EmergeSmarter Blog

Embracing the New World of Mobile Research

Posted on Fri, Dec 2, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

The pace at which smartphones and other mobile devices are coming to define how we interact and communicate is amazing. We have noted it before and we see the impact intensifying where ever we look.

  • The US Army is experimenting with smartphones in combat.  In the past, the military has spurred the development of communications devices, hardened for battle.  But, the economy and ubiquity of smartphones are just too enticing.  What is more, the familiarity of virtually every young soldier with these devices makes training and integration seamless.

But, using smartphones has the potential for fundamentally changing military culture.   Individual soldiers on the battlefield can receive real-time intelligence unmediated by the traditional chain of command.  Each soldier can know immediately the location of friendly forces as well as the enemy.  Information can be distributed instantly among all the soldiers in an area.  Hierarchies are flattened and communication is effectively two-way.Mobile Research Survey

  • On a lighter note, Rebecca Greenfield notes how the smartphone has eliminated the need for all sorts of devices we used to regard as essential — cameras, watches, iPods, wallets.  She calls this the “Smartphonication of Stuff.”  And, while we have had cameras and watches for some time, the iPod (and even its ancestor the Walkman) is comparatively recent.  The smartphone has rendered it obsolete in the space of a mere generation.
  • Finally, as an example of how culture is bending to the ethos of smartphones, a theater in Seattle is planning to allow patrons use their phones during performances.  No more requests that all phones and recording devices be turned off.  As the theater’s executive director said, “Simply forbidding it and embarrassing people is not the way to go.

So we are wiring the building in anticipation of finding ways to make it work over time."

We all know that the march of mobile communications will change fundamentally how we conduct research, but these stories suggest how significant that change can be.

  • Many of us can be quite enthusiastic about the ability of consumers to send their “answers” to us wherever they are.  We can eavesdrop on their reactions in the moment.  But, just like the soldiers in the army’s experiment, they will want to see the hierarchy flatten; they will expect more control.  Consumers will demand to frame the questions as well as provide the responses.
  • The smartphone may have rendered the camera and the watch obsolete.  For many people, it will render the computer obsolete.  Reflect on how quickly netbooks faded from the scene.  We already had a much better “small computer,” our phones.  There was a time when any project began with the question, “Should we do it on-line or over the phone?”  Now we are asking, “Should we have a mobile component in the project?”  In a few years, we will simply take for granted that our consumers are answering on their mobile devices.
  • We will need to engage consumers in a way that makes sense in the culture of the smartphone and the social network.  No longer can we expect to bend them to our style and approach.  Consumers accepted the “social science survey” and the “focus group” when the one-way interview defined the environment.  But, when environment is structured by the shout-out — “Who knows a great place for dinner and meet me there?” — a semantic differential just won’t cut it.

To be successful in the future, to be able to hear the voices of consumers in all their tones and timbres, we will need to adjust our ears to the new reality.  In fact, we are likely to become more listeners and collaborators and less askers and analyzers.  As the Seattle theater director said, we have to find “ways to make it work.”

Tags: mobile research, Market Research, market research tools

Why Marketing Research Gets Mobile Wrong

Posted on Thu, Sep 29, 2011

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

Mobile. The next big thing, right? Well, maybe or maybe not. I’ve just been Googling mobile marketing research topics, downing a few white papers, and reading some conference presentations, and it strikes me that an awful lot of marketing researchers simply don’t understand what mobile means for the research business or the impact it’s going to have.

Here’s the problem: Imagine you’re a buyer of marketing research. Today. Now. You’ve got more questions and issues than you can easily cram into your limited budget and timeline. You’ve worked up a survey research design, and you’re balancing sample costs against the sample sizes you need for the analysis.Mobile Research

Then someone points out that some of your key segments are going to be pretty difficult to get. People who are very mobile. People who don’t have home computers and internet connections. “But they have cell phones,” says someone else. “We could maybe interview them on their phones!” Briefly, your spirits soar – you’ll add an online sub-sample!

Then the realities hit: short interviews, something called a “mobile template,” increased sample costs, a whole new technology to tackle, and a methodological nightmare to merge the mobile data and findings with the rest of the project. The benefits aren’t enough to justify the approach. “Great idea, though. We’ll have to keep that in mind.”

This is totally wrong. It’s not just wrong today, for today’s project – you almost certainly made the right choice for your already over-burdened, under-funded current project. But it’s wrong for tomorrow, and wrong for the industry.

