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Your Consumers Have Gone Mobile, Has Your MR?

If you have been following recent MR forums and blogs you can be forgiven for thinking that Mobile MR is a brand new phenomena. For those who have been in the trenches of Mobile MR for years it may be amusing or a big “thank God” moment! In today’s blog I am going to compare two widely used methods of consumer engagement, one being “SMS” which has been around almost from the inception of mobiles (and that should give you an idea about how long Mobile MR has been around in some form or the other) and the other “Application” (apps) based engagement. Again the origins of this post are some widely held myths or urban Mobile MR legends, that I encounter regularly.

Just to set the context, I stand on the side of Apps which utilize SMS effectively to enhance an apps utility; effectively rendering both useful depending on the utility and context of a solutions implementation.

Myth or Fact

A) User Engagement is possible only via SMS/MMS.

B) SMS/MMS based engagements are cheaper and easier to run than Application based engagements.

Those researchers involved Mobile Marketing & MR for a while will relate to the myth that “mobile engagement is only SMS/MMS”. This is far from the truth and many/most SMS/MMS based campaigns are spam based or border on it. In this post I will address the elements that differentiate these two methods of engagement, highlighting the advantages, disadvantages and also the elements / components required for its implementation.

SMS / MMS based Projects – Key facts and Elements involved

  • SMS is an Universal mobile platform which can reach any phone type / platform. SMS thus ensures a 100% reach capability.
  • SMS has a 160 character restriction. This actually depends on the script. While for the roman script the SMS limit is 160 characters, for all double byte characters (like Simplified Chinese) it is 70 characters. If all we want is tweets, then SMS would be hard to beat. However if it needs to be more interactive it would make the exercise cumbersome and harder to monitor.
  • Mono interactive mode. SMS is not an active interactive mode – i.e. difference between a Walkie-talkie and a Telephone.
  • Charges are per message (SMS or MMS). This often makes them more expensive cumulatively over time.  For this often SMS/MMS based projects have restrictions to the numbers sent limiting it further.
  • Different charges for sending and receiving SMS (text) / MMS (text, photo & video). This often adds to the complexity of calculating and managing costs for surveys done across markets and multi-country studies given the rates differ from carrier to carrier and market to market.
  • MMS as a medium has poor adoption and use across markets, this is due to higher transfer cost and considered too cumbersome. This also has ensured that unlike SMS, MMS is not universally available on all handsets. MMS is also restricted and differs by market and operator (i.e. restriction is on message size and not on length of clip in case of Video). Overall MMS works out more expensive per kb transfer than GPRS does. MMS needs to be activated, not necessarily default on all handsets. Won’t work on iPhone either, as it does not support MMS.
  • Implementation for multi-country studies would require a Short Code to be established with a VAS or telecom provider to receive and send data. This would require for multiple infrastructure to ensure we pay only local charges. The data collected in each country will then be transferred to a central location via the internet for analysis.

Components & estimated costs involved in running projects using a SMS / MMS system

  • SMS / MMS delivery costs
    • Short code to be set-up with a service provider (monthly charges). Eg. In India – there are multiple service carriers (approx 10+), therefore we will require to contract through a VAS provider for a Short Code covering multiple mobile operators. The MMS costs also vary widely from market to market.
  • Develop Database management platform to a) send SMS / MMSs b) receive SMS / MMS c) catalog and manage database d) co-ordinate and gather data from different servers placed in different countries (one time development cost & monthly maintenance charge)
  • Set up cost per country (one time cost)

Application based Projects – Key facts and Elements involved

“The mobile application market is expected to grow from $1.94billion in 2009 to $15.65 billion in 2013; a growth rate of around 807%. Currently, only 10% of the Fortune 2000 are engaging their customer base with a mobile app.”

