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Taking Advantage of Smartphones in Research

The landscape of marketing research is changing dramatically. As power shifts into the hands of consumers, companies that connect quickly to their customers are gaining ground in terms of customer satisfaction and brand effectiveness.

Our smartphones have become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. It feels more natural to respond to a survey on your phone than to run home to do the same survey on your computer. The possibilities for new methodologies in consumer research seem endless as smartphones become more and more pervasive.

The clipboard survey was once the favored approach to determining customers’ needs. It was hands-on and direct. That trend has since given way to the phone survey, due to practical demands of access and cost. Phone surveys are still used by many companies and research organizations to connect with consumers, but this method is declining as more people choose to relinquish their landline phones. A 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 34 percent of adults across the country do not own a landline phone.

Forward-thinking companies are moving toward direct customer interactions through smartphones. These devices allow businesses to gather data in real time and to have access to people under 35 years old — 50 percent of whom don’t have a landline, according to the same study.

Companies like P&G, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, and Coty are pushing ahead with smartphone technology and reaping the rewards. These companies are constantly encouraging their research providers to be better and go deeper.

Faster Access

Researching with smartphones is fast. By the time their competition completes a traditional survey, these companies have already collected and processed their consumer data and are working on implementation. This means the competition is looking at consumer data from six months ago, while other companies are building strategies based on what their customers were thinking earlier that day.

The second key advantage is access. We are constantly connected to our smartphones. We use them for everything from entertainment to practical needs. Unlike a landline, which requires people to be at home and available to answer their phones, smartphones allow users to interact with businesses whenever and however they want.

My company, Field Agent (, recently completed a study with P&G’s FemCare team using smartphones to connect with its core consumers. Not only did this study provide unique insights into P&G’s customers’ preferences, but it also helped develop new methodologies that have been incorporated into its product development process.

Looking Ahead

The number of smartphone users is growing as the cost of purchase and data plans decreases and wireless access increases. Meanwhile, forward-thinking research agencies will continue to explore new possibilities for data collection through smartphones.

Mobile research using smartphones will continue to lead the way in innovative consumer research over the next three to five years as technology becomes more seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. Google Glass offers a glimpse into how research options could change, as this device offers a new platform to gain access to consumers’ shopping patterns, product engagement, and usage.

Other industries are incorporating smartphones into their products to enhance their customers’ engagement and interaction. Walmart announced last month it was tripling its “Scan & Go” program, which allows customers to keep track of the total cost of their purchases during a shopping trip and pay on their smartphones. Auto manufacturers are designing ways to connect smartphones to cars. GM will embed 4G technology in all its 2015 models. Homebuilders are making homes smarter using technology like Nest thermostats, which can be adjusted from anywhere using a smartphone.

Imbedding technology in users’ everyday lives makes gaining access to consumers’ habits and usage much easier for researchers. And this is where consumer empowerment comes in. Customers are providing data to companies, realizing that they can improve their own experiences by effortlessly offering feedback on their smartphones.

Imagine 20 years from now, during the 2032 presidential election. Will voters be able to choose a candidate with their smartphones? It’s not hard to imagine that very thing happening.

Because this article was published, a donation will be made to Reading Is Fundamental so a book can be given to a child.