Because mobile isn’t simply a matter of sample. Mobile is about culture. More specifically, it’s about culture change. And you’re very likely to be part of that change already.

Don’t believe me? Do you have a smartphone? Have you had it for at least six months? OK – answer this question: Out of the last ten times you checked your email, how many times did you use your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone? Office computer? Home computer? Tablet?

I’ve been paying attention to my own behavior for the last week or so, and I’d guess that out of ten tries, I check email 4 times on my phone, 5 times on my office computer, once on my tablet, and I probably didn’t use my home computer at all.

Now think about those times when you used your phone: Where were you? For me, I check my email using my phone from lots of places: sitting at home with the phone at my side, driving to or from work, running errands on weekends, in the office when I’m away from my desk. And that’s where the culture shift lies.

I have my phone on me most of the time – it’s sitting on my desk as I write this on my office computer. And I use it almost everywhere, including a few times when I’ve already got Outlook running on a computer right in front of me. I’ll bet you do the same.

My phone is with me most of the time. It’s my personal device, the one I have close to me no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

The smartphone is the logical culmination of what people talked about in the 80s and 90s when they got enthused about how personal the desktop computer was. Here, for the first time, were computers designed to be used by a single person, with all kinds of ways that they could be customized to that person’s tastes. Screensavers, wallpaper, custom menus and button bars, programs you liked and used – all eons away from the big iron where you might have had a timesharing account.

The smartphone is the most personal PC yet. The longer you have one, the more you find yourself using it, often for things you thought you’d never do on such a small device, in places where you never used your previous “not”-smart phone. Over time, you find yourself expecting to use it for just about anything that you can use it for. And you’re increasingly annoyed when you can’t – when a web site doesn’t render using a mobile template and forces you to endure a nightmare of zooming and hitting links inadvertently because it’s cramped, crowded layout is hostile to your little screen and big fingers. Or when a survey invitation dumps you into a questionnaire clearly designed with the expectation that you’re sitting at a keyboard, looking at a big screen, and navigating with a mouse. When you’re not in the “mobile sub-sample” because the marketing research industry didn’t get how the culture changed when smartphones appeared in force and everyone used them for everything. Because MR got mobile wrong.

Tags: mobile research, market research tools, C+R News

Cell Phones and the Future of Market Research

Posted on Thu, Aug 25, 2011

ByWalt Dickie, Executive Vice President

Many of you may have probably seen the recent announcement of a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on cell phone usage.  Reporting of the findings has been a bit hyperventilated, focusing on odd behavior, such as turning phones off to get a break from using it (between 26% and 32% for all age groups under 65) and pretending to talk on the phone to avoid talking directly to someone (30% of 18-29 year-olds in past month).  More about this last one later.

The report, however, highlights some genuinely interesting trends.

  • The increasing dominance of cell phone use generally, but especially for text messaging and photography.
  • The fact that African Americans, Latinos, and to a lesser degree those with college educations, urban- and suburbanites, and parents over-index on cell usage.
  • The enormous difference between “Smartphone” users and other “Cell/Feature Phone” users.
  • The diminishing differences between the ways different age groups under 65 use smart phones.

With 83% of adults owning cell phones, and ¾ of them using their phones for text messaging and photography, it is clear that research techniques based on text messaging and/or picture-taking should be considered as fitting quite nicely into “normal life.”  While text messaging can be seen as roughly Mobile Market Researchanalogous to writing or typing answers to traditional survey instruments, “picture taking” now has a place primarily in specialized methods such as ethnographies and MROCs.  But, as research becomes increasing mobile, might not the normal way to answer many typical questions be with a picture?  What groceries did you buy this week?  What do you use to clean the floor?  What snacks do you eat regularly?  There will be no forgetting key parts of the answer when it is a picture.

It seems equally clear that Smartphone Owners (35%) are a distinct segment of the population whose use of phones for messaging, internet access, games and entertainment, and retrieval of information needed “right away” index over Cell/Feature Phone Owners by anywhere from two to five times or more.  It seems likely that we will need a new survey grammar when we create mobile instruments directed at this more impatient target who craves immediacy.  It may not be the place to ask questions about the restaurants visited six months in the past.

Smartphone owners have a distinctive demographic profile, but age is clearly becoming a salient variable – although the youngest age segments over-index on pretty much everything, all Smartphone Owners under about 50 clearly share a core set of behaviors that is distinct from the behavioral set of Cell/Feature Phone Users.

