Back in 2008, technology trend guru Mary Meeker predicted that mobile internet usage would overtake desktop usage by 2014. So, in the summer of 2015, when Google announced that for the first time in history mobile search queries surpassed desktop ones, it didn’t cause a big fuss. It was just another inevitable milestone in the ever-increasing usage of mobile devices.
Today, we are long past this tipping point. It’s official, we live in the mobile age. The rapid expansion of smartphone ownership across the globe has transformed the way we communicate, interact, shop and digest information. We consume content on multiple screens, we navigate through unknown cities using our smart phones, we listen to music on them; we interact through them and with them, we speak to them and they answer; and they have the ability to interact between themselves. Few technologies have had the same profound impact on society, and we are still a long way from understanding them completely.
In this article, we sketch a picture of what the advent of mobile means for market intelligence and offer a glimpse of insight into what is beyond.
Reach. Being mobile-friendly is not an option in online surveys anymore; it’s a must if you want to conduct representative research. According to a study by Deloitte, 85% of the UK adult population now owns a smartphone, an increase of more than 30 percentage points since 2012. With mobile usage continuing to rise, you risk omitting a significant share of the population if your survey is not fit for mobile. This is especially true for specific groups including Millennials, Silver Surfers – for whom smartphone adoption is increasing – and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, people living in developing markets. Very few owned a PC in recent past, but smartphone penetration is booming.
Engagement. Lightspeed GMI estimates surveys that are 100% mobile optimised have 20% better feasibility, 20% faster completion, and 20% more diverse audiences than those that aren’t. Why? Because smartphones enable you to engage with people in their natural environment, at a time that is convenient to them, via a medium that suits them.
Smartphone makeup of limited screen space and small keyboards has forced the research industry to redesign the, sometimes clunky, online survey into something more engaging and intuitive. Respondents can tap, click and swipe to participate in research at their convenience.
Always on. Unlike tablets, laptops or desktops, our mobile phones are almost always switched on. We devote hours of attention to our shiny little gadgets, with suggestions of addiction to mobile devices more common than you might think. In 2018 the average time spent using a smartphone is set to be over two hours2. All these things contribute to our extended availability to participate in research… not to mention hours spent reading email, shopping, watching our favourite show or social networking. This ‘always on’ mentality results in faster and higher response rates for mobile surveys. Is there a best time to connect? That depends on the subject matter and audience, but be aware of intruding at inappropriate times. This 2017 survey for example shows that we’re very adept at multi-tasking with our smartphone. 50% of the people use their phones when using public transport (and 10% when crossing the road – be careful please!).
Moments of truth. Landing your survey at the most opportune moment is important for increasing participation levels and understanding the truest representation of experience.
Mobile research and data technology make it possible to connect with people at the exact moment of happening. You can now contact respondents seconds after they have completed any type of transaction. Someone just visited your shop? No problem, geotagging can tell you the person was in the store so you can send a quick survey. A person visited your booth at a conference? Why not put a QR code for the person to scan and tell you more about his experience? A customer called your contact centre to complain? What a great opportunity to get her to tell you how the interaction went. Mobile research puts brands closer to people and to the moments-of-truth than they’ve ever been before.
Passive Data. Perhaps the biggest impact the mobile era has on research is the opportunity it creates to harness insights. The geotagging feature is by all means one of the keys to that. You can map where the person is going, even within the confined space of a shop, and analyse the results to impact this journey. Combined with survey data, it brings your insights to the next level.
Geotagging itself is representative of the broader shift towards gathering passive data. Everyone leaves a large number of breadcrumbs behind these days and it’s a matter of being able to gather them and connect them in a meaningful way to recreate their journeys. It is possible to get data about your customers’ browsing history, the apps they have on their phones and the usage of these apps, and about the usage of their phones in general. You no longer need to rely on a respondent’s recollection of certain events – you can tap into the power of the ubiquitous data-generating device that we call a smartphone and get the data.
Paint a picture. Mobile research empowers respondents to actively create more data. They are able to answer an open-ended question by recording a video or a voice response. These can then be analysed automatically to give a sense not only of what the respondent is saying, but also about the way she’s saying it – tone, expression, speed, etc. Respondents can also take and submit photos to complete tasks, removing the element of doubt or reliance on memory. Can you tell me the exact model name of your steam iron if I asked you to? Probably not, but a photo upload would answer the question. Instead of asking a respondent to describe the way they wear their hair, why not just ask them to take a picture of themselves?
Some believe that this is the beginning of the end of the smartphones. For the first time in history, smartphone sales are in decline and, while new smartphone models were a major part of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, 5G and Internet of Things stole the show. So, what’s next for mobile research? In a nutshell, more passive data and non-screen research. In the coming years we can expect more work to be done using user-generated content (think text and images), voice research using voice assistant devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo, and why not the universalisation of techniques like eye tracking and neuroimaging. This means mobile research will not simply equal research on mobile devices. It means mobile research will be about getting in touch with an ever-elusive customer (nay, person), in a non-invasive, seamless way.