EmergeSmarter Blog

The Inevitability of Mobile Research

Posted on Wed, May 11, 2011

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Google’s recently +

released report, “The Mobile Movement: Understanding Smartphone Users,” was that it really didn’t seem surprising. Still, I believe that this research, done in partnership with Ipsos OTX Mobile ResearchMediaCT and included 5,013 U.S. smartphone users between the ages of 18 and 64, will be seen as a watershed event for MR. If anyone, anywhere harbored the slightest shadow of a doubt about the sea change that will engulf both the matter and the means of marketing research as a result of the widespread ownership of smartphones, that doubt should now be as dead as the recently deceased bin Laden.

Some complaints and caveats first. Yes, the study covered only smartphone users, currently something less than a third of cell users. Yes, there are many questions to be asked about the differences between this first third of smartphone adopters and the eventual segments that will emerge from the remaining two-thirds. Yes, the onslaught of a gazillion mostly Android smartphone models, at every conceivable price point, may well bring a lot more diversity to the demographics and habits of the smartphone segment. And, yes, a study that bases so many of its conclusions on questions of the form, “Have you ever used something/done something …” is at least guilty of hyping its findings. On that basis, every motorist who ever needed directions is lost.

But still. Slide after slide drives home the same conclusion: an overwhelming number of smartphone users are using their smartphones while … doing pretty much everything you can think of. Certainly Google has evidence of smartphones being used, regularly, in the midst of every conceivable “consumer” activity.

I choose that word deliberately, because it was clearly Google’s intent to focus on smartphone-owners-as-consumers. But whether it is thinking about, being entertained by, learning about, comparing, pricing, locating, getting to, or buying something , the stats pile up. Smartphone owners use their phones in the midst of … everything.

I feel as though some measure of surprise is due upon reading all this. (OK, I’m surprised that 43% of smartphone owners would give up beer in order to keep their phones.) But, as I read on, I find myself saying, “Of course, of course.” And, small sample though it is, every smartphone user I’ve spoken to has had the same sort of non-reaction. Because we’ve all seen this, all done this, all talked about this. We knew it all along – Google just provided proof.

Everything we’ve known about communication channels between commerce and customers is outmoded once people own smartphones. Or, better, is outmoded once the smartphone meme breeds and grows in the minds of smartphone owners. A year after your first smartphone and you’re using it in the midst of practically every aspect of your life. Not all the time, perhaps, but there’s almost no activity  where your smartphone hasn’t found a place. (Only 8% report taking theirs into the shower, but 39% take them into the bathroom. Sex was not asked about, apparently.)

Every model we’ve ever had about consumers interacting with brands is now, inadequate if it doesn’t include smartphones. All of the research we do simply has to be cognizant of this massive, immovable fact.

And every mechanism we use, as researchers, to contact people suddenly seems a bit … clunky. We want to know what’s going on in all of those thinking about, being entertained by, learning about, comparing, pricing, locating, getting to, or buying occasions, and we’ve almost invariably done that by getting people somewhere else, sometime when they’re away from all that, when they’re “free to talk” with us.

That may be fine. Fine for many things. But how can it be “fine” when we know full well that there is an open communications channel in the pocket or purse of every smartphone user? How can we continue to be marketing researchers unless we find ways to be there with people, in the moment, using, monitoring, assessing, and evaluating what’s going on right now? We can’t. It’s simply inevitable.

Tags: mobile research, Market Research