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Making the move to mobile research: A primer for client and supplier-side research professionals

Article ID:
February 2014
Patricia Graham and Sean Conry

Article Abstract

The authors outline the internal processes behind their decision to use mobile methods for CPG and pharmaceutical research projects.

Editor's note: Patricia Graham is chief solution strategist, consumer experiences at GfK Custom Research, Chicago. Sean Conry is vice president business development, mobile solutions in the Vancouver, British Columbia office of research company Confirmit.

It is no secret that mobile is a tremendous opportunity for market researchers. The most recent version of the annual Confirmit Market Research Software Survey by Tim Macer and Sheila Wilson of meaning ltd. reported that participation in normal online surveys via mobile devices nearly doubled in just one year. In contrast, just a year earlier, the mobile opportunity seemed to be passing us by, when Macer and Wilson’s study found that a full 62 percent of research firms had no policy whatsoever for engaging mobile respondents.

When it comes to companies not in the business of providing research services, the Temkin Group found that 68 percent of firms planned to focus more on their mobile experience in 2013 (Customer Experience Plans and Expectations for 2013). While we wait to see how 2013 actually finished with respect to this goal, the hype and hope are there. Yet uncertainty lingers about how to execute a mobile research strategy – via apps, Web, SMS and more – and business leaders are still uncertain about what the impact of a successful campaign looks and feels like.

Now that companies are aware that mobile can be a crucial component to market research programs, the next step is for companies to focus on how they can effectively execute their mobile plans. In this article, we aim to demystify the mobile research process by spending less time talking about the future of mobile and more time talking about two mobile programs we recently planned, executed and analyzed for a major consumer packaged goods (CPG) company and a pharmaceutical provider within a health care setting. For both, the core ingredients for success were:

The players: determining who within an organization to involve in the campaign strategy, decision and execution.

The platforms: evaluating the pros and cons of SMS, mobile Web and mobile applications as engagement platforms.

The path to getting started: build vs. buy decisions and how to evaluate vendors to find the best fit.

The process and performance: getting started, what to expect and analyzing business impact.

For any new technology, mobile or not, it’s necessary to create a roadmap that outlines the adoption process and introduces a robust framework for business transformation.

Both the CPG and pharmaceutical company sought to solve a business problem for which none of the traditional approaches seemed to quite fit. Each needed to get closer to its customers and influencers and there was a realization that context was key. The CPG company wanted better visibility into how people used its baking products, under what circumstances they used them and with whom. This information would help fine-tune audience segmentation and uncover add-on or cross-marketing opportunities.

The pharmaceutical company wanted real-time insight from oncologists about how a drug was performing, why and when a doctor prescribed it, concerns or questions from patients and specific reasons why a doctor might switch medication treatment options.

A mobile research campaign – with its benefits of immediacy, portability and audience ease of use – would transform what was historically a projective exercise (“What do you think you will do?”) to an in-the-moment exercise (“Take us along with you the next time you…”).

The players

How many cooks should you invite to the kitchen? For any new process to be implemented or organizational change to take place, leaders from all affected business units must take part. If this is your organization’s first foray into mobile research, it is best to get the right people excited and collaborating as soon as possible. After all, the results will become assets across the company, not just in one division. These people will be your early adopters and will bring the rest of the organization with them through telling others about the value and experience.

Thus, leaders from operations, panel relations, client service, VOC and IT should be brought together. It is also our experience that initiatives directed top-down from the chief strategy officer (or equivalent) carry a greater deal of weight and therefore, a shared commitment for success.

Once our core teams were in place, we reviewed the mobile strategy in light of the potential benefits to end-users of research, not only for one direct line of business but also as a means of delivering very current attitudinal and behavioral information across the enterprise.

The platforms

The three main modes of mobile research data collection platforms are SMS, mobile Web and mobile applications. We evaluated the pros and cons of each.

SMS – or text-message – data collection has a unique benefit of being able to reach just about every phone in use today. However, the mode suffers from a few key limitations:

  • text-only data collection limits question types available to research designers; 
  • SMS communications have a limit of 140 characters per message; although some users have access to MMS (the more highly capable multimedia messaging service), many do not and thus branding and visual appeal are limited; 
  • text messages can be delayed in delivery and thus a “ping-pong” approach to asking questions increases the burden on the respondent; 
  • text message surveys can become costly for respondents without an unlimited text plan.

Because of these factors, the maximum length of a text-message survey is about five questions. This mode is extremely useful for quick polls but not for interactive research which will enable new insights.

The mobile Web is a compelling offering relative to SMS in terms of enhancing question types and visual appeal of a mobile survey and is very well-suited to one-off surveys delivered by e-mail or text. The mobile Web is a preferred mode for an organization that wants to offer simple Internet studies on a wide variety of devices, whether feature-rich or not.

In contrast to the mobile Web, mobile apps can more easily take advantage of the native capabilities of a device, such as the camera, microphone and other sensors. While this is changing with the ever growing adoption of HTML5 and there are now mechanisms to collect Web-submitted photos, an app provides a dedicated experience on a consumer’s phone and therefore provides a destination to which they can return for ongoing participation. There is also less waiting with apps, as they rely on device processing power as opposed to the strength of the device’s Internet connection at the time of capture and upload. In our experience, these are the unique capabilities most likely to open new research and thus revenue opportunities.

