DOING SMART RESEARCH
In the old days of the ‘Mad Men’ era, all the very best (if not all) researchers were trained social scientists or psychologists. They conducted unwieldy surveys using a door-to-door paper and pen method and then processed the data using a massive mainframe that typically took up most of the space of a basement, or they ran interviews or group discussions to determine the ‘motivations’ of the emergent, yet passive consumer class. They had ‘dumb’ phones instead of ‘smart’ phones. How times have changed ...
These days, technology is allowing us to continually get closer to the (much less passive and more rigorously recruited) consumer in real-time. As behavioural economics has told us, people are predictably unreliable when asked to report their own behaviour, therefore the closer we can get to people ‘in the moment’, the more accurate and useful responses are likely to be. One of the latest ways to do this is using a device that many now can’t live without – the smartphone.
Stancombe Research + Planning recently conducted a seven minute app-based survey among smartphone users to find out how people currently use their smartphones and how they felt about completing a survey on their smartphone. The survey revealed that smartphone users loved completing the short app-based survey on their phone. For many, a mobile phone has become an extension of self (some even sleep with them!). We identified that besides survey completion, respondents are extensively using their smartphone to shop, bank, pay bills, undertake on-the-spot price comparisons, bid on e-bay, take photos/videos, and of course communicate, not to mention endlessly question ‘Siri’. She works hard! The nature of smartphones has provided many of us with newfound levels of convenience and flexibility as well as a greater sense of control – just perfect for making that bargain-purchase-on-the-run, or capturing that spontaneous clip of someone that just has to go up on YouTube right now.
‘Smart’ devices have provided our industry with a wide range of opportunities for accessing respondents and understanding them in a very up-close, immediate and personal manner. And because people love using their smartphones, and hence are likely to have a high levels of engagement with this medium, we have been using these devices to add value to both qualitative and quantitative research studies for a while now. We just listened and watched as our respondents started showing and telling us how to harness this technology to gain a deeper dialogue with them and develop richer insights.
We have also been briefing respondents to use their smartphones to ‘bring their lives to life’. It all started off a bit clumsily, with videos captured on smartphones being unusable (largely because they were portrait or too far from the subject) and photos being skew-whiff, but with a little bit of guidance, our research participants found inventive ways to deliver increasingly valuable and insightful research materials – particularly via YouTube and Facebook. They up-load videos and photos like pros, take and share photos with us, and SMS tidbits that are often inspirational, just like they do in their day-to-day life.
But it’s still early days, (don’t you hate that ‘but’?), and there are some shortcomings and limitations.
- We have found great benefit in administering a pithy quantitative questionnaire on mobile devices. But, due to the nature of the device any questionnaire needs to be pretty short.
- Ideally, mobile technology should be able to tell us where people are and when they are participating in research. But, geo-location technology hasn’t been available up until now. We’re looking forward to it arriving so we can complete the picture of where people are and at what time. It will be great for validation and quality control.
- Most long-ish term smartphone owners seem to have figured out how to capture video, audio and images and upload them without much hassle. But, some need pointers. Adequate briefing and assistance may be required.
- Face time brings a whole new dimension to telephone interviewing. But, the background noises and distractions can be bothersome (for the researcher) and impede the process. Picture this – a commuter on a crowded bus at peak time.
- We have sometimes been dazzled by the creative output of respondents who present their ‘good side’. But, all good researchers know to go beyond that and build in a mixed methodology approach to ensure we genuinely reach consumer truths.
- Smartphone penetration is growing rapidly, but not everyone has a smartphone (just yet)
- Mobile devices are very convenient. But, the respondent incurs the cost, which could be a barrier, especially for younger, pre-paid mobile phone owners.
Even with the current technology, app based surveys allow us to engage with respondents in situ, anywhere and at any time like never before, and given the situational nature of consumers, this has got to be advantageous. Smartphones are enabling a rich new vein of opportunity to mine for insights, a new channel for conducting quantitative research and enhancing qualitative research (mostly as an adjunct to what we already do). How exciting!