When and why to conduct mobile only studies?

Dog on a lamppost

Following the discussion on tablets in mobile market research, this post addresses the wider issue of why somebody would want to conduct a study that is mobile only.

Having spoken to a wide cross section of clients and researcher, typical reasons for a mobile only study seem to include:

  1. Because the data needs to be collected, or is better if collected, ‘in the moment’. Where ‘in the moment’ typically means as people are making a decision, whilst using something, or immediately after using something.
  2. To collect passive data, as people go about their everyday lives.
  3. Because mobile gives a more appropriate sample than other similar methods. For example, in a country where 80% of economically active adults have a phone and 50% have internet access, mobile can provide the better sample.
  4. In order to change CAPI to mCAPI, re-energising CAPI.
  5. To add items like photos and videos to traditional survey responses.
  6. Where the mobile device can assist or improve data logging and collection.
  7. Research on the mobile ecosystem, for example of mobile advertising and campaigns.
  8. To research mobile data collection, part of what researchers call RoR, research-on-research.

Another example of point 3, a more appropriate sample, is provided by French company ELIPSS who have created a panel of people, selected via random probability, to whom they have given an internet connected tablet, creating a sample source that is both internet enabled and broadly representative of the group they are seeking to represent.

Two items which are currently not on the list are a) to be cheaper, b) to be faster. This may change in the future and faster and perhaps cheaper could become drivers of mobile usage. But here is why we don’t see them as drivers at the moment

Cheaper
There is doubt that mobile will be cheaper than online surveys in the foreseeable future for like-for-like surveys. The cost of programming a study for online and mobile is, at its best, the same. Testing for online and mobile is, at its best, the same. Incentives, are at their best, the same. And, the processing costs are typically the same. In fact, at the moment, mobile studies typically cost more to program and test since there are more contingencies to consider and to deal with.

However, if the desire to use mobile drives researchers to use shorter surveys, the net effect could be cheaper studies – as well as better and faster.

Faster
Faster is a plausible benefit for mobile, although this is a matter of degree. When online research, coupled with online access panels, burst on the scene, one of the key benefits was speed, days instead of weeks. In terms of mobile the speed difference for data collection is likely to be hours instead of days. However, this does not mean that most project turnarounds will reduce by the same factor. A project includes, design, scripting (the writing and testing of the survey), the fieldwork, and the analysis. Reducing the fieldwork from, say, 48 hours to 4 hours might reduce a project from five days to four days – good, but only crucial sometimes.

However, mobile data collection may come into its own when researchers start requesting, near, instant results. Consider the launch of a campaign, or assessing an open-air event, or dealing with the impact of a product disaster like a recall, a mobile survey could be sent out within minutes and a broad, cross-section of people could reply within minutes, potentially allowing real-time management of the campaign, event, or news.

In many cases there are methodological reasons to want the fieldwork to last at least 24 hours, and potentially longer. Different times of day attract different sorts of respondents. Researchers have reported that responses in the morning can be different from responses collected in the evening, and quite often that the first third of responses are different from the last third – although this may be due to more than just speed as the last third is often the part of a sample where there is a struggle to fill quotas – i.e. the last third are often demographically different from the first third.

Big shout of thanks to Frankie Johnson for highlighting mCAPI in relation to the previous post, and to Gerry Nicolaas for bring Elipss to my attention.


So, what are your thoughts? Would you make any major additions, deletions, or amendments to our list? Are you aware of interesting examples of people doing some of the less common alternatives?

2 thoughts on “When and why to conduct mobile only studies?

  1. Great post. Couple of things to add here.

    * Mobile is _the_ way for mobile handset manufacturers to collect feedback on device satisfaction as it’s possible to quickly recruit respondents on a particular handset.

    * Ditto for users of a specific app.

    * Reaching tablet users – again because it’s possible to target panel recruitment on a device level.

    * Location-based research with geofencing

    * I guess in-the-moment covers use cases like timing surveys with specific real-time events like TV show ad breaks etc.

    In the “cheaper” note – with the response rates we’re typically seeing (20-50%) the cost of building and maintaining is lower as you have more good respondents and less churn.

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