By Robert Heeg 

More than half the world’s population uses smartphones, and their activities on these devices are mostly enabled by apps. Being so fully integrated in our daily lives, 24/7, apps are also increasingly regarded as the perfect tools for market research. But the road to success is full of obstacles.

Apps are now ubiquitous: countless devices are dependent on them, and no brand can do without one (or several). App usage and performance are monitored by a growing number of measuring and analytics firms, such as Flurry (now part of Yahoo!) and AppDynamics. But apps are also seen as ideal tools for market research firms, bringing them closer to consumers than ever before. It is imperative for researchers to assess when an app is useful – and a potential partner – rather than just a trendy tool.

“Apps are incredibly useful to market research. More and more, we’re becoming a mobile-first world, increasingly reliant and engaged with our smart phones,” says Dan Foreman, non-executive director qualitative analytics and customer insights specialist YouEye and Berlin-based Dalia Research.

According to Guy Rolfe, mobile practice leader at Kantar, there’s nothing trendy – or even new – about app usage in research. “I’ve ridden the roller-coaster journey that is the use of mobile apps in market research for the past eight years.” He takes us back to 2008, when, even though the first generation iPhone had been on the market for nearly a year, it was hard to believe a respondent would ever want to download an app to complete a survey. “But by 2010, that theory had been turned on its head, as we witnessed panellists spontaneously asking: ‘Can we have more app-based projects, please?’” But the novelty factor soon wore off and, by 2013, the reality of the amount of effort required to build and maintain a mobile app-based panel or capability became frighteningly clear. “Since then, there have been a number of successes and failures as the market research industry has adjusted to the new digital – and increasingly mobile – era.”

In the wild

App use in market research can take on various guises, explains Foreman. For instance, apps can serve to approach people for research surveys. “They can replace email as a trigger to reach a lot more people.” More interestingly, there is the direct use of an app in surveys, such as Wakoopa or iPoll. “There are a range of extremely valuable potential applications, with research apps producing a wealth of fine-grained data. But the scalability and reach of this model is often limited.” The survey value-add is largely inserting specific questions into a participant’s organic experience, says Foreman. “Rather than placing a participant in a specific survey-taking mind-set, research agencies can leverage mobile apps to ask targeted questions to customers while they are actively in their journey, producing richer, more accurate insights.”

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