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Mobile Market Research

Why to include mobile market research in your data collection gameplan

Mobile Market Research

Ian Roberts
Posted on 26 February 2015 in Online Survey
by Ian Roberts
7 min

Name something that virtually everyone you know has with them just about all the time, just about every day.

If your first instinct was to mention “mobile phone”, the numbers definitely back up your observations: Of the approximately 7 billion people currently living here on Earth, there are currently between 4 and 4.5 BILLION unique mobile users globally; that translates to about three in four adults on the planet who own a mobile phone. The number of global mobile phone users is forecast to exceed a staggering 5 billion by 2017.


Especially in North America and most of Europe (particularly Western, Central, and Eastern Europe), mobile phone use is becoming downright unremarkable; in these regions, you’re likely to see someone using a mobile phone nearly everywhere you turn. Although near-universality of mobile phone use in these areas means that the rate at which mobile phone usage is growing has slowed in recent years, new users 

in places like Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East have continued to propel the growth of mobile phone adoption. In large part due to growth in these “newcomer” regions, we think it’s fair to say that mobile phones (and their owners) are well on their way to becoming ubiquitous!

Smartphones are quickly becoming the go-to mobile option.

Over the past few years, mobile phone users have been rapidly switching over to smartphones, as these devices have continued to become more affordable and 3G and 4G networks have continued to advance. Global smartphone sales surpassed the 1 billion unit mark back in 2012. In the most highly-developed nations, smartphone usage already accounts for more than half of all mobile phone usage, and the number of countries for which this statistic applies is growing.

The magnitude of smartphone use is even more noteworthy when we consider that smartphones as we think of them today - with HD touchscreen, myriad apps, and high-speed internet “on the fly” – have only been available since Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007. Imagine: It took only five years to go from zero to over a billion smartphones sold! And, according to industry forecasts, demand for the devices will only continue to increase.

So, just how commonplace are smartphones?

While they are not yet as omnipresent across the globe as the mobile phone overall, it seems safe to say that smartphone use is on an impressive growth trajectory – by virtually any standard of measure:

  • It’s estimated that there are approximately 1.75 billion smartphones in use across the globe today.
  • Smartphone penetration (i.e., the percentage of individuals owning at least one smartphone) has expanded to include more than a third of the global marketplace.
  • By 2017, smartphone penetration among mobile phone users globally will approach 50%.

These impressive numbers – and their implications – have not gone unnoticed by the market research industry.

Although it is interesting to note that, during 2014, purchases of traditional shell phones in Japan exceeded those of smartphones. This may be due to a 'disposable' phone culture, or the lack of any innovation step change.

Mobile research growth has caught up with – and surpassed – the growth of web-based research.

In 2011 - for the first time ever - self-completion of mobile surveys was the fastest-growing research methodology. (In this context, “mobile devices” is a category that is considered to include smartphones, tablets, and phablets - phone/tablet “hybrids” that are generally delineated as smartphones with screens larger than five inches in size.) This was the first time since 2004 that online, web-based research was not the fastest-growing methodology, and the trend toward increased mobile survey use has continued.

Obviously, growth of this magnitude doesn’t just happen by chance. So what specific characteristics of mobile market research have the research industry recognized as unique and especially desirable when compared with other available research methods?

Five Key (Research-Friendly) Characteristics of Mobile Technology

  1. It’s (nearly) everywhere. As indicated above, approximately three in four of the world’s adults own a mobile phone, smartphones with Internet connectivity encompass a significant portion of the world’s mobile phones, and the proliferation of these devices is only continuing to expand. Mobile phones are the most widely owned type of electronic device on the planet; they are changing how, when, and where humans communicate. If you are a researcher, you no longer need to wait for a respondent to answer a phone call, open a piece of “snail mail”, or even access email on a desktop computer; you have what amounts to nearly instant access to your target respondents 24/7.
  2. Mobile devices broaden the potential respondent pool. They provide access to affluent individuals, those with few financial resources, and everything in-between. Particularly in emergent countries, only the wealthy own landlines; those who have less material wealth are much more likely to “reach out and touch” their friends and families via mobile phones. No matter which point on the socioeconomic spectrum you need to explore, chances are you’ll be able to connect with individuals within that group through mobile phone technology.
  3. Mobile is already being used in a big way within “traditional” market research. There’s no learning curve involved. Mobile devices are being used to complete about half of all computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI) in most markets – and in emergent markets, that percentage is significantly higher. About one in four online surveys are currently being completed using a mobile devices (phones, phablets, and tablets), so most people doing online are already doing mobile. Mobile devices are also being used with increasing frequency for face-to-face quantitative and qualitative research. In computer-assisted personal interviews (CAPI), for example, the interviewer is likely to use a tablet or mobile phone versus a clipboard with a hardcopy document. And for qualitative research, using an internet-connected mobile device opens up nearly limitless possibilities – from connecting respondents who are physically participating from different locations to allowing the moderator to show respondents a number of diverse videos to elicit their reactions.
  4. Mobile devices afford research participants an expanded role in the research. More participative research is increasingly making the term “respondent” a misnomer. Rather than responding to prompts given by an interviewer or a research instrument, mobile devices are increasingly allowing individuals to become more active players in the research process. As mentioned above, research participants seek out their own experiences, capture photos and videos, and write or record their own commentary. This provides researchers with access to places and situations heretofore virtually impossible for them to reach. And, at least as significantly, it also empowers those who comprise our clients’ target audiences to drive research – and market decisions – to a degree that was not possible or practical before these devices were used. These devices are proving to be instrumental in the creation of new forms of market research.
  5. We’re no longer dependent upon respondents to remember what they did or the emotions they felt after-the-fact. “Passive” data collection supplements the participant’s subjective input with objective information that can lend context and quantification to that input. There’s no extra effort required on the part of the respondent, and no need to rely upon the accuracy of their memories. Passive data is telling us what people do, when then do, how long they do it, the emotions evoked, and – in some instances – where and with whom they do it. Location-based applications, such as Foursquare, allow us to follow people through their day and “push” requests to them based on where they are and what they are doing, in real time.

Through the use of mobile technology, we – and our clients – are being rewarded with data that is increasingly fresh, accurate, and nuanced. Do your clients want to know which products and services a 40 year-old female saw advertised as she rode the subway or bus? Are you interested in exploring how millennials really spend their free time (and with whom they spend it)? Are you trying to gauge interest in a new product being sold in your client’s Big Box store - the one that the research participant just entered – and determine whether interest in that product would be any greater if you offered an Internet coupon to on-site customers? Through mobile research, the world, in essence, becomes one big focus group suite, with the device serving as the one way mirror.

To learn more about mobile surveys click here or speak to someone at Nebu. 


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