A Matter of Practicality

Patricia Graham and Sean Conry
Marketing Insights
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Key Takeaways
  • The Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project reports that 21% of all adult cell owners go online mostly using their phones, not another device such as a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Divide mobile research opportunities into two main frames: accidental and purposeful.
  • One of the great and challenging things about consumer mobility is that you don’t get to choose how your customers or respondents are going to interact with you.

A primer for getting started with mobile research


How many articles have you now seen about the explosion in consumer mobility and how the mobile channel will change everything? It might sound like yesterday’s news if you read a lot about digital trends, but consumer expectations are higher than ever when it comes to a company’s ability to offer a good mobile experience.

You Can't Hold Back the Tide

Now, oft-cited data from Google informs us that 50% of people say that even if they like a business, they will use them less often if the website isn’t mobile-friendly, and that 67% of mobile users say that when they visit a mobile-friendly site, they’re more likely to buy a site’s product or service.

The Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project reports that 21% of all adult cell owners go online mostly using their phones, not another device such as a desktop or laptop computer.

Brand managers often think about mobile strategies when it comes to increasing sales, but what about when it comes to consumer insights and generating the data and analysis that a marketer needs to make informed decisions? How about surveys with long time horizon recall questions? Does mobile matter, and are there equivalent trends?

The answer is a resounding yes. Oslo-based market research firm Confirmit and London-based research technology consultancy meaning ltd. recently conducted on a one-of-a-kind study of the market research industry. Between 2009 and 2011, the average percentage of global smartphone use in online surveys tripled from 6 to 18%, with significant growth expected to continue. In fact, GfK has seen a similar growth in project survey responses on mobile devices—now, 18% of people respond to surveys on their mobile devices, compared to only 3% in 2010. Not only do you need mobile survey-takers in your respondent base for inclusion in your research (for representativeness and quality of response estimate), but in addition, presenting a poor feedback experience can have lasting negative effects on your brand equity. The irony runs deep for firms that lack good mobile presentation in their research, where we so often solicit participation by professing to our customers that our survey is their opportunity to have their voice heard.

The Opportunities

So how can you begin to tackle this issue? Divide mobile research opportunities into two main frames: accidental and purposeful.

Accidental mobile research deals with addressing the tidal wave of mobile participation as illustrated earlier. In short, we simply encourage marketers and researchers to enable their surveys with mobile devices—otherwise, they won’t be sure which devices will be compatible with the survey. Our job is to unblock such responses and make it possible for the respondent to start and complete the survey accurately. Today’s technology makes that an easy task. It’s true that we still have more to learn about the difference in response that we get from small screens versus large screens (and the resulting changes in the data), but the early signs are promising.

In fact, in a recent study about users of streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu, GfK took the extra step to study the difference between “traditional” online techniques (a daily retrospective report, invited by e-mail) and a timelier mobile diary approach. In the mobile diary, people were able to give responses about their viewing when they were inspired to do so (on demand and self-initiated), in addition to being pinged with an alarm on their device during key viewing time slots. In essence, we combined a push/pull strategy to capture all relevant moments of engagement from the consumer.

We found that not only did the mobile technique generate about twice as many survey instances as did the traditional approach, but that it also was superior in its ability to document simultaneous activities and actually capture the activity of interest by watching online streaming video. The implication is particularly important for companies that need to do research for the purpose of sizing (i.e. projecting total or future volumes). In other words, mobile is great when accuracy matters.

This diary approach is one form of the latter frame: purposeful mobile research. This is the frame we use when referring to research programs that are specifically designed to do things that other modes of insight generation cannot accomplish. The trend as brands move toward one-to-one marketing and ongoing conversation and engagement should not be limited to the confines of traditional marketing and the social media team. Smart mobile research programs can do this as well.

This can include capturing multimedia to augment your research and bring results to life. Alternatively, it can mean creating a mobile consumer feedback experience designed to engage with your core audience on a continuous basis over a longer period of time, as opposed to typical one-off surveys.

Another way to think about mobile research is to realize that it allows you to converse with customers in the way they want to communicate—or in some cases, the only way they can be reached. For example, we recently heard from a client who surveyed a low-income population. One-third of the surveys were opened on a smartphone. Previously, this group would have found Internet access at a library and there would be a much lower participation, but mobile is allowing new groups of people to leapfrog “traditional” Internet access.

The mobile channel offers a transformational power to business that cannot be ignored, and it opens opportunities that you could never imagine.

