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A Mobile Advantage In Illiterate Or Limited Literacy Populations

We haven't seen a drop in the cost of research using mobile - especially in the developing world. We are able to give enhanced insights and better quality data - at too high a cost. This is due to a lack of volume for mobile lead research, which hopefully will improve.



Editor’s Note: Ray Poynter, Sue York and Navin Williams are working on a  book on mobile research, and any publication by these three gurus will be “required reading” for insights pros. Today we have a modified excerpt from it, as Navin Williams explores how mobile can be (and is being) used in markets where literacy is not the norm. It’s good stuff.


By Navin Williams

When we think of the mobile, it is often considered elitist and almost all discussions are brought down to a smart vs. dumb (feature phones). Whenever I have heard Smartphone based market research, I have tried to bring forth the point that it’s about smart enough for market research rather than Smartphone.

In today’s blog I want to highlight ‘smart enough’ from a consumers’ point of view and how mobile scores over other forms of research channels. In the developing world the biggest opportunity that big FMCG firms are going after is the bottom of the pyramid, those consumers who subsist often at a dollar a day or less depending on the country and continent. These consumers despite their tight budgets manage to stretch their dollar, and there are enough of them, unfortunately, in the struggling world for them to be attractive enough to be targeted.





If you have a look at the above chart and read the article it was sourced from, around 50% of the world’s population (~3 billion people) live on $2.50 or less. So understandably it’s a mouth watering prospect if you have a product or service that is not only essential to them, but that they are willing to spend a part of their $2.50 or less on. And we as market researchers are hopefully equipped to engage with these consumers and come up with insightful gems for manufacturers to offer their goods and services to these consumers.

However conducting research amongst these highly sought after consumers is also a serious challenge and in this blog I would like to make the case that mobile research is a good way to engage with them despite a few challenges.

Some of these challenges are:

  • Consumers live in tough conditions and regions usually far removed from the urban centers, with access being difficult.
  • Literacy – Often communication is difficult with these consumers as they are have limited exposure or no exposure to schooling and written communication. However they are often savvy in the use of mobiles, especially those consumers who would consider buying goods and services would always spend their hard earned money first to buy and maintain a mobile phone after food! This is because the mobile is not just a communication tool but an enabler to enhance their livelihood.

Given these challenges, deriving insights from these groups is not just a challenge but often expensive. We have used mobile to engage with these consumers and have successfully engaged and discovered rich insights. Mobile allows us to share universal visual symbols easily which work very well.

One of the big problems we had was illiteracy, but surprisingly these same consumers could wield their mobile phones with ease. So we used symbols to ask questions and logos to identify brands throughout the mobile survey. Making it game like, asking them to navigate the questions by making choices as they go along. And requiring to complete a certain levels or a number of questions. What we did was not revolutionary, but the impact was because we used only symbols to convey the questionnaire.

In a technique we have started to use quite often, especially for personal care products, includes video and other visual content to convey messages. For example, if we are doing a product home placement or concept testing of a product, we allow consumers to use their phone to first view a video or series of visuals on their mobile on how to use or apply a product. Then we ask them to use the product and record their usage on their mobile phones, backed up with photos and videos where they are willing to share. Especially in conservative and developing markets in the APAC region we have found this methodology very revealing with consumers sharing a lot more of themselves and also we are able to convey messages more clearly via a video or photo story. Of course, often we build in the incentive of either lending them a Smartphone or if they already have a Smartphone (which is often the case) we cover their data plan for the period of the study. Often we have found that many of these consumers have Wi-Fi at home and are willing to share even more of themselves using their phones.

One thing, however, we have not seen is a drop in the cost of research using mobile especially in the developing world. We are able to give enhanced insights and better quality data, however, currently at a much higher cost. This is largely due to there be a lack of volume for mobile lead research, which hopefully will change with time. Also in most of Asia the cost of conducting is F2F research is so low that for the research consumer the willingness to pay for mobile or other similar solutions is often pretty rare. So as more mobile research is conducted and volumes drive prices down, the costs will never drop to the level of F2F in some of the developing markets, where the benchmark is set to untenable levels. However, from my interactions, a research buyer also recognizes that they get what they pay for.

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5 responses to “A Mobile Advantage In Illiterate Or Limited Literacy Populations

  1. Interesting article, thanks for the insights. Regardless of literacy level, mobile is in my opinion is a logical strategy for better understanding consumer behavior, especially when the products to be measured can incorporate the mobile camera into a contest or game-like exercise.

    Although the content generated and then making sense of the photos can be costly, one way to bring efficiency to this task is to employ image recognition. Image matching, product marks and logo detection, etc. is an emerging tool that can augment panel research. Moreover, image recognition can be further used inside social media monitoring platforms too. Brand intelligence, social media monitoring, and consumer market researchers may find the white paper by LTU technologies worth a read.

  2. very insightful. For me the issue is the expense that mobile research will cost compared to F2F research within the lowest earning group. In evaluating which research channel to use at times going to these groups via intercepts or telephone more cost effective. That said in my research context, the cellphones are extremely commonplace almost 2:1 phones to persons so applying mobile research strategies is pretty viable but not due to earning power but just appropriateness to the research focus.

  3. Very interesting observation and while I agree with you that mobile holds a huge potential in MR for the bottom of the pyramid there are indeed challenges, not so many in terms of how you will execute the study with logos or visuals but in the connectivity and access itself. Considering the total cost of ownership, mobile phones are still out of reach of those earning 2.5$ a day and when you add smartphones enabled with data access, or even lending these devices the costs for conducting such a study will always be a premium over F2F.

    We often take for granted the almost pervasive access to high speed wireless data we have have at our fingertips but, as you know, in certain parts of these countries that doesn’t exist or even if it does exist the mobile data experience is patchy! This is a critical first step in understanding how to build MR data collection strategies using mobile for these markets. This, and many other basic usability requirements, could do irreparable damage to great brands and limit success in these huge markets. We have to expand our thinking beyond mobile to other screens as well and sense if there is an oppurtunity here..just as an example they might not own a mobile, but they are hooked to television….digital TV penetration in rural areas is three-fold higher than in urban!

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