Category Archives: Mobile

Three best use cases for qualitative mobile research

As Ray Poynter notes, mobile has finally arrived in market research!

 “people have been saying mobile is the next big thing for over 15 years, even in the days when that meant SMS, or WAP, or writing 100s of apps for different types of phones. At conferences and client sessions I keep being asked “So, when will mobile be the big thing?” The answer is that it is now a big thing, and it has been for probably 18 months or more.

What’s notable though is that industry discussion is still oriented around the ‘grand dames’ of the market research toolkit: surveys (now moving from online to mobile, albeit sometimes “accidental mobile”) and CATI (telephone interviewing). Here at FACE we’re wondering, what about qual?

Well, let’s start talking about mobile qual! We’re excited to have research director Sharmila Subramanian writing a series of articles for us sharing her vast experience of mobile research methods, something she’s built up over many years of research with Nokia in particular.

Mobile research

First, when do you need to use mobile research methods? Sharmila shares three case studies:

Why mobile is useful: 

Here at FACE, we are committed to trying to root consumer understanding and resultant insights within context as much as possible.  This requires us to be able to understand consumer moments and interactions when they happen – not just in the home, not just in the research environment. Out of any tool for capturing thoughts and behaviour, mobile presents the best means of doing so.

Beyond this, mobile provides a simple and intuitive interface for capturing consumer attitudes and behaviours for a number of obvious, but important reasons:

1.  It’s people’s primary communication device

2. It’s an extension of people’s bodies and selves: always with them, always on. This makes it invaluable in gathering in-situ understanding

3. It’s the most personal device that people own, so it’s a fantastic platform for capturing more  private or personal thoughts and behaviours

4.  People are used to engaging through apps, making a mobile research app a logical research interface

This is not to say that mobile should be utilised for any & every research activity. It is a one-way method of research, with little scope for researcher-participant interaction. As a result, it is not for briefs or lines of enquiry that require a great deal of laddering and researcher probing in real time.

Moreover, its very nature does not lend itself to long form, highly considered response. When was the last time you tried to write something akin to an essay on your mobile?  I bet it was pretty painful.  Don’t expect any different for a research participant!

Three use cases for qualitative mobile research

From our own experience on a range of projects, mobile research comes into its own on three types of briefs:

Mobile research FACE App

1. Understanding response to concepts:

Whilst we would not advocate a mobile-only methodology for concept testing and development, mobile can prove an invaluable supplement to F2F methodologies where we wish research participants to “live” with concepts beyond the confines of the focus group facility. Initial reads on concepts often give us an understanding of their initial impact and wow factor. However, getting participants to then live with the proposition, and document when they see roles for certain ideas and concepts via mobile, can go much further in identifying their potential usefulness, and ability to fulfil needs within the real world.

On a recent project using FACE’s mobile research app, this approach proved invaluable in deepening understanding around a concept for a new service.  Whilst an online community and groups gave understanding of the initial comprehension and appeal of that concept, subsequent mobile research gave us a richer picture of where participants actually saw a role for the proposition – in terms of where, when, how they would utilise it and why.  We would not have been able to get that level of understanding by utilising other methods that rely on hindsight or recall.

2. Product trialing:

Mobile can come into its own in terms of understanding product usage and response – ultimately, it gives us the ability to understand those moments in-situ, as they happen.  And it makes it easier for the user to document those moments – no paper diary completion, no need for recalling of hazy memories on an online community or in a group.  Everything from first impressions of a new product, to first and repeat usage, to understanding how response to a product can change over time can be readily captured within mobile research. Moreover, it gives us the ability to understand all of those things across a variety of contexts, times of day, as well as the social dimension that may be at play.  As a result, we get closer to a more holistic understanding of product usage.

A recent example of the power of mobile for product trial can be seen in a project FACE conducted looking to understand response to a new product format.  FACE’s mobile app was used by a range of participants over a week to understand their first impressions of the product, how they used it, the triggers and barriers to use, and how their response changed over time.  This helped us to define the key benefits and use cases for the product prior to launch, as well as helping to provide starter thoughts for which elements of the product experience future communications should leverage.

