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Mobile research is the first method that promises real-time data from customers anywhere they happen to be, thanks to a device that people are so attached to that they spend all but two hours of their waking day with it. So why do we still see such uneven adoption of mobile as a method for extracting consumer insight?

For answers, look no further than the history of online research in Australia - the first country to embrace online as the primary method for data collection. How that happened and the challenges that the industry had to overcome in embracing this new research method help us understand both the requirements and the obstacles for mobile:

  1. Entrepreneurs drive adoption.

Australia always has had a reputation for innovation, and this legacy carried on during the beginning of online research. The quick adoption of online research in Australia was in large part driven by the many entrepreneurs who embraced the technology and saw a great business opportunity from the growing trend. Many Australian firms started setting up access panels in the 90s - much earlier than most countries did.

For mobile adoption to grow quickly, the industry also needs more firms and entrepreneurs to champion the technology. From integrated mobile quant and qual studies to ethnography, there are still many unconquered frontiers in mobile research. Conquering these frontiers will play a huge role in getting brands to make mobile research part of their workflow.

  1. Methods aren't adopted until they are standardized.

Early quality and ISO validation programs played a huge role in the early adoption of online research in Australia. In fact, by 2006, Australia already had its own standards for access panels. This standardization helped establish the credibility of online research, which then lead more clients to adopt the practice.

Mobile research today is still pretty much the Wild West. Guidelines on mobile research from industry bodies such as the MRS, CASRO, AMSRO via the Global Business Research Network (GRBN) and ESOMAR exist or are close to launch, but the insight industry can still do a lot of work in standardizing the use of mobile data collection. For instance, the use of passive data and geofencing (where marketing messages or surveys are pushed to consumers if they are in a certain geographic area) are hot topics. This is because legislation about these topics is fuzzy at best and because of people's heightened awareness of data privacy issues. Standards that ensure the quality of mobile research platforms (and in the way companies handle people's data) will help the integrity of this practice among buyers of research - but also with the consumers and customers who, with permission, can give us an unbelievable window into their lives.

  1. Metrics to measure success.

When Australian firms moved from offline to online research methods, they had to rethink the metrics they measured. They had to find a way to track people who moved from telephone to online, introducing a new set of metrics that would meaningfully measure what they are doing. There was a gap in measurement and we had to understand the change.

Now with mobile, new metrics are also at play. Mobile works best when used in shorter burst, more frequent studies. As such, the type of data that researchers have to work with has also changed. We have access to more data than ever, but it doesn't always provide the complete picture. Deep profiling from mobile comes from longitudinal studies that incrementally reveal aspects of people's lives. The industry needs to carefully consider this shift when determining what to measure and how.

  1. Replicable and reputable sampling.

During the early days of online research, professionals had to consistently build replicable samples. To keep access panels healthy, brands constantly refreshed their communities, doing recruitment projects regularly to get new people to join. Since Australia is a geographically large country, getting samples that statistically represent the various areas of the country became an imperative in establishing the integrity of online research. Over time, as high-speed Internet became more accessible, it also became easier to build replicable and reputable samples for online research.

In the mobile era, sampling is also an important issue. Not everyone has a mobile phone and those that do may not have a smartphone - so how do you ensure that your sample meets your research goals? How do we work in developing markets - where there is little or no landline network but an extensive mobile network - and in markets where feature phones outsell smartphones by a long stretch and are the device of choice?

Representation held online research back in Australia until around mid-2000. This issued is the same for mobile, although it is the method most people will use to access the Internet. In most instances, the representation research needs are not related to the representation of mobile users. Often there is sufficient data to make benchmarks against other methods. In fact, today there are still Australian government departments that will not touch online research despite it being the most representative platform from an age-old fear of it being "unrepresentative." If you combine an integrated online and mobile platform, you bypass the concern and produce perhaps the most representative method of research we have ever known.

The industry needs to be relentless in building a reputable sample that provides a decent representation of the audience that brands want to study. Advancements in technology will also help as mobile-responsive insight communities and other research tools allow deep profiling of respondents via mobile.

  1. Creating research that people want to be involved in.

Probably the greatest lesson we can take from the early days of online research in Australia is to not take what we do now in online and simply replicate it on mobile. We have to create shorter, more visual, more targeted research experiences that people want to be involved in. This takes a little bit of thought and some flexibility from those that are requesting the research. Mobile creates a great opportunity to do this but reducing the burden on those that choose to be involved must be paramount.

Time and time again, the best indicator of the future is the past. Our industry and profession is no different. By learning from the lessons provided by online research, marketing and research professionals can do a better job of navigating and taking full advantage of the many benefits of the mobile phenomenon.

To learn more about online research, mobile research, and the evolution of the insight industry, view our interactive infographic on the history of market research or click the image below.

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Peter Harris

Peter Harris helps brands build authentic customer relationships through technology. Pioneering customer intelligence since 2010, Peter Harris has led Vision Critical Asia Pacific to become the largest customer intelligence software provider, supporting over 140 customer-led brands, in Asia Pacific such as Telstra, Adobe and Cathay Pacific. With deep roots in research and strategy, Peter has championed the future of research and technology across his leadership roles at prominent research organisations, including AMSRS, APRC and GRBN.
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