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Smartphones Won’t Be Mainstream In Emerging Markets Until….. Now!

Can Market Research be Motorola and move willingly with our clients and our respondents into the mobile world, or will we be Nokia, dragged kicking and screaming into it with little choice left?


By Ben Leet

Fresh off the back of Nokia’s mobile business absorption into Microsoft, and with Blackberry continuing to seek a buyer for its ailing mobile arm, Motorola can smell blood as it launches its latest series of low end Smartphones aimed to drive a stake through the remains of those once glorious mobile hardware providers. Called Moto G, Motorola’s strategy is clear; tap into the “500 million people who will buy a Smartphone for $200”, according to their CEO Dennis Woodside. And it makes sense; at the Moto G launch, Woodside went on to say that until now those customers only had the choice of a phone with last year’s tech or a second hand phone, so providing brand new technology to an audience hungry to keep up with Western trends could be a masterstroke. However, will Nokia or Blackberry take this lying down? They simply cannot afford to, and so the probability of the Smartphone war making its way to emerging markets just increased exponentially.

The relevance to the market research industry is that for some time now it’s been obvious that mobile research will become the methodology of choice for much of our work in emerging markets. Internet penetration is already higher via a mobile device than a desktop device in countries like India, which means that mobile is already more representative than online in many instances. This is not new. I and many others in the industry have been preaching this for some time, but until now mobile surveys in those countries have been largely restricted to simple text-based surveys, or very light, simple and easy-to-load mobile web surveys. But that could all be about to change, and it will happen fast.

Why is a smartphone so important?

Using smartphones allows for a much greater level of user engagement, survey design complexity, and of course verification of things like the GPS coordinates at the time the survey was taken. Of those three, most researchers will get excited about the idea of being able to create increasingly complex surveys with too many questions in them, and we all love more verification as it leads to higher degrees of confidence in the data we’re presenting, but in truth the key is really the user experience.

I’ve written about and spoken on this topic before, but as an industry we are fast forgetting that respondents are our life blood. Without their responses (the good ones, at least), we would have nothing other than unproved hypotheses, and in a world where time is becoming increasingly precious, market research needs new tools to fight for the right to access this time. Emerging markets are no different to this – humans still have too little time, with mobile taking up an increasing amount of it, so we cannot expect those markets to behave today as the western world behaved towards taking online surveys 10+ years ago. We’ll skip a methodology in these markets and shift straight to mobile; a belief I hold even more firmly having read the announcement from Motorola last week.

Bad news for Nokia and Blackberry? Almost certainly. Good news for the market research industry? That depends on how quickly we can innovate and how quickly we can embrace change. Can we be Motorola and move willingly with our clients and our respondents into the mobile world, or will we be Nokia, dragged kicking and screaming into it with little choice left?

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2 responses to “Smartphones Won’t Be Mainstream In Emerging Markets Until….. Now!

  1. I am starting the think I am the only market researcher that remains skeptical about research participation on mobile. Every industry article I read however confirms low participation rates, significant levels of early survey terminations – and frankly for good reason. Surveys simply do not sit comfortably in an online environment with variable internet services, variable screen sizes and the elephant in the room, taking up otherwise valuable socialized time. The only way mobile will get off the ground is through panel development, or opt-in participants. Lets just stand back a little a do a reality check. Mobile usage is about private space, about private time and operates in an arena where if the delivery isn’t slick and rapid users will move on. Market research is simply intrusive, time wasting and definitely not slick at all, from what I have seen, but then my HTC XL One may not be the latest. Wait a minute, it is!.

  2. Chris, I agree with you. Taking long and dreary online surveys and pushing them into the mobile web environment is not the solution. However, as you rightly point out, if you have a dedicated app with a pre-opted in panel then actually response rates rocket and data quality improves, we have the research on research data to show that. It needs the industry to adapt to consumers only wanting to consume (and therefore provide) information in bite-size chunks, but if we can move with consumers then the information we collect will be richer and more valuable as a result.


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