However, the approach also proved powerful in providing a wealth of rich multimedia material that could be utilised by the client to provide more compelling evidence of the value of the product.

Mobile research FACE App

3. Shopper interaction:

The very mobile nature of the, well, mobile, clearly lends itself to helping to better understand the shopper experience. Whether in terms of gaining learnings on retail environment, in-store communications, or product placement, the discrete form, and bite-sized mode of interaction of the mobile makes it ideal for consumers to gather quick thoughts, images, and documentation of journeys within store.

FACE employed a mobile approach for understanding response to a new store layout format for a well known food and drink brand. This was invaluable in gaining firsthand accounts of what was a new concept in-store – accounts that were not influenced by researcher presence. The unmediated nature of this capture was essential in identifying exactly what the key hooks, and turn-offs of the new format were, and helped provide a compelling story for the client, through the use of raw, consumer generated content, to help our client sell the concept to retailers.


So, that’s an initial overview of three times mobile research is one of the best methods we’ve got in our market research toolkit. Next up: getting the most out of a mobile approach – the do’s, the don’ts, and  best practice for making a mobile methodology a success.

If you’d like to discuss this further with Sharmila, contact her at, on LinkedIn or Twitter @SharmilaSub. To stay in touch with more of our qual thinking and methodology knowledge-sharing, join our mailing list.

The Insight Innovation Exchange Summarized Using Online Buzz

Face CEO Andrew Needham and US Office Head, Philip McNaughton, were at the Insight Innovation Exchange conference in Philadelphia earlier this week. I could not attend, and I was rather disappointed. While I know I have work to do, I still wanted to see Andrew and Philip present on Socially Intelligent Research and catch up on the latest industry buzz.

So I hopped on Pulsar TRAC and started a simple search looking for mentions of the conference and its hashtag (#iiex), similar to how we tracked Le Web two weeks ago. This way I could gather the digital buzz, and that’s the next best thing to being there.

Using Pulsar TRAC I was able to gather all the mentions o the conference. Granted, total volumes were only around 1,500, but that’s not the point. The point is that using Pulsar TRAC’s ability to parse the data, I was able to see what ideas presented got people excited, what articles were shared, and who I should be following on Twitter.

Day 1

People enjoyed the morning’s action-orientated presentations. Charles Trevail’s talk, “Inspiring the Future” was all about how to find breakthroughs in the face of adversity. When Jeffrey Henning summarized it on, the message continued to travel around the conference the rest of the day.

Day 1 Volume

Trevail was followed by Robert Moran, who kept the energy up with an emphasis on how the industry will look in the future. Apparently we’ll either be futurists, identifying trends, or doing “fast fashion” data analysis, looking at data in real time to facilitate improvements.

Ryan Smith went up next to talk about “Cheaper Faster, Better: How Technology Delivers ROI to Insight Organizations.” His focus on the importance of the researchers who make sense of the data and the continuing development of technology was well-received online.

Following Smith, Jasmeet Sethi from Ericsson spoke about being frugal, both by necessity and choice, in order to help spur innovation. This was perhaps one of the most buzzed about talks, driving mentions at the time and afterword with the sharing of the summary of it on

The afternoon’s online chatter continued where Smith left off. Two different speakers, Seth Grimes and Zachary Nippert, had a very similar message: big data is only as good as it is useful, and we need tools that will help us make it useful.

Day 2

Day 2’s online buzz was focused more around behavioral economics with two keynote speakers, Mark Earls of “I’ll Have What She’s Having” fame and John Kearon of BrainJuicer driving most of the online chatter.

Day 2 Volume

The ideas that resonated were, again, that we need to focus on the people, not the technology. According to Earls, rather than focusing on the new technologies themselves, we should be focusing on how this new technology can enable researchers to identify how people are connected to each other, what goes on between them, and finally how things spread from person to person.

Kearon, in turn, discussed the role of emotion in decision making. He focused on the need to understand emotions and habits in order to understand how we make decisions. This resonated with the audience, probably at least in part because of such lovely quotes as the one below:

Kirk vs Spock

Using Pulsar TRAC’s bundle visualization, you can see that “people” – though not the most frequent keyword – ran through most of the other topics discussed online the rest of the day.

