Mobile Research…Evolution or Revolution?

According to change management theory (Burke, 2014) the nature of change can be either evolutionary or revolutionary. Evolutionary change consists of incremental changes and doesn’t necessarily change the whole structure or system. Revolutionary change is more radical and is often described as a jolt to the entire system.

The marketing research industry is constantly experiencing change and in most cases the change is evolutionary. Research via mobile devices is no exception. Although some view mobile research as a replacement for online research, in most cases it isn’t replacing online research. Mobile is simply another way to reach respondents online. It is an incremental change.

Some of the confusion with the nature of the change for mobile research comes from the focus on mobile only research in many conference presentations. This tends to sound more revolutionary and is touted as a way to reach respondents in the moment. These are interesting new opportunities, but there should be a research reason for making a project mobile only. In many cases, it really isn’t necessary to only reach respondents on mobile devices. For example, with a diary a mobile device may make it somewhat easier to capture occasions, but often the same information can be captured on a PC or laptop.

It is also important to consider what is given up when a study is mobile only. Although mobile phone penetration is quite high in the U.S. and most developed countries, smartphone penetration tends to be lower. For example, in the U.S. smartphone penetration is 77% (Pew Research Center, 2016). Penetration also varies by demographic group with lower penetration for those with lower income, lower education, and living in a rural area. One of the most dramatic differences in smartphone penetration is on age:

Age 18-29 92%
Age 30-49 88%
Age 50-64 74%
Age 65+ 42%

Source:  Pew Research Center, 2016

Our focus as an industry really needs to be designing surveys that work on every device (device agnostic). This then gives the respondents the control to decide what device to use. One could even argue that the move to mobile will force long overdue survey changes. Research has consistently shown that respondents are more likely to dropout and become inattentive with long surveys even when using PCs and laptops. Yet we have continued to field these long surveys.

Offering device agnostic surveys can also help in reaching key groups whose primary device for Internet access is their smartphone. Young adults in particular are highly reliant on mobile technology for Internet access. Not having mobile friendly surveys can make it much more difficult to get young adults. One could also make the argument that the young adults we are getting via PC and Laptop are fundamentally different than those using mobile devices.

In the end, it is important to remember that we are competing for respondents’ time with everything else they can do online. Survey taking isn’t the novelty it once was so we need to do everything we can do to design a survey that is device agnostic and keeps respondents engaged.

References

Burke, W. W. (2014). Organization change: Theory and practice. (4th ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pew Research Center. (January 2017). Mobile Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/

Susan Frede is Vice President of Research Methods & Best Practices at LightspeedThis was originally posted on the Lightspeed Blog in October 2014 and has been updated with the latest smartphone penetration numbers. 

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