[I published this article a week ago on the MRMW site, but I suspect the topic may be of interest to this group as well.  Any feedback is welcome!]

Anyone interested in consumer market research must embrace mobile research. Now.

That’s been the recent theme of various discussion posts, tweets, and articles.

And it is utter nonsense. Here’s why:

  1. Generalizations about research methodologies are always faulty.  Anyone with actual market research experience knows that different research efforts have different goals, target populations and parameters—and thus need different methodologies. There is no silver bullet in market research.  Whenever I see someone waving the mobile research flag (or any other single solution flag) with these gross generalities, they lose all credibility with me.
  2. “Mobile research” is a dangerously broad category name. I have talked to many, many market researchers who assume “mobile research” means the mobile delivery of online surveys.  Perhaps this is because so many people equate the phrase “online research” with “online surveys” (though to be precise, online research also includes online focus groups, online polls, online interviewing, and more). We need to be far more precise about the specific methods and not just overhype the generic category of “mobile research.” As a phrase, “mobile research” is meaningless and poorly conveys the true potential of mobile devices as market research platforms. Better would be “mobile ethnography”, “mobile polling”, “mobile video feedback”, “mobile IDIs” and so on. Those are names that are precise enough to be meaningful and accurately represent methodologies. Heck, I’d even settle for “mobile quant” and “mobile qual” (ok, not really, but you get the point).
  3. We have insufficient data on mobile method effectiveness and limitations.  It’s easy to hypothesize that surveys delivered at the time of a retail transaction will yield better data than those delivered via email 2 days later. It’s tempting to assume that people who opt-in to mobile panels are just as “representative” as those who sign-up for other panels (I used quotations here since this term in itself is always a lightning rod for debate).  It’s intoxicating to think that all mobile devices are a single category (hint: they are not). But until I see more actual data based on rigorous testing of mobile data collection versus other modes, I can only suggest to my clients that they “test” mobile. Has there been any research-on-research about mobile? Yes, but very little.  The two studies I have seen from which actual highlights have been released are helpful (the one from Nielsen does have some promising teasers and the one from Cint and EasyInsites is a solid start—kudos to both firms for starting us off), but as researchers we know there is tougher testing that needs to be done before we can draw informed, objective conclusions. 
  4. “Mobile” itself is not that exciting as a market research trend. To me, the exciting development is the happy convergence of A) increased interest in observational methods (versus self-reporting) with B) a widely proliferated physical infrastructure (mobile devices and the networks that connect them) that is exciting. 

 

Being Credible Means Being Objective

Yes, mobile technology enables cool possibilities. Devices with video capture, video display, location data, touch screens, scanners and voice recognition can be used for both quantitative and qualitative purposes—many of which we have not yet even thought of. But until we have more rigorous testing complete and reviewed, let’s avoid overhyping the meaninglessly broad category of “mobile research.”  A good researcher knows we should always under-promise and over-deliver.  At this point, we don’t know what we can promise, so we must be cautious and precise.