Hello Mobile Market Research. Where Have You Been? What Took You So Long?

My colleague Reineke Reitsma and I have been championing mobile market research for quite some time. In fact, we published the first Forrester report on this emerging and innovative methodology back in 2009. In the report, Reineke wrote about the value of its mobility and flexibility to gather insights into consumers’ behavior anytime and anywhere. And for mainstream adoption to occur, hurdles such as cost, technology, privacy, and representation must be addressed.

At that time, I thought the growth of mobile market research was soon upon us. I was off by about 2 years. But 2011 was a turning point for mobile market research. We started 2011 with seeing the number of global shipments of smartphones and tablets surpassing the global shipment of desktop and notebook PCs. Blog posts and Twitter chatter under the #mobilemr hashtag increased significantly. In July 2011 there was the first formal debate about the merits of this new technology. And also in July there was a conference completely dedicated to how early adopters have leveraged mobile market research.

In our 2012 market research predictions report, we predict that mobile research will start to show uptake within the market research community. And it’s not another false promise. Let me share our thinking behind this prediction with you. In 2012, I think we will see the following things occur for mobile market research:

  • Discussions surrounding mobile market research will shift away from whether we should embark on mobile market research to which is the “right” mobile methodology to apply.
  • More M&As similar to Confirmit acquiring Techneos in September 2011 will occur to further enhance a vendor’s overall EFM offering.
  • Device-agnostic research will become a buzz term in 2012. And vendors will ensure their technology offerings are able to discern which device a respondent is using to access a survey.
  • Experimentation beyond “basic” mobile surveys will increase. We will see client-side researchers begin to leverage other techniques such as passive mobile tracking, mobile MROCs, mobile ethnography, and location analytics.

For a while, it was thought “[insert year] will be the year of mobile”. Finally, this statement is no longer a joke among market researchers. I believe 2012 is the year of mobile. And it will be a fun ride talking and seeing how this emerging methodology takes shape.

What do you think? Are there predictions you would add to the list?


Not just device agnostic

Interesting post and I hope you are right. We did our first mobile survey in 2007 and the growth has been steady rather than stellar. On the plus side, even when we think we're doing a standard online survey now we still have about 5-7% doing them on mobile devices (or more probably tablets). On the down side this means we've started dumbing down our standard online surveys - we had started to use increasing amounts of flash, but these don't work so well in the heavily Mac mobile world and so we're stripping back to a lowest common denominator.

We'll need to get with it on HTML5 I guess but it's another hurdle on the way to convenient adoption and I can see why online has stayed so dominant in the face of mobile, (in contrast to how CATI took a huge chunk out of paper and online took a huge chunk out of CATI). It's a different adoption curve this time.

Looking forward to it growing though. About time!

RE: Not just device agnostic


Thank you for your comments. Yes, the process of making surveys mobile friendly (whether mobile phone or tablet) is a lot more cumbersome than what the industry went through with shifting from paper format to CATI format years ago. While this shift is more challenging than previous survey format transitions, vendors have made great strides in making surveys device agnostic and handling the nuances of different operating systems and different device types. As the technology issues are ironed out, we will see a significant bump in the use of mobile devices to access surveys. It may not be an easy road to this device agnostic survey world, but it is only a matter of time.


A couple of questions

Interesting post - and agree, as mobile gains rapid momentum, seems this is poised to move forward. Two things that have me wondering a bit though:
- In countries where there is considerably less online infrastructure, there's much greater use of mobile for transactions, banking etc. - wondering if you think that mobile research will also be slower to catch on because people are so online-entrenched.
- Noted your colleague's mention of privacy as the "elephant in the corner of the room" - do you think that will cause some push back on things like passive mobile tracking?
Thanks for the insightful post!

RE: A couple of questions


Thanks for comments and questions. Regarding your first question, I think emerging markets are embracing the use of mobile phones beyond a voice-only device much faster than other more developed markets. The only hindrances emerging markets face is infrastructure (access to 3G and/or 4G networks) and cost (of device and data plans). If those roadblocks are resolved, we have seen voracious use of more advanced activities on mobile phones - especially when it pertains to connecting with others and entertainment activities. We have also seen that technology in emerging markets has provided a "voice" for consumers. As a result, they are very open to giving their feedback to companies or working alongside them in co-creation activities through technology tools like social media and mobile phones. I think mobile research is a viable opportunity in emerging markets. Examples of this opportunity are seen with companies like Jana (http://jana.com/) who is exclusively focused on reaching consumers in emerging markets through mobile research.

Regarding your second question, privacy issues will be an interesting bump that our industry needs to reconcile on the road to mass adoption of mobile research. Guidelines to ensure that we don't violate an individual's privacy have been developed by organizations like ESOMAR (http://www.esomar.org/knowledge-and-standards/codes-and-guidelines.php). However, that doesn't prevent all problems that may potentially arise. We, as an industry, need to be very cognizant of the boundaries with mobile research and what we can and cannot do. Guidelines like ESOMAR will keep us in check. With respects to passive mobile tracking, I think that will be a niche type of mobile research similar to how online tracking is a niche type of online research. However, other areas of mobile research like mobile MROCs, mobile ethnography, and mobile surveys will grow to be a dominant channel by which we connect, engage, and understand consumers.


Mobile is 2012!

It's easy to see that mobile market research is growing along with mobile itself. 1 out of 5 Americans access the web from their mobile phones every day! Mobile marketing is going to be the method of 2012.