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Mobile Qual: Which Solution Is Right for You?

Virtually going where consumers go and seeing what they see helps us get close to their everyday lives. Letting your participants capture their experiences as they happen means you can get a great real-time look at how they respond to your tests and other life situations.



By Stephen Cribbett

Over the past seven years, we’ve learned a lot about online qual. We’ve spent time playing with new types of tools, talking to customers about what they find engaging, and looking at a lot of stats and figures to see which strategies get the best results.

One thing that we’ve really come to like is mobile qual; we find that virtually going where consumers go and seeing what they see helps us get close to their everyday lives. And letting your participants capture their experiences as they happen means you can get a great real-time look at how they respond to your tests and other situations in their lives.

Mobile apps have risen in popularity as a means of conducting mobile qual; it seems like every company has an app, from the smallest regional businesses to the largest international corporations. Everyone thinks that they need an app to succeed, but are apps really the best way to conduct your mobile qual?

Here’s what we’ve learned.

Mobile Qual Apps

In the years we’ve spent doing online qual, it’s become clear to us that people value simplicity. You can have the most impressive online system out there, but if it’s too complicated, no one will use it: this means that there are tradeoffs between features and accessibility.

For example, many mobile qual apps have really great features that offer further insights into your customers. You can get geographical information with geotagging, for example, and offline access that ensures customers can always use the app, but there’s a trade-off in offering these features.

One of those tradeoffs is that you need to get users to download and use the app. A recent survey found that 65.5% of US smartphone users download an average of zero apps per month, and only 17% downloaded 3 or more. People download apps that are fun and exciting and, as much as we hate to admit it, they probably won’t find mobile qual apps very exciting. It’s not personally useful for them; while they’re great for us, users don’t get much out of having them on their mobiles.

If they download the app, though, you’ve made significant inroads toward getting customer insight. But to make sure that they open and use the app, you’ll need to remind them. One of the great things about mobile apps is that you can send mobile notifications right to their phones.

Again, we face a trade-off. Notifications can pop up on the second, third, or fourth home screen of an iPhone, making it unlikely that users will see the notifications immediately. And participants who aren’t familiar with app notifications can find them confusing. Obviously, the effectiveness of this strategy depends greatly on the target group of your qual: if they’re tech-savvy, they shouldn’t have any problems with notifications. If not, it could be tough to get this system to work.

Another thing to keep in mind that is rich, sophisticated, interactive apps that are always running in the background are great for engaging participants and gathering insights, but not so great for battery life. There’s a tenuous balance between offering a great user experience and irritating people because their battery is dying all the time. The last thing you want for your mobile qual app is for it to make users angry.

There’s no denying that apps are trendy and cool. But that trendiness comes with costs, and it’s important for anyone considering mobile qual to keep those costs in mind when choosing a mobile solution.

Device-Agnostic Mobile Qual

One one side of the mobile qual spectrum, we have apps. On the other, there’s device-agnostic qual, which isn’t tied to any specific mobile operating system.

Device-agnostic qual systems are all about making it as easy as possible for customers to accessible the qual system. They’re run through a user’s mobile browser, which means it’s not tied to any particular mobile operating system or hardware. It can be accessed from a mobile phone or a tablet, and doesn’t require the participant to download any apps, making entry into the system significantly easier than app-based qual systems.

Of course, the mobile browser approach does create some limitations: the experience generally isn’t as rich as app-based solutions, because of the risk of slow connection speeds and high costs to the mobile processor.

While app-based qual relies on app-based or push notifications, device-agnostic qual uses e-mail to deliver notifications. Email Monday’s ultimate mobile email statistics overview states that, as of last year, 61% of consumers now read at least some email on their mobile, so you can be confident that you’ll get a solid response rate using e-mail for notifications.

In fact, 47% of e-mail is opened on a mobile device, vastly outweighing the 28% of desktop and 25% of webmail. And mobile e-mail opens have grown by 180% in the past three years. Mobile is where the world goes for email, so sending qual notifications via email is a no-brainer.

One of the big disadvantages of browser-based mobile qual solutions is that they cannot provide offline access, occasionally leaving participants with no way to upload information. Fortunately, this is rarely an issue, because most people have mobile data connectivity the vast majority of the time. Even on trains, where mobile reception is particularly dodgy, the average commuter has 3G or 4G connectivity 72% of the time.

There are ways around this, though; for example, our own mobile interface uses data chunking for uploads, which means that if a user loses connection, the upload will continue once the connection is reestablished, so there’s no need to start the upload over from the beginning. While it doesn’t mean we can offer offline access, it does prevent a lot of frustration when a mobile data connection is interrupted.

Choose Mobile Qual that Works

When you’re choosing a mobile qual solution, it’s important to take all of the factors above into consideration. If you’re very concerned about having an app that is complex, rich, and highly interactive, a mobile qual app may be the way to go. This is also true if you absolutely need offline access.

On the other hand, a device-agnostic approach could be more fitting if your audience might not be tech-savvy enough to understand a variety of notification types or is intimidated by apps. Running qual through the mobile browser increases ease of access, as well as exposure via e-mail-based notifications, but doesn’t allow for offline use.

Have you used a mobile qual solution in the past? Was it app-based or device-agnostic? What did you find especially appealing or unappealing about it?

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3 responses to “Mobile Qual: Which Solution Is Right for You?

  1. This is a good breakdown of the choice between native app vs connected browser based mobile. My experience is that in qual, where you are likely to have prolonged engagement with consumers who are being fairly well incentivized, the barrier for native apps is much less than in quant, where having do download an app to answer a 5-10 minute is a significant barrier to participation.

    For qual, it really depends on if your participant quotas would be impacted by having to navigate the Android/iOS apps. Given that smartphone penetration in developed countries is pushing towards 70% and Android and iOS constitute 90% of the smartphone market, it’s becoming increasingly rarer to encounter smartphone challenged participants.

    Our experience with offline capability is that 72% connectivity time sounds very good, until that moment where signal drops at the shelf or in the store and that moment is lost or has to be recreated later, which in a sense defeats the benefits of mobile.

    Of course, the best solution is for a platform to offer both approaches so all of the issues can be addressed.

  2. Interesting angle on apps v device agnostic / browser based solutions. Just because it’s device agnostic doesn’t mean it’s going to give you better results particularly with video. Worth mentioning that web based tools esp on android do not compress video so respondents doing out of home video based tasks are left with 300mb files to upload over 3/4G. We’ve just used an online platform that offered a mobile version of their website and have had lots of issues with respondents and video uploads.
    Can anyone recommend a purely native mobile qual app that actually compresses video on the device AND works even when offline?

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