  • No character restriction. Can be defined keeping in mind requirements.
  • Can be dynamic and interactive. Eg a wrong entry can be rejected and a prompt requesting a correct entry given. Logic can be programmed into the app.
  • Not a universal platform. Each application needs to be designed separately for each screen size/resolution/pixel, processing capability, storage / memory capacity and mobile platform. Platform adoption varies depending on the market and for greater reach an application would need to straddle those platforms which are most widely available in that market. For instance North America is dominated by iPhone and Blackberry while Asia is largely driven by Symbian/Java enabled handsets.
  • GPRS charges for data transfer applicable locally. For multi-country studies a central server would suffice (no need of country specific servers and Short codes for each country / operator).
  • Can be made visually appealing. Can be feature rich as listed below –
    • attractive and engaging graphic interface
    • application updates, reminders messages, delivery of incentives (mobile coupons), etc
    • panel growth – Invite a friend function (for hard to find TGs, can have panelists to invite their friends to help expand the panel)
    • Can add Location Based Services (LBS). Either using cell tower locations or GPS function for GPS enabled handsets. [look for my next blog on LBS].
    • App can be as dynamic and creative as we want them to be. Please read Unconquered Mobile MR ( for an overview of areas of application.
    • Users can have an online element for access. Mobile app can also synced in with any existing service and mobilize it without having to get rid of any working legacy systems
    • Mobile monitoring app and online access to key staff to monitor progress/results real time

Components & estimated costs involved in running projects using an Application based system

  • Develop application (one time – depends on number of platforms and handsets to be covered)
  • Server provisioning and database management platform a) to download application b) receive & send data c) update questionnaires / database d) etc. as defined (one time cost)
  • Server maintenance and management (monthly charge)
  • Develop download tool for handset auto detection (onetime development cost)
  • Optional costs
    • Web interface (one time and monthly maintenance)
    • Mobile interface for project management / key staff (one time)
    • Quarterly upgrade (quarterly payment – to cover new functions, innovations and new platforms in the market, eg. Adding new growing platforms like Android)
    • Server rental per country (monthly charge – applicable only if Short code and a need to send SMSs to the respondents in addition to sending messages via GPRS).
    • Short code to be set-up with a service provided (monthly charges)
    • Develop Database management platform to a) send SMS / MMSs b) receive SMS / MMS c) catalog and manage database d) co-ordinate and gather data from different servers placed in different countries (one time development cost & monthly maintenance charge)

To conclude I would say that both SMS & Application based solutions have their roles and utilities. An integrated Mobile MR method utilizing the best of what SMS and Apps have to offer is what will work best. Those agencies that provide Integrated and Converged Mobile MR solutions, taking all that’s available out there integrating the best elements and converging the multiple systems to get the maximum impact – both from a consumer engagement and the data / insight point of view.

Until my next post please enjoy these recent stats :

There are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice more active on Facebook than non-mobile users.” – Facebook official statistics (August, 2010).

“In the last twelve months, customers around the world have ordered more than US $1 billion of products from Amazon using a mobile device,” – Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of (July 2010).

Your consumers have gone mobile, has your MR?

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3 responses to “Your Consumers Have Gone Mobile, Has Your MR?

  1. I noticed an option that should be included for consideration. Why not use a hybrid approach? Use an SMS message to contact potential respondents, send a link, and let that initiate a web based application? This way you get to leverage the existing code and knowledge base of web based feedback management, have no country based server issues and associated data consolidation issues, and avoid extra cost considerations. Granted, you’ll be dependent on your audience having a smart phone and a data plan, but that population is growing every day.

  2. I agree with Scott Wellman. The simplyest way is to adapt questionnaires (shorter) and web design (to the screen of a smartphone), the initial contact being done with sms or e-mail. Can CAWI softs adapt the delivered flow in function of the browser that reads it ?

  3. Good article. I’m definitely convinced of the benefits of mobile web-based survey applications over SMS. However, we have to understand that the so-called issue of cost of SMS and mobile internet is eroding. In the US, most customers using SMS have a package to ensure they won’t be charge on a per-message basis. Likewise, US carriers are moving to mandatory data plans…even for feature phones! Verizon in January 2010 introduced required data plans for the bulk of their feature phones and other carriers are sure to follow. Mobile web usage is migrating from optional to assumed. Yes, these examples are from the US, but this is a trend that will eventually touch all.

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