People in Conversation

Day 3

The first spike at 9 am focused quite a bit on Simon Chadwick’s talk on investment in market research. People retweeted the stats in his presentation, focusing on such things as a 141% increase in VC funding for MR, particularly in big data, mobile, and social media but not in traditional research at all.

Day 3 Volume

But perhaps the biggest driver of mentions on the last day was sharing links. During the entire conference, only 12.6% of mentions included a link, but on the last day, 22.7% of messages included links.

Links Visualization

The top shared links of the day were all summaries of presentations:

But who would I have met?

That’s all well and good, but beyond going to a conference to hear about what’s hot in the industry, I go to them to meet people. How could PulsarTRAC let me do that?

I used Pulsar’s ability to find influencers based on not just volume, but also engagement to reveal who I should be following online. After all, I don’t just want to follow people who are vocal – I want to follow the people other folk turn to.

From this list, the top 5 influencers I should be following out of the Insight Innovation Exchange are:

  1. @melcourtright, Melanie Courtright, VP of Research Services at Research Now, presented “Research Now and Experien: Bridging the Digital Gap” at the conference
  2. @Pspear. Peter Spear of Spear Strategy, “brand listener”
  3. @SpychResearch, Ben Smithee, CEO of SpychResearch
  4. @lennyism, Leonard Murphy, Editor-in-Chief of the GreenBook Blog and key conference organizer
  5. @AndrewNeedham, Andrew Needham, CEO of Face… I do believe I know this influencer


But what was it all about?

The conference was an interesting combination of technology and research methods. At first I was worried that we’d get side-tracked by sexy displays of technology, but it remained focused on how we can use technology to assist and augment our research and analysis. But while the first day was marked by excitement, the next two days saw lower online volumes as people got into the routine of going to panels. The panels themselves were very quick, mostly only 20 minutes long, so there was less to Tweet about for each speaker.

I wish I had been there in person – but seeing as I had work to do in New York, this Pulsar TRAC search was the next best thing.


Want to learn more about how you can use online buzz to follow content and conversations? Register now for our Viral Video Webinar: Gangnam Style vs Harlem Shake on 10 July!

4 Tips to Liven Up Live Event Research

Here at FACE, we live for the moment – and we especially like to do it in the name of research. Researching live experiences used to be a matter of showing up, doing interviews at various points, and taking down notes throughout, maybe a survey here or there. But that’s not our style and things have changed (we love change!). Now, people can experience everything the world has to offer in real time while simultaneously contributing and sharing experiences with others through mobile and social media. It’s been great news for us, because we get even more opportunities to delve into understanding what is happening and why.

We’ve been doing more and more research in this area and are fascinated by it. So in the spirit of experiencing and sharing, here are some tips that have helped make our live research live up to the definition on Urban Dictionary: “jumping, full of people, exciting!”

World Cup Stadium
Image by Flickr user Shine 2010 – 2010 World Cup good news

1. Focus

When going into any kind of live event (whether physical or digital, or both) having a clear objective and a plan are incredibly important. Whether we are looking at engagement with a message, understanding behavior in context, or identifying opportunities for improvement, having a focal question helps to narrow in on exactly what kind of information the research should prioritize over all of the other (distracting!) aspects that make live events so fascinating.

2. Technology

Even a few years ago, asking people to do things while they were doing something else was fraught with difficulty (think paper diaries, and intercept interviews). But now, online behaviors have really shifted in our favor in regards to collecting data during live events. Liveblogging, livestreaming, updating, checking in, – all of these methods act as shortcuts that help participants get their thoughts directly to us without getting in the way of the experience itself.

And the best part is that people are already engaging in these behaviors in their personal lives. We’re just extending an already existing behavior into a research situation. Just be sure to choose your technology medium carefully. Make sure that it fits within the situation you’re looking at. For instance, check-ins are useful if you’re studying gym-workout behavior. But they’re not really that useful if you’re looking at the experience of a live concert.

