Calling Full Time on Non-Mobile Research

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Researchers have long been obsessed with talking about mobile. Mobile first. Mobile-optimised. Mobile-ready. These days, the discussion about whether and how to mobile-optimise surveys shouldn’t even be a discussion; mobile is how people do things online, whether it’s instant messaging, catching up on the news, or taking part in research communities. That means it’s not optional for us to design research with mobile in mind; we have to default to thinking mobile when designing our surveys and other research tasks. This means rethinking the whole research design process, from how we write email invitations to what language we use, and what types and number of questions we ask. And if we don’t – well, say goodbye to anyone engaging with us more than once.

We’ve been running long-term communities for clients for over 10 years, and we’ve seen significant changes in the ways people engage with them during that time. We recently compiled a league table to look at the devices people used during 2016; unsurprisingly, we’re seeing the proportion using mobile devices increase year on year, although there are some interesting differences between our communities. Many of our communities span multiple global markets, which has an effect. Participants in Asia and Africa, for example, are more likely to access via a mobile device than in some European markets, since that’s typically the main way consumers in those regions access the Internet, bypassing laptop and desktop computers completely. There are also differences in demographics such as age and sector. We see amongst our financial services communities, for example, that there’s a strong preference to take part on a laptop/desktop rather than a mobile device, and we may be heading towards the natural limit of mobile with some of them, but in other sectors we’re seeing definite mobile growth in areas such as retail and leisure.

So, to keep up with the behaviour and device preferences of today’s consumer, we have to tailor our invitations, our platforms, and our language to meet the demands of a ‘mobile research participant’. A ‘mobile research participant’ is, of course, a normal human being going about their business using a mobile, who happens to be a member of one of our communities or panels and, quite reasonably, expects us to provide an engaging and fun experience on said mobile device. They are time-poor and have multiple demands for their attention, and so for our tasks to compete with the myriad other activities they could be doing at any given time, we need to make them interesting. Language needs to be human and personable, and pared back – cutting back words makes our communication direct, easy for the reader to scan through, and fits better on a small device. Language should be fun, reflecting the human way in which brands communicate with their consumers, and should not use the pseudo-scientific language that market research adopted in the 1950s and has never seemed to shake. Questioning should be creative; asking questions in interesting ways yields interesting insights. Platforms have to be optimised so they work for all devices of all sizes; epic grids have never given a good user experience and they’re nigh on impossible on a mobile. We have to challenge ourselves to think creatively about how to get the information we want without defaulting to the hefty grids and satisfaction ratings we might have used during the on-street or CATI surveys of yesteryear. Not only is it more fun to design a creative survey or qual task, it’s much better for participants and results in higher-quality data.

So, back to the mobile league table. There are some communities waaaay down in the second division who didn’t even make it into the premier league of mobile use (maybe in 2017…), but in the final standings for 2016, one of our retail/leisure clients held the top spot with 77% of all members accessing the platform via mobile devices. There has been some consternation and debate in the office about whether this is a well-deserved top spot, since the standings are a combination of tablets and mobile phones – technically, the community in fourth position has the highest proportion of members using an actual mobile phone (and a very low proportion of tablet users) – but the referee’s decision is final: research design and the mobile premier league should not discriminate between any type of mobile device, no matter how much one may protest about the size of the device. (I say this with confidence, since I own a phone which is almost the same size as my unspecified-brand e-reader, and for which I frequently get mocked by my friends and colleagues. But whether it’s huge or not, it’s still a mobile device and definitely not a laptop.)

In the first half of 2017, we’ve already started seeing this data change as we move into different markets and interact with different audiences, and as participants increasingly use their mobile devices to manage all aspects of their lives. But one thing’s for sure: mobile isn’t going away any time soon, although your participants will be if you don’t offer them an experience which works on a mobile device – whatever its size.