Editor's note: Bala Rajan is vice president, qualitative research, at Vision Critical, a Vancouver, B.C., research company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared in the October 14, 2013, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.
Much has already been said about gathering consumer insights through mobile market research. Many articles talk about how mobile can potentially generate higher response rates across different consumer groups and how mobile consumer engagement can get answers much quicker.
And the buzz about mobile isn't just hype. Researchers can't ignore this growing market, as mobile currently represents one of the best opportunities for brands when it comes to getting closer to their customers.
But what's missing in the conversation about gathering feedback via mobile are the hurdles for insights professionals. The challenges go beyond simply providing a mobile-friendly platform. Below are some issues surrounding mobile research and suggestions that can help.
1. Capturing real motivations
Gathering input from customers is a lot about context. If a consumer says that s/he likes Earl Gray as opposed to English Breakfast, the next logical question is why? What is it about Earl Gray? Context leads to a better understanding of motivation.
Getting that context via a mobile device is often difficult. Given the amount of space available to answer questions on a mobile device, people tend to provide shorter answers, posting a few lines of text instead of a long, detailed paragraph. That's why it's sometimes tough to infer motivations from mobile responses.
Encouraging multimedia is one possible solution to this issue. A photo submitted by a respondent can often communicate much more than several sentences can. Asking for photos still requires insights professionals to interpret what consumers are actually saying but it also provides more information.
Thinking beyond just one method is another way of adding depth to the study's learning. Once the relevant information is captured via mobile devices, researchers can then use other methods (e.g., an online research community) to present the data back to consumers and allow them to elaborate.
2. Losing richness and color of comments
Ideal for capturing real-time thoughts and feelings, mobile helps brands get a sense of how consumers behave in action (e.g., on-premise, in-store behavior, during a commute, etc.). However, given the nature of the environment, people do not always answer in detail. While this behavior is comparatively suited for quantitative research, it affects qualitative research more.
Ultimately it comes down to study design. While researchers can ask consumers to log in on a PC to answer follow-up questions, brands sending out surveys need to set clear expectations while also providing a seamless experience. Treating consumers as partners and explaining why the company needs them to provide more information always helps.
3. Integrating qualitative and quantitative
Historically, the research industry has been slow in integrating qualitative and quantitative methodologies. While companies have been quick to make mobile-friendly surveys, they haven't been as quick in making the experience smooth for survey-to-discussion transitions.
Integrating qualitative and quantitative studies on mobile requires more than a mobile-responsive platform. The process takes some thought. A common approach is to present a survey and, based on people's responses, invite a segment to participate in a discussion forum. Today, insights professionals can use more than one methodology and more than one medium (i.e., desktop or mobile). Guided by their business needs and research objectives, researchers should think about the right environment to engage consumers.
4. Changing habits
For the research community, mobile is relatively new - a technology most appealing to the next-generation audience. For years, the industry has conditioned respondents to participate in research communities, requiring a laptop or desktop.
While research is increasingly push-driven, e-mail remains the most popular tool for encouraging respondents to complete surveys on a mobile device. Providing specific instructions and asking people to complete a survey while they are on their mobile device or while doing a specific action will help motivate participation. If a study needs to be completed on the respondent's phone, mention this in the e-mail subject, the body of the e-mail and in the survey or discussion itself.
A paradigm of relevance
Overall, research is evolving on a paradigm of relevance as we adapt to consumers' device preferences. With the use of largely-untapped advanced capabilities such geolocation and push capability, insights teams can engage consumers when it is relevant and on a device that suits them, adding to the accuracy and speed of research. Tomorrow's insights professionals can present personalized information on phone screens based on people's lifestyle, location and device. For the research arena, mobile is really just getting started. The industry has an enormous opportunity as long as researchers are cognizant of the challenges and can design studies that are mutually suited for consumers and businesses alike.