London in spring is beautiful. Londoners flock to their parks and broad streets, sit on terraces sipping espresso like they were Italians and cheerfully pat each other on the back from time to time.
In the centre of this sunny city however, a clan of believers gathered last week for a two day event. However little they seemed to have in common at first sight, all of them were deeply interested in one joint topic; mobile research.
It should not surprise that the world of mobile phones has come on the radar of researchers. In some circles it is deemed true that in countries like India, there are more mobile phones than toilets. In many western countries, we see mobile penetration rates in the range of between 100 and 120%. That means a lot of people are walking around with a second phone in their pocket. There are about 6,9 billion people in the world. Only 30% of them are connected to the internet, but about 60% owns a mobile phone! Since we’ve been using the internet as a tool for research, the mobile sounds like quite a nice solution to keep on researching. If you combine that with the statement of the mobile marketing association who says that in 2011, 85% of all phones shipped will be smartphones, opportunity smiles at us. Smart people like Eric Schmidt say things like, “Mobile Web adoption is growing 8 times faster than the first wave of PC Internet adoption”. Nobody knows exactly what that means, but it sounds quite dramatic indeed.
And so it came that the friendly people of Globalpark organised a small congress in central London, The Mobile Research Congress, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. I spoke to a lot of people and saw a bunch of interesting speakers, and after two days of keeping my eyes and ears open, my conclusion is simple.
We are not there yet.
A lot of current research is focusing on the way people use (smart)phones. This leads to interesting insights about what kind of content is often consulted on mobile phones (news, search and social media), and to whether apps or browsers are used more to consume content (in more mature markets like the UK “the browser is the killer app”, while in other markets like Poland applications are preferred). Then there are companies like Zokem who ask their panel to install an app that tracks everything they do on their phone. As such, they can fairly easily give insights on the impact of mobile marketing campaigns for instance, but also general usage information. One big takeaway here: the largest chunk of time spent on the mobile phone is still calling and SMS’ing, let’s not forget about that.
And thus, a lot of interesting usage data, but not a lot of great cases that use the power of the mobile phone for research to the fullest. The power of mobile should be in tapping into the moment and the context. Thaddeus Fulford Jones (lovely name) from Locately shows us some interesting visuals of how his company tracks the exact location of people in their panel. However, we need to be able to integrate this in a full-fledged ethnographic study for instance, before it evolves from a nice to know into a truly insightful piece of research.
Also mobile surveying was discussed quite often there in London, but never together with the added value of the mobile phone. Discussions about how many questions we can push to people on a small screen (more than you think, apparently) show that a lot of us market researchers are pretty keen on making the same mistake we made with the internet. We crammed the paper survey in a browser first, and now we want to do exactly the same thing for mobile phones. I would love to see some cases in which we use the mobile phone to tap into interesting moments in people’s lives. To get rid of “did you see this ad in the past 2 weeks” and to move to “you just saw this ad, do you want to rate it please”? Or to get to immediate customer service rating, in the point of sale, when they just had their great or bad experience. That is truly tapping into the power of mobile. And since we all feel that access panels are under a great deal of pressure at the moment, why not use the mobile phone to try to move beyond them? We don’t need people enrolled in a panel before they can give their opinion on the supermarket they are in, or do we?
I will return to London again, next year, because I truly believe the mobile phone is a game-changer for research. And because I truly believe that next year, all researchers that have been working on great cases will be present there, in sunny London, and that my mind will be blown by all they will do. And when I will go back home, I will realise that the game has been changed. And that, would be really exciting.
It is entirely possible that I overlooked great case studies, by basing myself only on this mobile research congress. If you have stuff to share to the world, try using #mmrx on twitter, or contact me directly via @eliasveris.