Interview with Mark Michelson – Executive Director at Mobile Marketing Research Association

Mark MichelsonBrief Background of Mark Michelson: Senior level executive – 25+ years experience with all aspects of marketing, research, and advertising. Specialist in product development, positioning, marketing strategy and communications research. Noted keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. Creative marketing and research professional with proven ability to increase revenues and profitability, grow market share, and lead effective teams. Expertise with global cultures and commerce.

Demonstrated strengths in designing and managing multi-modal (qualitative and quantitative) research studies. World class focus group moderator, ethnographer and interviewer with expertise in both classical techniques and new technologies for online and mobile marketing research.

Executive Director and Co-Founder, Mobile Marketing Research Association
Co-Founder/Chairman of Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association (MSPA)
Past Board Member of Qualitative Research Consultant’s Association (QRCA)
Member American Marketing Association (AMA)
Member Marketing Research Association (MRA)
Past Member, International Association Exhibition Management (IAEM)

“My mission in life is to help people understand each other. I chose this mission at age 19 and it has led to an incredible journey that has taken me to over 50 countries and allowed me to meet many wonderful friends along the way. Basically, I’m very curious about everything and passionate about learning new things – fortunately my lifelong career as a market researcher suits me both professionally and personally.”

Akshay Kanyal: What drives you to take on multiple challenging assignments?

Mark Michelson: I’ve always enjoyed doing multiple things, especially bringing together communities and working with associations. Back in 1997 I co-created the Mystery Shopping Provider’s Association (MSPA) which has been a very rewarding experience not only professionally but also through the personal relationships I’ve formed. During my time volunteering with the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) I also formed many long lasting friendships and have expanded my knowledge of all things related to qualitative.

With the Mobile Marketing Research Association it has been a pleasure to get to know so many folks from around the world who have an interest in using mobile for research.  So I guess to answer your question I would say it’s the people I interact with on a daily basis as well as the knowledge and resources I gain along the way.

Akshay Kanyal: Looking back do you find the journey went as planned?

Mark Michelson: It’s been a little over 1 year since we launched the MMRA. We’ve done quite a bit in the background for Mobile MR including working with ESOMAR to update their guidelines for Mobile MR, holding 3 workshops in conjunction with the MRMW conferences, and registering over 200 members during our first year.

Akshay Kanyal: How was the idea of MMRA germinated?

Mark Michelson: The idea started during the MRMW conference in Atlanta during the summer of 2011. The attendees at this conference had so many questions and brought up topics that were important to resolve – such as best practices, getting clients to consider Mobile MR and establishing guidelines for ethics and privacy.

Jasper Lim approached me after the conference, which I co-chaired, and asked if I would be interested in helping create the MMRA. Given my previous experience in co-founding MSPA I felt it would be a rewarding challenge – which it has proven to be so far.

Akshay Kanyal: What are the current challenges and future prospects for MMRA?

Mark Michelson: Funny, this is the headline topic for our upcoming newsletter. The current challenges are focused on continuing to evangelize and shape the mobile channel for mobile MR. This includes educating providers and respondents on the guidelines, educating and making clients aware of the benefits and proper uses for mobile MR, and of course, getting more members to join the association to contribute their content, whitepapers and presentations for distribution to our global Mobile MR targeted audience.

We are introducing a new tier of membership this year for companies vs. larger corporations. This membership is ideal for smaller to medium sized businesses that want to be recognized as leaders in the mobile MR space.

The future challenges are making sure members are getting a good benefit for their membership through providing continued exposure opportunities such as publishing of articles, speaking engagements and networking. We are also considering several new programs for professional development including potential certification for mobile MR practitioners, a test drive center for apps and mobile focused platforms and continuing to work with other associations in sharing content and discounts to conferences and programs.

If anyone wants to receive our newsletter, I encourage them to sign up on our website:

Akshay Kanyal: How has the Market Research industry evolved in the past decade?

Mark Michelson:  I think digital is the broad answer here. From more use of the internet for all types of research, qual and quant, to opening up the mobile channel for more engagement opportunities. It’s hard to imagine designing for advanced analytics such as Maxdiff conjoint studies without use of the web. Also the way mobile is changing our everyday lives, not only in research but in marketing and the way we communicate with each other.

In some ways, it’s kind of sad to see people constantly engaged with their mobile devices – but in other ways it’s like we are more interconnected. I have high hopes that Marshall McLuhan’s predictions of high-tech / high-touch will come true – and that all of this digital interconnectivity will lead us to richer face-to-face experiences.

Akshay Kanyal: What role mobile technology is going to play in future for the MR industry?

