At the risk of sounding pretty dense, am I the only one who is confused as to what is meant by Mobile Market Research? This is the topic of many conferences, articles and webinars, but the “mobile” part is almost always discussed without any attempt to define it.
Did I miss the memo?
From my reading of recent material, there seem to be two possible meanings for “mobile” ~ one that is device-based and one that is location-based.
1. Device-Based Mobile
Even today, three years after the introduction of the iPad and the rapid growth of the tablet category, most references to “mobile” research in the literature and presentations refer to research using smartphones. Either no distinction is made as to the device in question or tablets are deliberately excluded from the analysis to make the PC/online vs. mobile comparison binary and neater.
No doubt this will change and soon we will have comparative studies that break out tablets as a category distinct from smart phones.The latest Pew data show tablet ownership soaring, doubling among some key demographic groups in the past year. In years to come, it will be interesting to see if owners of both devices are willing to pay to upgrade their smartphone when they already have a tablet that is preferable for browsing, games and entertainment.
The problem with ignoring the tablet and drawing equivalency between the smartphone and “mobile market research”, is that the best practices often advocated for mobile surveys assume that we are dealing exclusively with small screen sizes and its challenges – limited real estate for both show and tell, trouble touching in the right place, difficulty reading the fonts, etc.
But it is clear that the best practices for surveys done on smartphones do not apply to tablets. I have fielded dozens of surveys on tablets using a survey app that was designed specifically for the iPad. Lengthy surveys with rich question styles, including open-ends, did not appear to faze respondents as long as the subject matter interested them. Indeed, they usually enjoyed the experience.
Though browser-based online surveys are intended to be viewed on a computer, they may “unintentionally” be taken on a smartphone or tablet. The device is at the discretion of the respondent and is detected during analysis. Recognizing this, developers are using responsive design to adjust the survey to smaller screens, and may even reduce down the number and complexity of questions. This is seen as resulting in a “mobile” survey, when really the survey is simply being “device-optimized”.
Rather than trying to dumb down tablet surveys to smartphone standards, savvy developers will welcome the graphical and interactive potential of tablets to increase respondent engagement.
2. Location-Based Mobile
Location Specific: Mobile
A second common meaning of mobile market research seems to be research that is conducted “on the go” and “in the moment”. Here, location clearly matters in the design of the research. No one would argue against this definition of “mobile” market research.
This is “here and now” research where the place and time frame the study and are included as data points. Examples of this are:
- An in-store survey of reactions to packaging, triggered by geo-fencing.
- Uploading videos of everyday activities as part of a digital ethnography.
- A quick response to one of a series of a micro surveys – “what are you doing now?”
- App based surveys in locales like trade shows and conferences.
Location Agnostic: Not Mobile
For most surveys and some qualitative research, however, it really does not matter where people are when they participate. This is a world without walls, and persisting in using a mobile vs static overlay is meaningless.
If there are no questions or tasks tied to a specified place or time, the respondent is free to choose where and when to complete the survey – at home, at work, in a waiting room, on a train, in a restaurant, on the patio, in bed, and so on.
All that matters is that the research instrument be device-optimized. That’s it. And as we move towards most of our devices being personal and portable, persisting in using a mobile vs pc distinction is also meaningless. Will almost all market research be “mobile”?
Optimizing our research for smartphones, tablets and whatever comes next, with the understanding that it is the respondent who controls location, is just market research. Only the tools are new.
1. Mobile research is not “smartphone research”. Devices are changing along with where and how they are used, and will continue to change far into the future. Limiting the definition of Mobile Market Research to what the Brits call “mobiles” (or to any portable device, for that matter) is a mistake.
2. When it comes to best practices, it is crucial that surveys and other forms of research are optimized for the device, whatever that might be – a smartphone, tablet, wearable…
3. Most of all, we need “responsive” surveys that are not dumbed down versions of online surveys, but provide a richer and more engaging experience for the respondent, taking full advantage of what each type of device offers. Ditto for qualitative research.
4. Mobile Market Research is that designed to collect responses and experiences in the “Here and Now”. If location doesn’t matter, the research isn’t mobile – simple as that.
5. Indeed, if we persist in using “mobile” for any research that is conducted away from home, on smartphones or tablets, the word will become meaningless. The very idea of a “home” location is irrelevant in a world of personal, portable, untethered devices.
Now, about the definition of “insights”…..