Musings from ESOMAR 3D: Mobile research – Big Mac or sushi?

Earlier this week I spent 2 days in Amsterdam with my peers, immersing myself in the world of digital research at the 2012 ESOMAR 3D conference.  Having had a little time to reflect on all that I saw and heard I find myself mulling on 3 issues, so rather than add to the existing list of conference reports I thought I would  use this forum to reflect and debate on these themes.  Perhaps you have an opinion of your own you’d like to share?

1. Are shorter and simpler surveys really the route to greater insight?
2. Is measuring social media the research industry’s alchemy?
3. Are we are our one worst enemies with our love of self regulation?

So let’s start with point number one…

I’ve spoken before on this blog about the importance of mobile communications in the world of market research.  Not as a methodology, but as the increasing way that consumers choose to access the internet, interact with brands and communicate with each other.  I believe there can be no doubt that we need to adapt the way we design and develop our surveys to ensure that everybody is included and nobody is excluded from our online research studies, despite the device they chose to respond on – be that PC, laptop, tablet, phablet, smartphone or smart TV.

And while I recognise the need to adapt the length of our surveys for smaller and mobile devices where users tend to spend more frequent but shorter bursts of activity online, does this necessarily mean we need to dumb down the questions we ask and the way we ask them?

Earlier this week I listened to a number of great presentations on this subject, some based on case studies, some research-on-research and others pure theory.  Across all of these I heard the words less, shorter, & simpler used lot in relation to questions and questionnaires, and particularly mobile research.  But words I didn’t hear quite so often were things like smarter, dynamic or selective.  Why does it come across so often that mobile must means less?  Why can’t it mean better?

By assuming that we need to deliver some kind of fast food version of market research to get people to consume it, are we not just dumbing down our industry and selling our soul in return for higher response rates?  Instead, shouldn’t we look for a more elegant and tasteful version of this McResearch that still provide something simple, quick and snack-sized.  Why can’t we offer people the Sushi of market research rather than the Big Mac?

In English class at school I was always told that it’s harder to write less rather than more, as you have to think more about what you write and make more use of each word that you choose.  Why should mobile-optimised surveys be any different? We as researchers, which ever side of the supply-chain we sit, need to be smarter about the questionnaires we write and make more use of our most valuable commodity… our respondents’ time.

There were some good ideas around this topic good shared at the conference.  I really liked what Jan Hofmeyr and Alice Louw from TNS South Africa had to say about spending more time to ensure more relevance to consumer’s actual behaviour in the questions we ask them.  I also really liked the notion of the ‘uncertainty principle’ in research from Piet Hein at Wakoopa, whereby the truth is a continuously changing concept so we should focus on accurately measuring either the properties or timing of behaviour, but not get hung up on trying to do  both at the same time.

For what it’s worth here are 3 of my own simple suggestions for a more dynamic ‘sushi’ version of online research:

1. Rediscover the lost art of piloting our questionnaires and use this process to focus our surveys on the points that truly matter through interim modelling, thus trimming valuable minutes and making them more relevent for the respondent
2. Auto-detection of the operating system and screen size of devices should be standard, with  mobile optimised versions of surveys focussing on the KPIs & their  key drivers via this same modelling
3. Create dynamic response codes that learn the most and least popular answers as you go through fieldwork and show only the top few and replace the others with a single other (specify)

So not just shorter, but smarter.

Next time I’ll take a look at point two… are we just wasting our time trying to measure ROI from social media?

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Ian Ralph
01962 842211
Article date - 09/11/2012
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