By the way, if Smartphone Users are a distinct population, how will we talk to people about cell phones vs. smartphones?  Pew doesn’t seem to have a term for devices that aren’t smartphones. When they screen, they use awkward questions like, “As I read the following list of items, please tell me if you happen to have each one, or not. Do you have...a cell phone or a Blackberry or iPhone or other device that is also a cell phone?” The industry sometimes uses “feature phone,” but I’ve never heard a normal person use that term. “Dumb phone?” My son had a pretty nice phone with a touchscreen that wasn’t an iPhone, Android, or any other obvious “Smartphone” type.  He called it “a wannabe phone.”

Back to people who pretend to make cell phone calls to avoid contact with others.  Instead of wringing our hands about the end of civilization, we need to recognize what it truly indicates.  It is interesting that this is behavior of young adults, those most at home with all things mobile.  But, also no surprise.  Cell phones truly have become rooted among young adults.  The gestures of their usage have generally accepted meanings within the “culture.”  And, nothing demonstrates this more powerfully than the fact that faking a call works.

Tags: mobile research, Market Research, market research tools

Driving Down Your Smartphone Screen

Posted on Mon, Jul 11, 2011

By Robert Relihan, Senior Vice President

A little while ago I noted that technology, principally Smartphone technology, was changing the way we interacted with brick-and-mortar stores.  Technology is altering the shopping experience and, consequently, the discipline of shopper insights.  I am back with more evidence.

Recent research has asked the question, “Why do consumers ‘friend’ companies on Facebook?”  A good question.  The answer is obvious; they do it to get deals and offers.  They do it because they are customers. Are brands buying love?  We will see.  But, buried in the data was an interesting tidbit.  23% of those surveyed had downloaded a brand-specific App to their Smartphones.

Apps are another way to get offers, but they have another feature — a store finder — that can alter the way consumers shop.  I have often asked consumers, “Say you are driving down the street and you see a McDonald’s on your left and a Burger King on right.  Which do you choose and why?”

But, now, when I find myself in an unfamiliar neighborhood or on the road and the uncontrollable urge for a burger comes over me, I swipe across my Smartphone screen, hit the McDonald’s App, find the nearest Golden Arches, and head for it like a laser.  No scanning the signs, no getting waylaid by a Burger King.  I am there.

When I want a cup of coffee, I do the same thing.  I tap on the Starbuck’s App, and I am there.Smartphone Apps

These Apps are that nirvana of marketers, something that short circuits the consumer’s normal behavior and puts a single brand squarely before her eyes to the exclusion of all others.  In the future, I may have to ask consumers, “Say you are looking at (driving down?) your Smartphone screen and you see Apps for McDonald’s and Burger King.  Which do you tap?” This example is hypothetical as there appears to be no Burger King App at the moment.

Another way that Smortphones can alter the shopping experience is by blurring the line between on-line and off-line.  Tesco has driven up sales at its Home Plus stores in South Korea by plastering the walls of subway stations with full-size representations of grocery store aisles.  Each item is accompanied by a QR code.  All busy commuters have to do is scan the items they want with the Home Plus App on their Smartphones, and it is delivered to their home that day.  Is this on-line shopping?  Is it brick-and-mortar shopping?  Thanks to the Smartphone, Tesco has converted bricks-and-mortar to paper-and-paste.

Shopping in the future is going to be very interesting and exceptionally varied.

Tags: Shopper Insights, mobile research, Market Research, market research tools

Mobile Payment Is the Biggest Opportunity for MR since the Social Internet

Posted on Tue, Jun 7, 2011

By Walt Dickie, Executive Vice President

A recent article in The Atlantic proclaims that “the mobile payment wars are officially underway.” Visa was the first out of the gate, in late 2010, but a coalition of MasterCard and Google, with partners Citibank, First Data, and Sprint quickly followed. Google’s announcement – just a few days ago as of this writing – has, of course, set the technology world abuzz. Now all eyes are on Apple, which has a filed patent on a mobile payment system but, as usual, is being completely close-mouthed about when the necessary near-field communication support will appear on the iPhone (click here for millions of rumors). And, of course, start-ups, such as tech darling, Square, are appearing around the payment space and clever new applications are showing up to make use of NFC.

Normally, I take a dim view of buzz. It’s just too simple to jump on board every juggernaut and start proclaiming the end (or beginning) of the world. But marketing researchers should be getting excited about mobile payment because it’s potentially the most important thing since “friend” became a verb.Mobile Research

Here’s what Google said in their press release about Google Wallet: “… an open commerce ecosystem that … will make it possible for you to pay with an NFC wallet and redeem consumer promotions … while shopping offline.” Notice: They’re not talking about “payment,” they’re talking about “commerce.” And this is “offline,” not “online.” But the big idea is hidden behind “redeem consumer promotions.”

