Mobile phones in marketing research 

Editor’s note: Frankline Kibuacha is the senior manager, digital marketing and outreach at GeoPoll. This is an edited article that originally appeared under the title “The Mobile Phone at 50! The Impact of Mobile on Research, and Future Outlook.” 

On April 3, 1973, Marty Cooper made the first ever call from a New York street on a large “personal, handheld, portable cell phone.” On April 3, 2023, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of that first mobile phone call, which marks a significant milestone in the history of telecommunications and how people communicate, work and live their daily lives. From its humble beginnings as a bulky and expensive device used only by the wealthy and influential, the mobile phone has now become an essential tool used by billions of people worldwide. 

Today, mobile phone penetration rates are at an all-time high, with over 5 billion people worldwide owning a mobile phone and over 3.8 billion owning a smartphone. One of the areas where mobile phones have had a significant impact is in the field of market research. Mobile phones revolutionized marketing research and made it easier and more affordable to reach a large number of people quickly and efficiently. 

The impact of mobile phones on the marketing research industry

Mobile phones greatly impacted research. Gone are the days of sending teams with a pen and paper into the field and deploying scores of data entry staff to capture the paper data into computers. Mobile phones have made it possible to conduct research in areas where it would have been difficult or impossible, such as rural areas or developing countries. Here are some of the positive impacts that the mobile phone has had on research:

Real-time, remote data collection: Mobile phones have made it easier and more affordable to reach a large number of people quickly and efficiently. 

More accuracy: Mobile phones have made it possible to collect data in a way that is more engaging and interactive than traditional methods, such as face-to-face interviews or paper surveys. The result is a higher response rate, more accurate data and enhanced quality.

High-quality data: Mobile-based research methods enable researchers to collect high-quality data in a structured and standardized format. Mobile phones also make it possible to collect data to minimize respondent error, as respondents can be guided through the survey process without human interference, reducing bias and human error.

Large sample sizes: Mobile phones make it possible to reach many people quickly and efficiently. In many countries, mobile penetration rates have surpassed 100% of the population, with smartphone uptake averaging about half of that. This enables researchers to collect data from a large sample size, improving the statistical power of their analysis and increasing the accuracy of their results. 

Wider data offering: With the rise of smartphones, researchers now have access to a wealth of data, including geolocation data, which can be used to gain insights into consumer behavior and preferences.

Flexibility: Mobile research gives researchers choices. For example, if SMS hits a snag, the research can be moved to a phone call or messaging app without significant impact on timelines and cost. 

The future of mobile research 

The future of mobile-based research looks promising, as the use of mobile phones for data collection continues to grow. Here are some references and trends that suggest why mobile-based research will play an important role in the future:

Increased smartphone penetration: According to a report by GSMA Intelligence, the number of unique mobile subscribers worldwide is expected to reach 5.9 billion by 2025, with smartphone penetration reaching 80% globally by the same year. This means that more people will have access to mobile phones, enabling researchers to reach a wider audience for data collection.

The rise of the mobile-first generation: The younger generation is increasingly mobile-first, with a significant proportion of them using mobile devices as their primary means of accessing the internet. As this generation becomes the primary consumers and decision-makers, mobile-based research will be essential in understanding their preferences and behaviors.

Technology advancements: Mobile technology is advancing rapidly, with innovations such as 5G networks and AI-powered chatbots becoming more widely available. These advancements will enable researchers to collect more data in real-time and will open new data analysis and interpretation opportunities.

Emerging countries will increase use of mobile-based research: Developing countries have been slower to adopt traditional research methods, such as face-to-face interviews or paper surveys. However, the widespread availability of mobile phones in these countries means that mobile-based research methods are increasingly being used to collect data. This will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of consumer behavior and preferences in these countries.

Data privacy is becoming more important: With the introduction of data privacy laws, such as GDPR and CCPA, researchers must ensure that their data collection methods comply with these regulations. Mobile-based research methods, such as SMS surveys, are often more transparent and secure than traditional methods, which will make them increasingly popular in the future.

Mobile-based research will become essential for understanding consumer behavior and preferences as mobile phones continue to play an increasingly important role in people’s lives. It’s a revolution that will increasingly be hard to ignore.

Mobile phones will continue to impact the marketing research and insights industry

The 50th anniversary of the first mobile phone call is a significant milestone highlighting the impact of mobile phones on the world. The use of mobile phones for marketing research has been a key part of this impact. As mobile phones continue to evolve, we can expect to see even more innovative uses of mobile-based research in the future.