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The Customer Journey Through the Eyes of Mobile Research

Mobile devices offer unique ways to stay constantly connected to somebody. For the first time, we are able to continually question people who are part of our research, or they can pro-actively provide us with their data.


By Gyurka Jansen

The two  days of the ‘Market Research in the Mobile World‘ (MRMW) congress – that took place on 18 and 19 April – were filled to the brim with several international experts in the field of (mobile) research sharing their knowledge and insights. Literally from America to Australia and India, researchers have come to show us what the current state-of-play in the field of mobile research field is. Because excellent summaries of the first conference day have already been written, we will focus on one term which has been mentioned at least three times during the first day of the conference: the ‘customer journey’. It all comes down to one question: “How does somebody come to buy something?”.

The journey

The way someone eventually becomes a consumer, meaning they actually buy a product, is the holy grail of the advertising business. Despite the criticism towards online, many advertisers still struggle with similar questions offline: who looks at an ad and what are the effects of that?  Others struggle with this problem as well; when does whom experience what? Although steps are being taken in the right direction, questions such as “Why is nobody buying my product while they must have seen my ad?” are still omnipresent. The ‘customer journey’ describes the entire journey someone takes from their first contact with a product or product group to the eventual purchase. This journey can lead the consumer over many different roads.

Mobile devices such as phones or tablets offer unique ways to stay constantly connected to somebody. This gives you the opportunity to literally follow people all day, partaking in their journey. In theory this is also possible offline, of course, but that becomes much more difficult. Without going into too much detail on the problems every mobile application faces – because there are many – we can certainly say that ‘mobile’ deserves the attention of the (market) researcher. For the first time we are able to continually question people who are part of our research, or they can pro-actively provide us with their data.


The interest in the story behind people’s purchases comes from a number of different developments. We have already seen that there is technology available to follow people every day, there are several apps, employed by different bureaus, to accomplish this. On top of this, the fact that the holy grail has not yet been found plays an important part: we want to be able to see what processes are taking place long before a purchase is made. If you want, you can of course replace “purchase” with “decision”, because like every purchase, every decision we make is based on our earlier experiences, experiences that the researcher does not always have access to. And then we have not even discussed the context of those experiences or those later decisions yet.

Finally, we see that ‘narratives’ are going to play a bigger part in marketing and research. If you are a qualitative researcher, you might say they were never really gone. Consider concepts such as ‘storytelling’, where we try to tell our own story to consumers. Looking up stories that suit that (potential) consumer fits into this picture perfectly, on top of which we can even use this data to see if we have our own ‘story’ straight.

And the approaches?

We see then that mobile research into the experiences of consumers is stimulated in three different ways. First there is the technology, second there is the already existing need for better insight – especially when it comes to the use of different media – and finally there is a strong current towards storytelling. That final current could, in turn, very well be fed by Social Media.

All of this explains the rise of the interest in the ‘customer journey’, and specifically the use of mobile technology to chart that journey, but that does not make for a complete picture. The most interesting thing is still how the researcher builds on his research and analyses his results. Many researches are based on diary studies, because intuitively they are most intimately linked to the mapping of how consumers spend their days.

For this kind of research, it is possible to ask people to take a few pictures every day of what they buy in the supermarket and to upload these. And of course you ask they to “say something about them”. The way in which you can actually shape this are endless, and research that uses these kinds of techniques is only just getting started, so there is room for experimentation. Are you building your own app or a mobile website, do you want short videos or just pictures? And what kind of description would you want with those? With a GPS in every smartphone you will probably want to use the location data of this picture, or – the other way around – have people take pictures when they are in a certain location. Proper research in this area is not a Wild West, but a wasteland that calls for people who want to shape it and bring substance to it. Every possible thought that now springs to mind (phone types, countries, languages, speech and design) is extremely relevant, that is what makes new research extra special.

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