[I]f television was once known as the ”small screen,” smartphones are the smallest, allowing mere inches of marketing space. From an advertiser’s perspective, this has proved problematic. Mobile ads are generally ineffective today, and the ad rates companies are willing to pay are minuscule. Mobile platforms, from phones to tablets, now command one-tenth of our media attention, but only one one-hundredth of total ad spending. That represents a $20 billion gap, and an unmistakable message for tech companies: either the mobile-ad revolution is coming, or our attention has finally escaped to a space where effective advertising cannot follow. – Derek Thompson, The Incredible Shrinking Ad, in The Atlantic
Mobile isn’t just a crisis for advertising: it’s a crisis for market research. For the past seventy years, the polling and market research industries have been able to get away with increasingly long surveys, but that doesn’t work in the smartphone era. Nobody is going to deal with a mobile survey that has more than 5 or 10 questions, so that’s going to precipitate a whole revolution in how we collect social and attitudinal research.
For a long time, the industry has focused on the long-form survey: the equivalent of firing a rocket into space, having it collect all this data, and then picking it up when it lands. There’s no question we often need to ask more than the 7 or 8 questions you can get away with mobile; we need to be able to do in-depth research, especially when we start looking at thoughts and feelings — exactly the kind of stuff possible in survey research.
The problem for market research is how to do that kind of in-depth research when you’re working with mobile respondents. While this problem is analogous to what the ad industry now faces, it’s less of a problem for research than it is for advertising. That’s because market researchers do have an alternative to the idea of the one-shot survey: we can do longitudinal research. By empanelling our respondents and asking them the extended set of questions we need answered, but asking them over a series of shorter surveys, we can support in-depth research that still works in the mobile era.