Thinking / 2013: The Year of Mobile Research?

2013: The Year of Mobile Research?

We’re living in an age of accelerating change.  The pace quickens every day. Market research is no exception.

Market research continues to redefine itself and utilize new technologies, as old ways are rapidly becoming obsolete.  I could drone on about emerging, innovative research techniques such as gamification in research, crowdsourcing, shorter-term communities, etc., but, instead, want to blog about one exciting area that must be on the radars of all insight professionals in 2013: mobile research, and specifically, the use of geolocation technology to generate consumer insights.

[Marcus Thomas' Jennifer Hirt-Marchand]

Marcus Thomas' Jennifer Hirt-Marchand believes marketers should leverage the power of mobile geolocation technologies.

These days, practically every smartphone on the planet features “location services” – a collection of hardware and software tools that harness GPS and other technologies to monitor location. With a user’s permission, a device can link to GPS satellites or Wi-Fi/cellular networks and mathematically calculate latitude and longitude – sometimes with accuracy within a few meters. (And this will get even more precise over time.)

Geolocation, or using technology (usually GPS) to record where you’re physically located, is nothing new. We all know that Foursquare utilizes geolocation features when members "check in" to businesses and venues to announce their arrival to other members. People can see on a map precisely where the user is.

So, can researchers capitalize on geolocation technology? The answer is yes.

Geolocation allows us to engage with shoppers while they’re in-store, shopping as they normally would providing real-time insights in the aisles. We can ask a shopper which brands, signs, displays, and sales are noticed. And, we can do this more quickly, more cost-effectively, and at much greater scale than using traditional, shopper intercepts or shop-alongs. The elimination of a researcher’s presence also minimizes undesirable observer effects. It enables us to generate robust ROI metrics on the effectiveness of shopper marketing, helping both brands and retailers improve share of wallet.

With location analytics, we no longer have to rely on shopper recall to understand how often a consumer visits particular stores and how shopping fits alongside other location-relevant behaviors. Today, we can mine GPS data to automatically generate a rich characterization of consumer behaviors identifying passively the “where” and “when” without asking numerous lengthy questions that rely on consumers’ sometimes unreliable memories. These behavioral data points, combined with the voice of the customer while they’re in the moment and where it matters most to marketers, yield powerful shopper insights.

Here are a few examples how geolocation technology could be used (assuming respondent consent):

  • A packaged frozen food brand wants to understand how frequently its target audience visits different grocery chains.  The chain collects passive geolocation data and engages with consumers with mobile brand purchase intent and actual purchase surveys, confirmed by observations via shopping cart photos.
  • A restaurant (passively) tracks the amount of time diners spend at its location. Immediately after leaving, diners are asked to complete a short mobile survey about their experience.
  • An automobile manufacturer automatically sends new owners a satisfaction survey after 5,000 miles driven. It “knows” when odometers hit 5,000 miles. Sound big brother-like? Maybe a little.
  • A retailer collects (passive) geolocation data (e.g., driving routes and patterns) from a sample of customers to make decisions about where to add new locations.
  • A big box retailer promotes the scanning of a QR code on an in-store display asking consumers for feedback about point-of-sale signage and sales rep influence.

A recent New York Times blog post predicts 2013 is “all about mobile”.  But we've heard it from beyond the Times.  I said it at IIR’s annual Market Research Event back in 2008 when I spoke on breakthrough tools, techniques and practices in mobile research. (Yup, that was 2008.)

Regardless of the year that historians ultimately identify as the year of mobile, marketers and researchers alike can’t ignore the impact smartphones will have on what we do and how we do it in 2013 and beyond.

The marketing research industry is clearly facing a period of unprecedented change – one with significant opportunity and promise for more comprehensive information and richer marketing insights.

Maybe 2013 really will be THE year of mobile research?