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Mobile research: Keeping the paparazzi out

Do you believe mobile research has “arrived?” I do. Others may as well. According to the 2012 ESOMAR Research World publication “with smartphone penetration topping 50% in advance markets and with a phone in the hands of a reported 85% of people around the world, perhaps mobile research’s time has finally come.”

Smartphones are becoming increasingly indispensable to Asian consumers according to the 2012 Mobile Planet study.

In Japan, 100% of smartphone owners use their mobile device to research products or services. In China, 54% of smartphone owners would rather give up their TV than a smartphone. With smartphone and tablet adoption continuing to soar in Asia, as well as the rest of the world, businesses must take this into account when they consider how they interact with mobile users for customer experience or other research studies.

What specifically does that translate to for researchers when they consider what to do and what not to do with mobile? I see three core topics surfacing in the “what to do” side of the equation:

  1. What is the best use of this built-in research device our respondents never leave home without? Do we focus on Apps, SMS text-based surveys, mobile web, or do we call them on their smartphones?
  2. How do we handle device proliferation? What do we do to ensure our web-based surveys are not just designed for traditional computers but optimized for smartphones and tablets to design with mobile in mind?
  3. What do we do about survey length? With each incremental question costing so little compared to traditional CATI surveys, web-based surveys have crept up in length.

The first two questions are topics for a future blog. Jim Stone, Maritz Research’s EVP, Chief Research and Innovation Officer recently addressed the third question in Designing for the Lowest Common Denominator. The “what not to do” side of the equation is a bit murkier. There are few best practices in place and there is little attention being paid to guidelines and respondent privacy…at least until now. In 2010, ESOMAR and CASRO released a guideline for conducting research via mobile phones. This guideline was focused on calling or text messaging respondents. Since the use of mobile has gone well beyond calling and texting in the past two years, it was time for a more comprehensive view.

ESOMAR partnered with the Mobile Marketing Research Association (MMRA) to expand its earlier guideline to include the broader use of mobile devices. I’ve always been one that gravitates towards “rules of thumb” so serving as the Co-Chair of the Professional Standards and Ethics Committee for the MMRA and working on this initiative was perfect for me. I am pleased to report the ESOMAR Guideline for Conducting Mobile Market Research will be launched on the 7th of November.

The guideline defines mobile devices as mobile phones (feature phones and smartphones), tablets and portable computers and recognizes that there are many activities enabled by these devices such as taking pictures, audio and video recording, and accessing social media. It addresses many “what to do” issues as well as “what not to do.” One of the challenges with the mobile landscape is the number of technology companies flooding the market with little or no understanding of research fundamentals. This issue becomes even more relevant when you consider an issue like self-regulation. For example, the market research industry has enjoyed flexibility in the U.S. to remain outside the jurisdiction of telemarketing legislation in conducting CATI telephone work.

The issue of self-regulation applies in mobile research and data collection as well. Consider that the smartphone of today allows us to take pictures and record sound and video. We have entered a new era of what I will call research. For example, how do we ensure personally identifiable data in the form of a digital picture that can be taken by any random respondent is protected and thus keep the paparazzi (and potentially regulators) out of market and customer research? This question and a lot of others are addressed in the new guideline.

Jo Bowman recently interviewed several members of the group who contributed to the guideline in her article Ringing in the Changes in the October 2012 ESOMAR Research World. I invite your perspective on the topic.

Ringing in the Changes