The Changes

In the past, the main question was: Do you need a browser or an app? There are compelling arguments for both, and the answer depends on what you are trying to achieve. But increasingly, the answer is that you need both—for your marketing and your research efforts. This seems daunting when you haven’t even gotten started, especially since the only thing you can be sure of is that the mobile ecosystem continues to evolve rapidly.

Browser and connection speeds continue to improve, narrowing the gap between app and browser for overall experience. The modern browser’s capability to play video and audio, as well as to capture rich data like GPS and photo, reduces the gap even further. These elements were previously only in the domain of apps, and amazingly, even offline operation doesn’t necessarily mean app any longer (although the maturity of services that leverage offline browser operation is in very early stages). 

The current limitations of browser-based approaches include lack of a home or dashboard experience for the user. Creating this is much easier on an app, and doing so allows for persistent log-ins and identity management. Navigation performance still leaves something to be desired in browsers, and only apps can fully allow for third party tool integration, location triggering and push notifications.

In short, apps can provide the best options when it comes to ongoing marketing engagement while the choice for research will be dependent on your research issues, country and sample requirements.

One of the great and challenging things about consumer mobility is that you don’t get to choose how your customers or respondents are going to interact with you. To illustrate the change in the mobile landscape, take a look at how GfK’s app-based studies have evolved over the past three years.

You can see trends as they emerge, such as the drastic and sudden decline of Blackberry, the surge in Samsung, and the emergence of new players like Pantech. You might think the decline of Blackberry is not a big story, but even in late 2012, it was still an important platform, and there are some real surprises.

The dominance of Android in terms of general market share is not necessarily mapping to engagement in marketing programs (like feedback programs and surveys). Interestingly, we see iOS growing in our studies. The reasons for this, when Android market share is clearly surpassing Apple in the marketplace, aren’t fully known, but we have some data and some hunches—part of this is the growth we can observe in iPad use for our programs. Another part of it could be that iOS is the preferred transition platform for Blackberry users. Regardless, quality of response seems consistent across platforms. For example, iOS and Android users exhibit an average difference of just 1.5% in length of time it takes to complete their surveys. There’s no compelling pattern across projects to date in this metric.

The Next Evolution

So what about Big Data, passive data and the supposed death of the survey? These trends will certainly play out in interesting ways, but the survey isn’t going anywhere. In fact, we believe the trend is about the usage of all da ta at our disposal to best understand and interact with people for marketing and research purposes. For example, you just have to look at how Google—the king of Big Data—is now promoting their survey business.

There are interesting back-office mechanics like data-stitching and imputation, but we think the more powerful evolution of mobile surveys will be uncovering opportunities to engage with customers that are sitting there right under our noses.

By the time you read this, Apple’s app store will have reached their one millionth app (there were 998,919 as of Dec. 9, 2013 according to 148Apps.biz, with 138 being added every day).The ability to embed a survey within your existing app and to trigger the survey experience based on user activity has never been easier. In fact, the ability to conduct research through passively monitoring digital behavior and triggering surveys at a specific site (with opt-in permission), is incredibly powerful to researchers and marketers who want to understand their target and competitors’ purchase journeys.    

Furthermore, we are seeing massive uptake in companies who are starting to capitalize on an often forgotten asset: their employees. Awareness of Voice of the Customer through the Employee (VoCE) programs are starting to expand as companies who aim to differentiate based on customer experience realize that frontline employees can offer unparalleled insight into what is happening within a marketplace or customer group. 

Two prime examples of mobile VoCE programs are:

1. Major retailers who run “non-buyer” surveys in their stores. As people leave the premises without making a purchase, an employee will ask them to complete a very short survey on a tablet device to understand the purpose of their visit and what prevented them for making a purchase on that occasion.

2. Industrial service, insurance companies and other mobile agent teams who leverage employees to understand what happens onsite and in the field. Such staff are perfectly placed to recognize patterns. When enabled to use their mobile devices to upload photos and details of what’s going on via a feedback app, it allows for not only aggregate analysis, but the ability to automate the escalation of important cases to managers for immediate resolution.

The Path Forward

Once marketers decide to push ahead with a mobile research strategy, how do you go about finding the right partner? As with any other innovative initiative, there should be a multi-disciplinary team and executive sponsorship to assess the landscape. However, at a tactical level, it’s important to determine which issues truly matter. And with so many opportunities to engage your customers in the moment and at the point of experience, there’s no better time to start than right now. 


Author Bio:

Patricia Graham and Sean Conry
Patricia Graham is the chief solution strategist of consumer experiences at GfK Custom Research. Sean Conry is vice president of mobile solutions at Confirmit. They can be reached at patricia.graham@gfk.com and sean.conry@confirmit.com, respectively.
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