Merging Mobile with Market Research: A Portable Potential

V KanchanaI recently visited a small village in the interiors of India, and to my surprise there was no dearth of mobile phones. What clicked my mind instantly was, could we not harness this potential as market researchers? Many MNCs venturing into Indian and other developing markets could use mobile users’ base as a target audience to research and gain valuable insights on consumer behaviour, cultural preferences, competitive intelligence, brand awareness, in-the-moment shopper research, mobile advertising testing and experiential studies.

Today, people with smart phones and mobiles are more likely to open a ‘tablet only’’ survey and in many cases you can expect to achieve almost 80% of completes within the first few hours.

Many people worldwide prefer checking their email accounts on their mobile phone before checking it on a traditional desktop.

The motivations for those who are ‘mobile only’ vary, in developed markets it is more for convenience while in developing economies it is because not everyone owns a desktop.

According to Ericsson’s 2012 data, there are 1.1 billion mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide, growing at 60 percent year-on-year.

At this rate, mobile broadband subscriptions are expected to reach 5 billion by 2017.

Findings from a recent report by Nielsen show that the majority in the age group of 18-24 and 25-34 now own smart phones.

This rapid growth and high penetration of mobiles globally, especially, among the youth, makes the mobile phone an excellent tool for easy and real-time data collection.

One can better engage the respondents and generate high-level consumer insights quickly, even when the audience is hard-to-reach, such as youth, and customers who may not have ready online access via desktops.

Besides, now there is a deeper integration of social services such as Twitter, Google+ and Facebook with mobile platforms such BlackBerry, Android and Apple’s iOS.

Further, desktop Internet users can be reached even when they are not at their desks through location-aware services such as Facebook Places or Foursquare.

For researchers, mobile is an irresistible opportunity to understand people more closely and access consumer opinions at any time, place or country without physically going out to interview.

Researchers can also recruit specific groups using specific web enabled mobile devices.

In order to generate awareness about the survey, one can use various media tools such as email invitations, QR codes and social media promotions.

Mobile research delivers an engaging survey experience to audiences who expect the kind of quick and meaningful interactions that are inherent to mobile devices.

In addition to surveys, mobile technology facilitates sharing of valuable feedback via photos, videos and texts by consumers.

One can also conduct location-specific research using the GPS capabilities in mobile devices.

Mobile technology can also be used to create an online “focus group” by setting up a mobile Pop-Up Community.

A major advantage with mobile research is that the results come in real time i.e. as the survey happens, through online reporting portals that make it easy to monitor responses, adjust parameters, and share data.

Accessing the Internet through mobile phones has become the preferred method of connecting to the web for the emerging middle classes in developing markets, giving researchers a direct route to consumers’ choices in such markets.

When more detail is required, the mobile phone can also be used as a mobile diary to record key information either in more detail or at key moments of the day.

Today, many mobile research companies have developed mobile research platforms, which are very easy to use and offer all the features for researching including WAP (with the use of pictures and graphics) and SMS research to target key participants.

An automated system distributes and manages prompts and replies with immediate results on a real-time basis as soon as the survey is launched.

Options are many – run a web-based survey through a browser, or create a dedicated research app, gather photos and videos for ethnographic research, scan product barcodes and record location data or simply run a CATI survey.

Ethnographic research is one area where mobiles are being put to use widely for research.

Research apps are receiving widespread acceptance as a research tool to record consumer activities and help them upload photos, while text diaries are being used for collecting feedback on ad campaigns and exposure to brands.

However, despite the great flexibility that mobile technology presents to researchers, one of the problems is that there are numerous kinds of mobile phones from different manufacturers in the market today, thereby making it difficult to use mobile as a research tool.

While high-end devices from the likes of Apple and HTC are attention seekers, a major segment of the market is dominated by feature phones – the ones that do more than just call and text but lack the advanced functionalities of a smart phone.

This tends to create cautiousness among companies about spending on mobile research methods with the exception of mobile companies, who are the ones most willing to go with the method.

Also, the phone numbers cost more to buy, higher incentives are needed to be given to respondents, and, most importantly, it takes interviewers longer to reach and survey people – partly because it is still illegal to autodial mobile numbers in the US and in countries like India, where Do Not Disturb facility exists to safeguard from unwanted calls.

As a result, cost per completion in a random-digit dial cell phone survey is usually higher than that for a landline survey.

The other drawbacks include lack of awareness of mobile surveys among potential respondent groups, length of survey to be kept short – not more than 10-15 minutes, providing incentives to respondents to cover the cost of downloading/responding to the survey, high cost of sending invitations to participate (via SMS) and phone calling, slow transmission of data and smaller screen size thus limiting the survey size and type of questions to be asked.

Despite the challenges, using a mix of methodologies such as mobile, Web, SMS and interactive voice recognition (IVR) apart from keeping the survey simple can turn into a meaningful and easy survey.

In this smart phone era, it is no longer necessary to have mobile phone numbers to conduct mobile research – one can use mobile Web, applications and email and mobile social networking to reach to the specific groups.

Mobile has the power to be more convenient, more immediate and more engaging.

It makes sense in today’s times to bring in the mobility in market research and for researchers to actively harness a technology which is so light, portable and holds so much potential.

