. Better still is a “native” mobile survey which has been designed to be easy to take on a touch-screen mobile device, using bigger buttons, fewer questions per page, no grid questions, fewer open-ends etc. This kind of survey is still be delivered through a mobile browser, but requires serious thought on behalf of both the researcher and the survey programmer, as the question types will be different and the survey may need to be shorter than a typical online survey, which has data implications. Then there are apps which are designed specifically for mobile surveys. While delivering a better “native” mobile interface, and potentially including additional functionality such as photo and video upload, the problem with research mobile apps is getting the respondents to download them. This additional step makes response rates lower, and may skew samples, but a customized app could be ideal for a diary study.

The shift to mobile opens up new possibilities for research such as real time “in-the-moment” surveys and sophisticated diary studies which have barely started to be exploited. Cameras and GPS software are incorporated into most tablets and smartphones, offering the potential for capturing photo and video as part of research as well as recording respondents’ location and movement (subject to permission being granted) and/or triggering research based on location and behavior. To date, researchers have not found an effective way of using these possibilities on a significant scale, albeit experimentation is proliferating.

Our advice to anyone considering mobile research is firstly to realize that you are probably already doing it as part of any online research. Awareness and optimization of this is a good starting point. In terms of “native mobile” research we would encourage experimentation, but caveat that for results to be relied upon they need to be grounded either in a comparative study using an established method, or a good grasp of the statistical and survey biases that may have been introduced.

Finally – it’s horses for courses. While new hybrid mobile methodologies may be great for tracking ad awareness at sports events, in-store or for outdoor media, or for pseudo-ethnographic diary studies, they may not be so good for robust brand tracking studies or complex attitudinal segmentations. Whereas arguably online surveys became simply a cheaper substitute for telephone surveys, mobile offers researchers something different: a complementary set of tools to use, rather than a substitute for another mode.

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