Did you know where your phone was? If you didn’t, did that question leave you feeling just a bit anxious? Cell phone dependency – while a subject of some controversy – has created a terrific opportunity for marketing research.
- Over 90% of American adults have a cell phone; 68% have a smartphone.
- Americans spend between 4 and 5 hours per day on their phones, checking them an average of 46 times per day – nearly three times each waking hour.
- Cell phone penetration has led to a new social phenomenon: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
- And recent research reports that nearly 60% of cell phone users believe they are “addicted” to their phones.
And while cell phone dependence has not yet become a medical or psychiatric diagnosis, it is undeniable that consumers view their phones as an extension of themselves. We are completely comfortable with this technology, integrating it fully into our daily lives. And because respondents have their phones with them any time of day, in their homes, in their cars, in stores, or at work, we can achieve higher participation rates and greater respondent engagement. And that comfort level is the source of opportunity for marketing research.
Conducting mobile research – either quantitatively or qualitatively – gives marketing researchers many benefits over traditional methodologies:
- We can observe and record consumer behavior in a real-world context, when and where behaviors occur. No more waiting for the consumer to get back to their phone or computer to recall what happened. We’re getting information as it happens.
- Sometimes, the presence or an interviewer or moderator causes respondents to modify their behavior or responses to make them more acceptable. Remove the moderator and replace them with in-the-moment data recording and observation, and you are much more likely to get “real” insight into your customer.
- Mobile research eliminates geographic constraints (especially for qualitative research): mobile respondents can be reached anywhere in the world, whether that means multiple countries, multiple cities, or multiple stores in one city. In fact, it is now possible to contact your customer by text as they are entering your store or restaurant to recruit them to participate in a research project.
- Mobile phones (plus mobile-optimized marketing research software) make it easy for participants to take and upload photos and videos as part of your research. Videos of the how a task is tackled by consumers or business people and photos of which products are being used for what purposes can be easily uploaded, analyzed, and then added to illustrate your report for additional richness, variety and insights.
We can adapt most traditional marketing research methodologies to mobile research. In fact, it is now considered best practice to include cell-phone sample in telephone interview projects as well as to optimize online surveys for completion on mobile devices. (Nearly 40% of all online surveys are completed on mobile devices.) Ethnographies, focus groups, in-depth interviews can all be completed by mobile devices, or you can enhance traditional methodologies by adding a mobile element or phase. For example, before coming to a focus group, ask respondents to create a video journey of their grocery shopping or to visit a certain restaurant. Or start with a telephone interview to create rapport with respondents, followed by text messages reminding them to record their in-the-moment behavior, and then follow-up interviews or focus groups to get additional detail, brainstorm solutions to identified challenges, or to react to potential messaging.
Mobile research is especially effective in business-to-business research. Have you ever tried to reach contractors, purchasing agents, ingredient buyers for marketing research? These people are not sitting in offices, in front of a computer or a landline telephone. They are out on the job site, in the warehouse, at the distribution center. But you can be sure they have their mobile phones with them! We have to design shorter surveys to get their participation, but that is better than trying to reach them in their offices.
Mobile research adds an exciting element to marketing research that overcomes many of the challenges we have struggled with in traditional methodologies. The additional flexibility, respondent engagement, and accessibility give us a new freedom for creativity in designing the optimal research approach. While mobile dependency may not be all upside for us as a society, as marketing researchers we have to hope there is no cure!