Two cheers for mobile: MRMW 2011

Is there a pony in there somewhere?

Last Thursday I was a panelist in an online discussion about mobile. Jeffrey Henning gave a nice balanced summary here. Leonard Murphy, who organized the event, took a more fanciful and argumentative approach in his report on the Green Book Blog. For those of you who missed it and have an hour to burn there is a full recoding here.

While the panel was supposed to be about mobile the discussion eventually devolved into one of those speculative meanderings about "the next big thing." These discussions inevitably go to all the wonderfully innovative things people are doing and how exciting it is to be alive and in Market Research. In Leonard's blog post, he wanders even further down this road and talks about "the new engagement models" that will get people talking to us again.

There clearly is a lot going on, lots of new ideas and approaches being pitched and new companies that build their businesses around them. The hype being generated is at historic levels, at times almost too much to bear. But is there a pony in there somewhere? If we start shoveling will we find "the next big thing?" I don't think so.

That fact is that despite all of the hype around these new approaches they are not penetrating the marketplace and clients are not embracing them on a broad scale. In terms of spend, they are bug dust in an $8.5 billion US market research industry. It's hard to even see them called out in industry reporting. ESOMAR tells us that as of 2010 online qual, something that's been around for over a decade, rounds up to 1% of total global spend. In the US, it rounds down to zero. I saw some numbers a while back (Inside Research , I think) putting the US spend on MROC's at around $100 million of that $8.5 billion. If anyone has numbers on mobile, I'd love to see them. Neuroscience? Crowdsourcing? Predictive markets? Social media monitoring?

The obvious exception is what some call passive research or behavioral tracking. There is serious spend there and it's increasing. The bet is that we can collect enough data and develop powerful enough modeling so that we don't have to actually talk to people any more. This brings with it a huge issue of privacy which I'll save for another time.

But if you believe that there are a whole range of insights that you can only get from talking and listening to people this industry has a difficult future. The most likely scenario is one in which there are a whole range of methods we will need to choose from, an order of magnitude more than the simple quant/qual world of choices we grew up in. That does not play to our strengths. That, too, I will leave for another time.