3. Real-time integration

This should go without saying, but I am going to say it anyway. In order to capture what happens ‘live’, the research simply has to be happening at the same time. The information you get from people experiencing something in the moment (even if it doesn’t seem relevant at the time) is extremely powerful and should not be left out of the picture. When people look back on experiences in retrospect, it is often lacking a lot of the rich contextual information that is key to understanding what is really going on in the moment.

4. Thinking about dimensions

Live experiences are akin to animated objects – constantly changing in look, feeling, and experience. There isn’t always a clear beginning, middle, or end, and things can take dramatic turns. There is a lot of reading between the lines.

Where traditional research might normally have limited perspectives across a few points in time, a live research approach gives us the opportunity to explore multiple vantage points over the entire duration of an experience. The added dimension of change over time means that we can better understand the subtleties of live experiences in ways that people might not be aware of in the moment or even after the fact.

Ultimately studying live experiences can be a whale of a proposition but it is always worth it. We are looking forward to the next opportunity to lose ourselves in the moment.

Flashing lights

Future Mobile Research. Mining Reality Through the Mobile Phone

Social media made online social behaviour measurable.

Now smartphones are doing the same with face-to-face interaction – thanks to ‘machine sensing’. Machine sensing is basically data collection through sensor-equipped machines, where a sensor is a converter that measures a physical quantity and converts it into a signal which can be read by an observer or by an instrument.

Traditionally mobile market research has mimicked what can be done on the web, with poorer interfaces and engagement. But with smartphones enabling mobile sensing, the opportunity got much bigger and much more interesting.

Mobile sensing is the passive recording of a person’s online and offline daily life in a quantitative way. Sensors in the mobile handset can be used to capture communication, proximity, location, and activity data alongside the more established prompted inputs: a 360-degree approach becoming known as Reality Mining.

Longitudinal collection of this data produces a depth of information on behaviours, interactions and states that can reveal patterns and insights that would be impossible to spot on an exclusively qualitative basis.

Back in July 2012 I ran a pilot project on a sample of one (me) to assess the potential of mobile sensing within the industry. How could market research use ‘reality mining’ to develop a better understanding of consumer behaviors and attitudes? And how useful would it be?

The presentation below gives an overview of the Reality Mining project. A more in-depth paper will be published over the next few weeks discussing the details of the set up, the research methodology and the outputs of the project.

Mobile money: the possibilities (and challenges)

In the last year we’ve done several research projects on mobile money at FACE, as excitement around the possibilities of “mobile wallet” develops. SXSWi was a chance to hear from leading players in the industry – American Express, PayPal, Intuit and more – on where this technology is going.

What is mobile money?

It’s important to think about the category as “mobile money” rather than simply “mobile payment” or “mobile wallet”. What’s at stake is much bigger than just transfering your credit card to your phone, or simply replicating the functions of a wallet (payment, loyalty cards & receipts) on a mobile device. The technologies available – smartphones, geolocation, the development of 4G and widespread wifi, and of course NFC – mean that what’s possible is in fact much greater: re-imagining the whole human-money interface.

What’s this mean? It’s about looking at every way in which we interact with money, and thinking about the transformations in user experience that are possible if we make it mobile. The transactions up for grabs are many and varied:

  • payment in a shop (of course)
  • paying a friend back for the taxi ride last night
  • checking to see if your credit card payment has gone out
  • transferring money immediately before making a big purchase to ensure your account doesn’t go overdrawn
  • adding up your receipts to see how much you’ve spent on eating out this month
  • calculating whether you’ll be able to get a mortgage
  • buying a flight (or just a coffee) with reward points – mobile money encompasses stored value, not just legal currencies
  • getting a discount email like Groupon and redeeming that online
  • searching for the cheapest iPad retailer online
  • or searching for a local restaurant offering a discount 2-for-1 deal
  • …and much, much more.

Making it mobile doesn’t simply mean “available on my mobile phone screen”. The mobile phone is a smart, location-aware computing device, carried almost always within a metre of our bodies, which is always connected to the internet and keeps us always connected to the people we know. Taking full advantage of these properties is what makes mobile money fundamentally transformative. The word “revolutionary” is overused in business, but making money truly mobile is a much bigger deal than the rise of credit cards in the 1960s, the last biggest step-change in payment methods.