Mark Michelson: Mobile is still in its’ infancy. It is the primary way that most people in developing nations such as India, Africa and South America connect to the world. With this broad reach, it enables researchers to connect with more participants than ever before. Additionally, the technology in digital mobile devices is continuing to evolve – with more focus on tying physiology to technology through sensors that can do things like monitor eye movement, body temp and heartbeats.

More passive data collection can happen now than ever before with the use of mobile for things like monitoring path-to-purchase and audience behavior. With the ability to be connected to a participant remotely and have people share their lives through video, photo, audio and text – it gives researchers unprecedented access to respondents.

With this access comes more responsibilities to make sure the trust and goodwill between respondents and researchers is intact. This is the main reason for updating, promoting and educating multiple audiences on guidelines and best practices for mobile MR.

Akshay Kanyal: Your take on the lack of ethical business practices in market research?

Mark Michelson: I don’t think there’s a lot of intentional or willful disregard for ethics in the marketing research industry.  Nearly everyone that has been in the research industry for any amount of time knows that we treat respondents with respect and take every measure to protect their privacy.

However, there are likely some new players out there entering the research space from either the technology or marketing fields who do not adhere to the same guidelines or code of ethics. It is our responsibility to reach out to these new players to help ensure they do not damage the reputation of the industry.

Having faced the “scam” issue with mystery shopping and testified before several courts to close down the scam operations I am particularly sensitive to the challenges we might face in the future when unscrupulous marketeers decide to target mobile MR. It’s already been happening somewhat with focus group participants – it will probably happen with an app developer at sometime from outside the MR industry where they install spyware or other inappropriate technology. When it does happen, we want to be in a position to counter any negative press.

Akshay Kanyal: Given a chance what 3 things you would like to change in the MR industry?

Mark Michelson: 1) It’s critical that more clients know about mobile MR and consider using it to compliment existing studies. I’ve heard from several Fortune 500 companies that don’t know how to use mobile MR effectively. They have mentioned to me that their current vendors which include major global agencies, have not approached them to talk about mobile.

2) More cooperation among various industry associations in agreeing to use the same set of guidelines.

These should be global in nature – and the new condensed we are releasing could easily be endorsed by trade associations around the world. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on these guidelines – we put the best minds in the business to work for the past year in developing the guidelines – now it’s time to promote them to a wide audience.

3) More courage in adopting new technology – with less emphasis on “this is the way we’ve always done things.”

Sure we can  all go along with our heads in the sand saying “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” But with the new technologies surrounding our everyday lives as a global society – we would be missing the boat if we don’t adopt and embrace the inevitable changes.

Akshay Kanyal: ‘Insight is missing’ a frequent client complain – what would you suggest to resolve it?

Mark Michelson: The researcher’s role is changing – and we have to be more creative in designing studies that will yield good business insight, or direction, as well as in interpreting results to provide good guidance and consultation. We are no longer just reporters of data and trends, but marketing consultants who guide and advise our clients on making sound business decisions.

Akshay Kanyal: What are the challenges market researchers faces now days?

Mark Michelson:  Just keeping up with things outside of our primary area of focus. As a qualitative consultant I was surprised when I first got into mobile back in 2010 that there were so many uses for mobile in qualitative – such as using video, audio and photos for self-ethnography or being able to moderate a bulletin board discussion using my iPhone.

There are literally hundreds of new things we can do using mobile for all kinds of research that were never possible before such as geo-fence triggers, media monitoring and reaching people in remote places. Keeping on top of technology and thinking outside the box about how to apply these new tools to better understanding and communicating with respondents is key.

Akshay Kanyal: Your overall view about the online panel industry vis-à-vis prospect, challenges, opportunities, growth etc.

Mark Michelson: I think the panel companies are in a great position to take advantage of mobile. Several of the major players have developed mobile centric panels who are ready to be contacted for participation via their mobile devices. Cint, uSamp, Research Now and Gigwalk all provide ready to use mobile panels – which makes it easier for researchers to access people anytime anywhere.

There are plenty more panel companies that are getting even more innovative – by providing the tools (e.g. apps and mobile enabled web) to engage participants in the moment. The biggest challenge is informing researchers and clients about best practices of when and how to use mobile effectively.

Akshay Kanyal: What success mantra you would like to share with young entrepreneurs in the MR Industry?

Mark Michelson: Decide on a mission early on and stick to it. I decided at an early age that my mission is to help people understand each other. I’ve been doing this since I created my first research agency at age 22. No matter what your mission is – hopefully you will find the rewards along the way to keep you focused on your purpose. If your purpose serves a greater good then surely it will be achieved.

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal

Akshay Kanyal writes survey research reviews on his popular blog Online MR. He’s an avid blogger, brand consultant and a content marketing expert, helping business owners to craft content that sells.

He provides content marketing advice to start-ups and innovation driven companies. He can be contacted at

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