Last week I attended the annual Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) conference in Palm Springs. It was a great event and I learned a lot. One of the sessions I found of particular interest was on mobile market research; that is, using cell phones to conduct market surveys.
A bit of background from the April 2009 Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project report:
- 85% of adult Americans have a cell phone and, of this group, fully 81% of them have at one time used it for a purpose other than making a phone call
- On a typical day, more than half of cell users (52%) have used it for a non-voice data activity, such as texting, emailing, snapping a picture, etc.
- 65% of all cell/PDA users have ever sent or received a text message; 43% do so on a “typical day”
- 50% of those age 50-64 have ever sent/received a text message (compared to 76% of those age 30-49) and 23% of those age 50-64 send/receive texts on a typical day (vs. 51% of those age 30-49)
- 40% of whites send/receive texts on a typical day, that number rises to 47% for African-Americans and 59% for Latinos
It’s no wonder that mobile research is of great interest to marketers! The primary benefit of this method is collecting real-time reactions as they happen. Highlights from the presentation made by Shaili Bhatt and Shamsu Bhaidani at the conference:
- Mobile research is best used with short questions and when trying to reach “on the go” participants
- If daily responses are needed on a specific topic, mobile research can be used as a quick journaling tool (e.g., “was it a good hair day today or a bad one and why?” or “how’s your hair today?”)
- Mobile research can be used for pre-session homework to support other forms of research
- Questions can be pushed out to participants (e.g., after a TV show they’ve been asked to watch has aired or during the lunch-hour about how they decided what to eat) and/or participants can answer on their own as the activity happens (e.g., doctors sending in short messages when/why they prescribe a particular drug)
- For those with web-enabled phones, participants often can choose to link to a website to enter their response, which allows them to write a message longer than SMS text limits (often 136-160 characters)
- New formats are coming, such as EMS, MMS, and MIM. All allow for greater content sharing, such as the use of images, audio, animation, and in the latter case, two-way communication (on-the-spot follow up questions – wow!)
A few issues for consideration, from my point of view:
- Privacy is a concern. Company-owned phones or phones synched with company systems may be monitored for legal compliance reasons, even when the employee pays their own bill. This might be fine for general interest topics, but certain subjects need careful screening to help protect the participant.
- Since this isn’t something that’s cost effective if you only have a single question that you need to ask, I hope the time comes soon when a company offers an omnibus text service. If we can do this online effectively, having a mobile omnibus should be a snap and would be great for those harder-to-reach audiences. (Note: omnibus studies are typically quantitative, and I imagine that would be the case here too. Although, there’s no reason why someone couldn’t commission follow-up questions with a sub-sample.)
- Someone in our session asked a question about mobile research’s ability to work in conjunction with GPS systems. (That is, the GPS on the phone would tell the system when you were, for example, at the drug store and time the question push or reminder to that event.) We’re not there quite yet, from what I understand; however, I believe this will take mobile to a whole new level.
There are several services available we can work with that have the infrastructure to conduct surveys via mobile devices. Any questions? Let’s discuss.