Here’s what happens when you haul out your Google Wallet – a phone app – to pay for something. First, your phone provides a unique identifier – it tells the system that you’re you – and, of course, it says that you want to pay for your purchase using your credit card account. But in the middle of the transaction the system also handles “consumer promotions.” It takes data it has – maybe the name and location of the store, your name, the article you’re buying, the price of the thing, maybe whether you presented a “coupon” – and it checks to see if, based on all that, you’re entitled to a special price.

You see the magic part? It checks a database in the middle of the transaction and acts on the data it finds there.

You can easily imagine all kinds of marketing opportunities: bank-, store-, or brand-based, maybe neighborhood-based “reward” or “frequent shopper” systems, “Groupon-like” sign-up promotional programs, and programs based on combining your online and offline purchasing came to my mind almost immediately.

MR-related applications, like in-the-moment short surveys, possibly incented by a discount calculated on the purchase, become straightforward. What if a marketing research supplier acted like the operator of a “preferred shopper” program and collected shopping behavior from a panel, making possible not only accurate in-the-moment research but also day-after, week-after, or month-after follow-ups, or instantaneous online qualitative with purchasers of newly introduced products or low-incidence products?

Accurate, individualized, real-time purchase data has always been available for web commerce, but now the same kind of data could be available in the offline world. Mobile payment makes the real world work more like the web.

Let’s take this a bit further: have a look in your wallet, and make a pile of all the things that could be represented as data records. Everything I carry, with the exception of a compact emergency car key, is nothing but data carried in a wallet-size form factor. Every single piece of it could be on my phone, and all of it could be added to a “mobile wallet” (which won’t be confined to payment for very long). Your membership card at the gym. Your driver’s license. Gift cards. Preferred cards. The pictures of your kids and dogs. A system for sharing those pictures with your “friends” and only your friends.

If you drive a newer car, the spare that activates its keyless ignition is also just a string of data sent via an NFC link. If my car wasn’t so old even my emergency key would fit nicely in my phone.

A mobile phone is nothing but a pocket-sized computer that can communicate with various kinds of networks after providing a unique identifier that identifies you, its owner, as having network privileges. Mobile “payment” or “wallet” systems put databases at the other end of those communications, and take action based on that data. Visa, MasterCard, Google, and Apple all want to control those databases, which will be the most important in the world in a very short time. Ambitious marketing researchers should be planning how they will play in this arena, and doing it sooner rather than later.

Tags: mobile research, Market Research, market research tools

Marketing Research Sexy Tools of Inquiry

Posted on Tue, May 24, 2011

By Steve Stallard, Senior Vice President

When I look at all of the new technology-driven methodologies, it seems that technology and research are finally in sync.  The explosion is unmistakable and the excitement is palpable.  I have to say that using mobile technology to get feedback from customers at the moment of purchase or upon their first use of a product has me stoked.  No phony research setting, but in-the-natural-moment!  I mean, C’mon!!!!  OK, it’s true – perhaps only a geeky researcher could get excited by this, but it’s so cool!

It’s easy to get caught up and blinded by the new technologies and the excitement around them.  It’s not uncommon to be so enamored with a sexy new approach that it becomes the only approach you turn to.  I have a faded quote from Kaplan’s Conduct of Inquiry that’s been on my bulletin board for 20 years, “…the logician becomes so absorbed with enhancing the power and beauty of his instrument that he loses sight of the material with which it must work.”  This can happen to the best of us so be wary.

I belong to a polling website with a simple premise:  the moreMobile Research questions you answer, the more points you accrue.  And, with points you get to pose questions to other users. Not a bad idea leveraging online technology and rewarding business people with something of real value—information.  The website recently had a contest and I entered on a whim.  My entry was an essay critiquing the site.

The problem was that the questions asked by non-researchers were horrible.  Double-barreled, leading, incomplete response categories, you name it.  I suggested that a “tips page” be offered so that poor questions would not lead to misleading results.  Hah!  Go figure, I won an iPad!  We do ourselves well, by keeping a constant eye on the point of our inquiry and the foundational research aspects that remain relevant.  You might even win an iPad or better yet, generate good research.

Tags: mobile research, Market Research, market research tools

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