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Mobile: Myth or Magic?

Mobile, it's a word that features so high in many researchers’ vocabulary our (very unscientific) survey suggests it probably comes fourth in line bested only by quant, qual and methodology! Despite this widespread awareness it can hardly be considered new on the scene. After all, market research professionals must have been debating the many possibilities from the moment mobile internet was born. Yet it’s still a hot topic, generating thousands of blog and column inches every month, by those championing, questioning and developing its worth. We decided to find out why we’re all still trying to figure out mobile.

What is perhaps most surprising about mobile research is not the vast chasm between those that do it well and those that do it poorly as you might expect, but actually those that do it well and those that don’t do it at all. Mobile at its very core seems to scare people. This sentiment isn’t just limited to researchers either, the public also seem nervous about letting the industry into their private domain.

So what’s putting people off? Asif Mirza, Managing Director of Mobile Fieldwork, suggests this is not an unusual response to change from the research community. He says his specialism is encountering as much resistance today that online surveys did when they first came into the fray (and he would know, he was there). The same questions are being asked, he says, about security, quality of information and data protection in mobile that were asked 15 years ago. If the answers that were given in relation to online don’t satisfy the issues surrounding mobile methodology it would suggest that we see the devices used to access these services very differently, both as users and researchers.

Online research could be considered heavy now; we’re (overly?) familiar with it and more importantly with its restrictions. At one time it was considered an incredibly convenient and immediate tool for engaging respondents. This may still be true in many cases, but mobile has the power to be so much more; more convenient, more immediate, more engaging. It makes sense then that researchers would be keen to harness a technology which is so light, portable and novel.

Many mobile users treat their phones as an extension of their body (or perhaps it’s more like an external hard drive for the mind), carrying their device on their person at all times. This kind of immediacy cannot be matched in today’s world, but it does present a problem. The more intimate respondents are with a piece of technology (most people even take their mobiles to bed with them, not a common occurrence with a desktop we think you’ll agree) the more intimate researchers are asking to be with respondents. If psychologically a respondent feels like their mobile space is a part of them, we as researchers must be sensitive to the fact that we’re asking to venture deeper into their mind than ever before. This scenario is far more personal and uncomfortable for many mobile users than if they were asked to take part in research via a desktop or laptop.

Mirza makes the point that “there is nothing to rival mobile in terms of immediacy and connectivity with clients”, no other technology which allows researchers to engage with respondents not just at the end of an experience (point of sale is one example), but also throughout the process, to better understand the emotional, physical and mental journey being taken. During our conversation Mirza shared many great statistics about mobile, for example 28% of respondents opened a ‘tablet only’’ project he worked on via mobiles, you can expect to reach 80% completes within the first couple of hours in many mobile projects, 65% of people in London check their primary email account on their mobile device before checking it on a traditional desktop.

All of this information is certainly telling of the potential/advantages of mobile, presented in a researcher friendly language; facts and statistics. However, it could be argued that his success with mobile methodology comes not just from an intrinsic understanding of research (he started in the industry on 1997, making the move to specialise in mobile 4 years ago) but by allowing personality to play a large part in his work, along with a relaxed (although we hasten to add, not dismissive) approach to developing rules/guidelines for best practice. Mobile Fieldwork has developed, not within a framework of rules dictated by a self-titled governing body, but has instead defined best practice from within, operating a morally and ethically responsible behaviour policy at all times.

Perhaps then, what is still eluding the industry and the wider adoption of mobile is the expression of personality to make respondents feel at ease in a more intimate relationship with research. By adopting, or more specifically, allowing natural personality to come to the fore, a market researcher or research engagement platform is deemed friendly, non-threatening and, perhaps most importantly, human by respondents.

This human element is being used to great success by research end clients to engage with their audience, becoming a trusted friend in the eyes of their customers. If the market research industry was to approach mobile in the same vain, allowing the framework to be built organically instead of being paralysed by a fear of the unknown/a lack of rules we might achieve new levels of engagement, and ultimately success.