More than ever, people rely on the Internet and their mobile phones for information and current events and to maintain relationships with those that they like (and to ‘Facebook Stalk’ those that they aren’t so hot on anymore… you know you do it too).
Don’t take my word for it? Here are some compelling results from the 2010 biennial news consumption survey published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:
- 44% of the public read news from one or more Internet or mobile digital source yesterday
- 57% of those in their 30s read the news on one or more digital platforms yesterday
- 31% of the public access the Internet on their mobile phone
- 33% of the public use search engines as their news source (up 14% from 2008)
What if I also told you that mobile ownership has increased 24% in the Americas during the past five years while landline ownership has decreased 1%? Would it surprise you to learn that 21% of U.S. households are ‘mobile-only’? Those are the shock-and-awe results of the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) 2009 National Health Interview Survey.
If these figures show anything, it is that Americans are increasingly relying on their mobile devices for various daily tasks and, in many cases, are replacing their landlines entirely with mobile phones. As these trends continue, marketing research simply must adapt their methods and include mobile research as part of their arsenal.
Issues confronting mobile research.
Conducting mobile research is easier said than done. Perhaps that’s why so few research firms are touting their mobile research capabilities. We aren’t going to divulge trade secrets in this post (like effective methodologies and all that jazz), but we will touch upon some of the major issues confronting mobile research, of which there are plenty.
Money, money, money.
Like so many things, the main problem boils down to money. While that isn’t the only problem confronting mobile marketing researchers, it certainly is a pressing issue in the United States. I say the United States because, unlike in many other countries, most U.S.-based mobile service providers charge customers for inbound and outbound calls, texts and, well, pretty much everything else under the sun. (Yes, I just got my bill. And, yes, I am a little on edge.) So, when a potential respondent receives a call or text on their mobile phone to complete a research study, they are being charged for that contact. That is different from landline providers, where inbound calls are typically free to the respondent.
I know that I don’t want to be charged for a call that I never wanted to receive in the first place. ESOMAR is (partially) on my side. According to the ESOMAR Code, respondents must not be negatively affected in any way from participating in research. That said, it is the marketing research firm’s responsibility to figure out compensation for those respondents, which is beyond tricky and could potentially become quite expensive, as I’m sure you can imagine. However, it is unclear if potential respondents that do not participate in the survey/interview have to be compensated for their time considering that, in most cases, they are billed for using those minutes. Needless to say, this is a gray area that is still being worked out. That will make the job of the marketing research firm more difficult in many ways because there isn't one 'right' way to proceed.
Your legal team’s least favorite word: liability.
I just got a shiver of fear just typing it, but there are potential liability issues when dealing with mobile research. Unlike landline-based phone interviews, respondents and potential respondents of mobile research can be out and about when they accept your call. They could be driving, walking across the street or about to be jostled into a mash pit at a raucous concert (okay, they probably wouldn’t pick up during the latter).
The point is that the phone call and subsequent interview could not only disrupt their much-needed concentration during potentially dangerous daily activities, and, in the case of driving, could be against the law. If a respondent is injured because they are on the phone, it is possible that you have a lawsuit on your hands.
However, there is a workaround. ESOMAR encourages researchers and interviewers to begin the call by asking if the potential respondent is “in a situation where it is legal, safe and not inconvenient to take the call.” You might still get a lawsuit-inclined respondent (that's the nicest I could say it), but there are various amounts of risk associate with conducting any type of research.
Uncertainty about the confidentiality of the conversation.
This goes hand in hand with the reasons surrounding liability. Users of mobile phones are often in public or semi-public places when they answer the phone. That means that the subsequent interview that a marketing researcher wants to conduct could be mightily inconvenient or downright inappropriate for the potential respondent.
Good thing that ESOMAR’s suggestion for an opening question covers this issue too.
If you ask whether or not the call is inconvenient for the potential respondent, then you are giving the potential respondent an opportunity to gracefully end the call. If that happens, the interviewer should simply inform the potential respondent of a phone number (preferably toll-free) that they could call back at a more convenient time.
In many ways, this is exactly the same as if you were calling a landline phone, but it just seems more relevant to me when I recall all of those phone calls I never should have answered (like that one time when my purse accidentally ‘answered’ during an AMA lecture… not good).
The bottom line.
No matter the potential operational and legal issues that abound when conducting mobile research, mobile research will certainly be a force to be reckoned with during the next few years.
The mobile advertising world is heating up, so be ready to enter that issue-laden 'kitchen' with your eyes wide open. Don't worry. We'll be there to make sure your mobile research is completed with your discriminating taste in mind.
Our next post will dive into the issues and opportunities surrounding international and multicultural mobile marketing and, likewise, international mobile marketing research. We are gong-ho on multi-country research, so this will definitely be an interesting (and fun) post!
For the love of research…