In the world of marketing research, mobile is the new Internet. Just over a decade ago, the industry underwent a significant metamorphosis as much of our research moved from paper and the telephone to the computer. Today the industry is faced with another transformation, this one caused by mobile technology and its expansion of our online research practices. Mobile is causing industry growing pains much like those experienced during the rise of the Internet – for there is no stopping the global force that is the mobile phone, and its usage by our research participants requires new processes and methodologies.

To date our industry has primarily focused its “research-on-research” attention on the issues surrounding mobile surveys. There have been many conference presentations and blog posts addressing how mobile device usage affects survey design, as well as identifying common survey components that mobile devices and browsers cannot support. In reality these issues are somewhat trivial in relation to other, more significant challenges that wide-scale mobile research adoption presents.

Mobile phone usage, and in particular smartphone usage, is exploding worldwide. In turn, mobile Web access is also exploding, and researchers can no longer predict or control which type of device (PC or mobile) a respondent will use to access surveys and panelist/community Web sites. At the same time, fewer research participants are entering surveys through the traditional means of the double opt-in panel. Many are recruited from social media or directly off of Web sites. These trends require the industry to look beyond mobile survey taking and consider how the rapid migration of Web browsing onto mobile devices impacts all components of online research participation. It’s time to think big!

Mobile research adoption is forcing significant changes in our recruitment strategies. Most researchers now agree that recruitment from social media sites and directly from Web sites – including mobile sites – are essential to create a representative sample. Use of social media is by far the fastest growing activity on the mobile phone, and as mobile social media usage increases, so does its implications for recruitment. Many participants recruited via social media may be very willing to engage in a survey project, but not willing to join a panel. This means that some participants will become panelists, while others will only participate randomly and “on the fly.” Common methodologies must be developed to determine how mobile recruitment and un-profiled participants affect the validity of research results.

 

To maximize the greater flexibility and reach that mobile implementation affords, survey, panel and community solutions must be multimode-enabled. All of these solutions are part of the continuous process of participant engagement, and the reality is that most people access the Web using both PCs and mobile phones. The industry cannot afford to alienate participants by failing to effectively utilize both device types in its research projects.

Creating a satisfactory multimode experience for participants requires that surveys and panelist/community Web sites are accessible – and easily maneuvered – regardless of the device. If a panelist can receive an invitation and complete a survey from their phone, they should be able to redeem incentives, retrieve passwords, participate in mini-polls, and update user information via their phone as well. Multimode solutions bring up uniformity issues however, in that the experience will be somewhat different for each participant based upon the capabilities of the device used. While common research activities cannot be made identical across devices and across the world, the ultimate goal is to make the recruitment, invitation, survey, and post-survey processes as similar as possible both on computers and on mobile phones. Doing so reduces participant confusion and makes it more likely that they will remain engaged over time and across devices.

Non-traditional panels intended solely for mobile research are emerging now as well. They are primarily intended to measure activities that take place on the mobile device itself, or to measure and interoperate with retailer programs. For mobile-only panels, use of downloadable mobile applications (“apps”) is emerging as an alternative to mobile panelist Web sites. Functionality not possible via mobile browser, such as bar code scanning and location determination, can be embedded in a mobile research app. Mobile apps may however be limiting in terms of the ease of functional upgrades, attracting a broad demographic, and working similarly across a wide array of mobile devices. Still, the ability to offer an end-to-end experience that includes all of the needed research functionality right on the mobile device is highly appealing, and will likely drive mobile app usage by our industry.

All of these issues, plus others not mentioned here, clearly indicate that the marketing research community has some big thinking to do. The expansion to mobile poses multiple challenges for marketing research, but it also offers our industry immense gain. Mobile usage enables us to broaden our reach, real-time communication channels and data collection vehicles. It offers new forms of metadata, greater ability to obtain research at point of sale/consumption, and the ability to garner responses from those who are not accustomed to participating in research. These benefits and opportunities, and the others that will undoubtedly emerge, will drive us forward to develop industry-wide mobile and multimode best practices, and ultimately reinvent the field of market research – again.