There are however some substantial challenges in rolling out mobile money to its full potential. Here are five:

1. Money is a difficult sector to innovate in

Regulation is a big hindrance on start-ups in the money space: there is both legal incumbrance and a cultural resistance (aka trust) to companies taking risks, trying something new – and perhaps not succeeding. The big incumbents are also an obstacle – banks own the central customer account (current/checking accounts), and Visa,  Mastercard & Amex control payments.

Building new back-end processing systems is very difficult, and even the big over-the-top players (PayPal, Google Wallet) are essentially innovating on top of existing card payments i infrastructure. Dwolla – a New York peer-to-peer (P2P) money startup – is worth a note here, for one that isn’t.

2. What’s happening with NFC?

NFC stands for near-field communications. It’s a type of radio communications – like wifi or Bluetooth at a different frequency – that allows for short-range (10cm) communciation between devices and tagged objects, other devices, and merchant terminals. It is ultimately the key way contactless payment will be delivered – although it’s worth remembering that mobile money means a lot more than just in-store payment.

Unfortunately NFC uptake is moving extremely slowly. So far there are only a handful of NFC-enabled handsets in the UK, and many of them are unappealing low-spec phones. The big player is of course the Apple iPhone, and so far there’s no news as to when or how NFC will be implemented on this device.

Without a standardised technology, merchants are naturally unwilling to invest in NFC payment terminals so these remain in a few chain stores only – MacDonalds since 2003; Pret A Manger, and so on. We’re 5+ years away yet from “leave your cash & card at home”.

3. UX benefits of mobile payment in-store

One eye-opener for me about our US trip was just how annoying magnetic-stripe payment really is. US banks haven’t been able to agree on a Chip & PIN standard (as in Europe). As such payment requires the merchant taking the card away (a security risk) and two stages of receipts. NFC payment would clearly be much quicker than this, providing a clear driver for consumer uptake. However, it’s got minimal speed and thus user experience benefit in Europe over the faster Chip & PIN.

4. Trust

Many commentators rate the chances of the over-the-top tech players (mainly Google, Apple, Paypal) as ahead of the banks. Despite some bank mobile apps getting rave user reviews (RBS and Natwest’s mobile banking apps) and a strong move from Barclays Pingit on peer-to-peer transfers, there’s a suspicion that banks are likely to stick to “mobilifying” what they already do, rather than really innovating and reinventing the category. That transformative capacity – and also slick UX design – would seem to be more the property of the tech companies.

But PayPal has a trust problem: we see consistent and frequent stories of how it freezes people’s accounts for months without explanation or recourse. That’s infuriating when it’s your tool for P2P and small-merchant payments – it’s completely untenable if they’re operating your current account. There’s also increasing consumer suspicion of just how much Google knows about us – so giving them access to our finances may be a step too far.

5. Who’s actually thinking big enough?

This was the core insight from a fantastic solo SXSW presentation by Omar Green, Director of Strategic Mobile Initiatives at Intuit, the payment technology firm. He talked about “creating a mobile wallet worth having”, and said he thought the company who would “win” mobile money would be the one offering every transaction listed above and more.

As suggested above, the risk is that too many of the mobile money launches we can see on the horizon are thinking too small. Credit cards on your phone and no additional functionality – so what’s in it for me the user? A couple of dozen big-brand partners rather than available everywhere – so why use? There will certainly be some early adopters who’ll take-up simply to be first and look ahead, but they’re a minority. Strategically banks, MNOs and tech firms need to recognise that these standalone offers must only be stepping stones to something much bigger if they’re going to get any real traction. (Barclaycard have had an NFC credit card since 2003. No-one cares.)

Omar Green had a vision of what mobile money could be that I’ve not seen from anywhere else in the industry. The goal is a seamless money experience addressing our fundamental financial and emotional needs – balancing the books, saving for the future, feeling in control and feeling like we’ve spent our money wisely.

Question is, how seriously will the various mobile payment and wallet apps launching this year will really address these?