Mobile apps lend themselves to many scenarios, including young-adult research, longitudinal diaries of behaviors and attitudes, mobile ethnography and in-the-moment insights.

Furthermore, although apps need Internet access at some point for communications, they do not require a continual connection in order to make participation viable. They can therefore be used on transit underground, deep within a concrete building or even on an airplane.

After evaluating all three mobile research platforms in light of the research objectives, we chose mobile apps for both the CPG and pharmaceutical company initiatives. The ability to incorporate elements like location, videos and pictures helped formulate apps that were fun and engaging and, most importantly, widely used and successful.

In fact, we are increasingly seeing hybrid approaches across the various platforms to benefit from the best of both worlds. For example, methods that combine apps for in-the-moment quick, multimedia-rich feedback, with Web-based surveys to follow-up and dig more deeply into the respondent experience and resulting activities are proving extremely useful. However, at the time of these projects we opted to keep it simple and begin with a single-platform initiative.

The path to getting started

In both cases, our team was faced with the decision of choosing to adapt current in-house survey systems to offer the mobile app capability or select a new system that specialized in the task. Given the speed at which mobile technology is advancing, coupled with the availability of existing technology to meet the research need described above, a decision was quickly made by GfK to leverage a market solution provided by Confirmit rather than to build it on a proprietary basis.

GfK’s IT team was heavily involved in the decision and during the vendor search it focused on the operational requirements that would enable us to deploy the mobile app to online panels efficiently and cost-effectively.

The evaluation of the marketplace and potential partner selection process took place over a 12-week period to fully understand the available and future technology landscape.

Vendor selection criteria included the requirements delineated below.

Primary considerations: multilingual support; picture and video support; devices supported (platform-agnostic); licensing model; staff needed for programming; survey logic allowed (piping, conditional, etc.); data exports; offline data capture; types of questions able to deploy; future plans – strategic direction; vendor experience, vendor development plans; user satisfaction feedback; ability to white-label the respondent experience.

Secondary considerations: real-time reporting; other multimedia (photo capture, etc.); GPS support; browser-based vs. app; emulator; program language supported; ability to add survey functions; quotas possible; redirect to URL; hosted vs. on-premise server.

The process and performance CPG mobile app

For the CPG mobile app, a panel of 10,000 customers was screened for smartphone qualification as well as providing mobile contact information. The screener had a completion rate of 47.6 percent and of those who completed the screener, 33.8 percent fully qualified and opted-in for mobile app research.

For this initiative, we wanted to know what the customer was currently baking (including recipe), who the baked item was intended for, how baking the item made the respondent feel and how the ingredients were chosen. We also requested pictures of the baking process and the final product.

While we had expected to be in field for seven-to-10 days, the quota was filled within two days, with 64 percent filled within the first five hours of launch (Figure 1). Keeping in mind that this was a task- or activity-based exercise, the results exceeded expectations.

What was also eye-opening was the level of intimacy and the holistic views we achieved from our respondents through the combination of qualitative and quantitative elements. We received photos and videos of people baking and a complete willingness and excitement to share personal experiences and stories with the brand.

The pharmaceutical mobile app

Typically, obtaining physician feedback for marketing research purposes can take several weeks. Surveys are completed hours, if not days, after seeing a patient and the time delay can impact a physician’s recollection of the patient’s emotions and specific questions asked. Pharmaceutical companies rely on this important information to help determine ways to better develop, adapt and market therapies to improve patient outcomes.

According to a Mobile KN study of 363 oncologists, 87 percent own smartphones. With this knowledge, we incorporated video, photos and audio capabilities into a mobile application survey to give oncologists options for immediately communicating feedback to the pharmaceutical company.

Following a screening process, 180 oncologists participated in the program and were instructed to complete a five-minute mobile survey after meeting with a patient moving into a second line of treatment.

The program had tremendous success, including:

  • 242 patients profiled by oncologists;
  • pictures, voice and video that brought emotion to the statistics (80 percent of the oncologists provided a video, picture or voice recording with their feedback);
  • real-time insight into specific treatment decisions including factors such as efficacy, safety, economics, patients’ influence over the treatment decisions, etc.

Oncologists raved about the mobile survey application and said it was “exciting, interesting and convenient to use.” Other oncologists asked for “more surveys like this” and noted that it was “nice to be able to complete a survey on my device wherever I am and at my own convenience.”

Personal, portable, available

We attribute the success of both mobile initiatives to having converted the research into a conversation with the respondent that was personal, completely portable and available, contextual and relevant. These are aspects that, when deployed appropriately via mobile apps, can achieve a holistic view of the consumer experience.

Through our approach we: found novel and unexpected ways to grow lines of business; uncovered opportunities to emotionally connect with audiences; gathered valuable and unique content from key customers and patients; provided evidence of target markets using a product in real time; and determined the impact of customer/patient emotions and attitudes.

These results, coupled with our experiences to date, confirm that mobile research can indeed help us learn something we did not know before, something that leads to new actions large and small.

Are you convinced that the “mobilesphere” is the place to access and engage with customers, physicians and patients? If so, how will you get started making the move to mobile-based research?

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