It allows us to engage and better understand customer needs and feedback not just at the end of a product/service experience but also throughout their emotional, physical and mental journey with the brand.

Kanchana VAuthor: V Kanchana

Senior Marketing Analyst

RMS India



  1. Good Article Kanchana. You started with quoting your visit to an Indian village, so I inadvertently expected this to be an article which talks about mobile usage in market research in India.

    Though the things you have mentioned can be facilitated in western countries, they can’t be copied blindly here in India due to not so adequate infrastructure and facilities. You quoted worldwide broadband subscription, which is of no sense in Indian context. Currently, the smartphone penetration (which has 3G and can be used at best to browse internet on handhelds) is about 8-9% in India. What does that translates into? And, please remember that these smartphones are being used by people whom we are interacting with, within our circles. Have you looked at your maid using a smartphone? That is the reality of smartphone usage (and thus internet of mobile) in India.

  2. Thanks Aakash for your comments. Firstly, this article is NOT about mobile, smartphone or internet usage in India. The purpose of the article was to evaluate the application of mobile phones / smartphones for market research and not for studying the mobile usage or penetration in India. The respondents for market research typically belong to a niche segment with the flair and the appreciation for participating in market research responses using mobile phones. Needless to say, my maid is certainly not a target audience in this case.

    Please note that this article has been written with the purpose of projecting mobile phones / smartphones as one important upcoming tool for market research and not “the” sole tool for the same. Further this article has “not” been written with only Indian audiences in mind. So I fail to understand your comment on copying blindly from western countries. Nowhere in the article have I advocated copying blindly from western countries. As far as visit to the village is concerned, it is to highlight the potential of mobile phones that can be harnessed for market research. And from your comment it seems you grossly underestimate Indian villages. Please appreciate that people living in villages are NOT “necessarily illiterate” or less smart than you or me. Market resarch is a very complex subject in itself and more the number of tools available for interacting with respondents the better it is!!

  3. I did my first piece of Indian research in villages in Kerala in 1979 and I doubt much as changed in the attitudes of villagers to participating in surveys. They have far more important things in their lives than to respond to mobile phone surveys, even assuming the technology is correct. I am sure most usage is very family and farming focused now and every call is seen as a cost. It will be many, many years before the mobile has research applications in anything other than urban India. Even then the story is not clear on mobile survey usage. All the hard sell seems to be coming from suppliers rather than customers. The so-called mobile savviness of the people you talk about are all young, mainly under 25 and I would guess most would lack much purchasing power. P&G did a study in Asia using multiple forms of social media advertising and mobile was the least effective. It is just too intrusive, too biased and basically too short in length to give anything very useful at this point in time. I am reminded of all those 19th C English merchants who saw China as a vast land of purchasers of their products. Well they got it right eventually … 150 years later.

  4. Chris, not too sure which country you write from. But India is a far younger country compared to whichever country that is. And the purchasing power at 25 is far higher than you estimate. Further please refer to my reply on the earlier comment. This article is NOT…and I repeat NOT written keeping in mind Indian audience alone!!! And this article does NOT say that mobile based survey be the only media for conducting market research. It only adds to the range of market research tools. I just hope I don’t need to repeat again. :(

    Secondly mobile savviness is extremely high amongst people in the age bracket of 30 – 40. In which year did P&G do the research? Hopefully not in the 19th century :). And I would hardly go by findings of P&G on social media research. I would much rather look for a Nielsen, IMRB or TNS when it comes to research. As for P&G I much rather rely on their soaps and shampoos.

    Just to put into perspective – please see below an initiative of Google called “mobile first”. This piece is dated Aug 22, 2012.
    Google said it now has a “mobile first” strategy, and is looking to capture a larger share of the mobile advertising pie. Google passed a big milestone in June, with one million Android activations daily, and more than 400 million Android devices sold so far. Its Google Play marketplace boasts over 600,000 mobile phone apps, with more than 20 billion total downloads in June. Julian Persaud, Managing director, Google South East Asia said: “Mobile is central to everything we are doing right now. Globally as a company and also in this region. 80 per cent of Singaporeans are going on the Internet everyday. And you only have to go on the MRT to see everyone on their smartphones. This trend will continue, we say. And it’s important that Google puts its services at the front and centre of those consumers when they’re on their phone.”

  5. Chris Robinson says:

    Haha, first time I ever heard a marketing person ever questioning a study done by P&G. It may help if I give their full name Procter & Gamble. I dont think they have anything to learn from you or me about social media. Kanchan no one was concluding you were suggesting anything positioning mobile as some super alternative to traditional rezsearch. What we are querying is your basic thesis – many of us think mobile is totally over-rated as a means of effective social media marketing and as a quality market research tool.

  6. Wow Chris!!! Thanks for letting the ignorant know the full form of P&G. Great. Keep it up!!

  7. Hi,iam very glad to see such a good post. Borderlessaccess introduced cell cellphone Verification for all our company sections as another testing parameter during recruiting . This ensures a better quality response. It also enables you to screen fake information during the recruiting stage itself, making our sections more sensitive. In addition to the testing benefits, cell phones provide another opportunity to engage our panelists. We have joined with leading companies in South america, South america, Argentina, India, China & Philippines to implement cell cellphone confirmation for our IT company sections there.