Not much new with mobile

A few weeks back I attended the Market Research in the Mobile World conference in Minneapolis.  This was the third in a series of North American conferences (there are events in Europe and Asia as well) that styles it self as “the original, premier event for the Mobile Market Research Industry.”  I had been to the first event in Atlanta in 2011 as well as last year’s event in Cincinnati.  I was in Minneapolis in part to represent ESOMAR on a panel, but also to find out what’s new with mobile.  As it turns out, not much.

The style of this conference has always been somewhat frenetic.  By my count there were 31 presentations over the two days.  Presenters zipped on and off the stage without much time to think about what was said or connect the dots to draw a larger picture.  And, as one would expect, many of the presenters were from new entrants who view the industry solely through the lens of mobile.  So it was like assembling the elephant one piece at a time. And, of course, there were the sales pitches from the podium, most of which we have all heard countless times before.  One good thing: the organizers have filtered out what Mark Michelson likes to call “the cowboys,” meaning companies organized principally to collect PII and sell mobile advertising rather than do research.

One of the more telling moments of this conference was Larry Gold’s ask for help in developing a better method for estimate mobile market research revenues.  Larry is editor of Inside Research and is currently pegging the US spend on mobile at around $42M, a drop in the bucket for an $8B industry.  He knows he’s not capturing what he calls “multimode,” meaning the portion of online surveys where respondents choose on their own to complete by mobile, people we increasingly refer to as “unintended mobile respondents.”  But he also knows that he is missing all of the firms who only do mobile.  This seemed like the obvious audience to help him out.  Any ideas?  Silence.  What do you think the current spend really is?  A few guesses ranging from $1M to $400M.  I asked him the next day whether anyone had approached him with ideas.  Nada.

Far and away the two best presentations of the conference were the bookends.  Jeanine Bassett from General Mills (just down the road from the conference venue) opened the conference by describing her company’s migration to mobile, that first concrete evidence I have seen of a major client making an all-out commitment.  She embraced a target of having 80% of their research on mobile by the end of 2014.  Dan Foreman of Lumi Mobile closed the conference with a vision of the future of mobile that tried to pull all of the strands together in a way that described not just mobile, but a transformed industry.

Right now it is slow going.  That’s something of a mystery given the penetration levels, not just of mobile phones but also of the mobile web. I have some thoughts on that but I’m saving them for the AMSRS Conference next month in Sydney.

More research on mobile

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any) may have noticed that I have been a social media no-show for the last couple of months.  This was not deliberate; it just sort of happened.  But now I am jumping back in and can’t help but wonder whether this NewMR thing isn’t like an American TV soap opera in that you can miss a whole bunch of episodes without losing track of the story line.

In that vein, I found myself checking out the latest issue of the online journal, Survey Practice.  This journal is an AAPOR invention designed to give an outlet mostly to practitioners without subjecting them to the rigor of preparing a full submission to Public Opinion Quarterly or the new AAPOR journal, Journal of Statistics and Methodology. Which is not to say that Survey Practice is the sort of lightweight fare we too often hear from the conference podium.  It’s not.  There are literature reviews, well-designed experiments, and good solid analyses.

The current issue is a case in point.  There are at least two articles the readers of this blog, especially if you are interesting in mobile, might find worth a read.  One is from some folks at Nielsen and looks at surveys on tablets.  They have some good data to show what many of us probably expect, namely, that when respondents use tablets to complete online surveys there are few ill effects, although the same cannot be said for smartphones.  The second, by a team from Olivetree and SSI, looks at in-the-moment data collection and finds that there can be a sort of Hawthorne effect when respondents are asked to report each time they eat a snack. I’ve not done justice to either of these studies so you should check them out on your own. 

I’ve long felt that innovations in research methods start with MR, going through a sort of entrepreneurial phase in which benefits are claimed and data presented to support the claims, but the “studies” seldom rest on a literature or acknowledge the work of others in the field.  This is followed by better-designed experiments from researchers who may be from MR, but have an academic bent that produces more solid research.  Finally, the academics jump in to bring the empirical and the theoretical together, providing a scientific basis for the new methodology.  We are not there yet with mobile but these two pieces from Survey Practice are starting to move us down that road. 

Whether this description of these two studies have whetted your appetite or not, I strongly recommend that you go to the site and register for alerts as new issues are posted.