It’s not a surprise to say that mobile research, whether mobile monitoring, mobile surveys, or even just community websites on mobile apps, is the future of market research. After all, you can practically see mobile usage rise each day, and it only makes sense to be where the consumer is.
Image by Flickr User Julien GONG Min
Mobile research has several advantages over other forms of research, as discussed in this post by Scott Weinberg on the GreenBook Blog. Mobile research can be more reliable than classic forms of research. It eliminates the problems of memory, misperception and even checks honesty. Mobile apps can track things human beings might find difficult, from temperature to speed, providing a wealth of data that researchers could only dream of up to now. This allows researchers to get closer to the participants with an unbiased and clear eye, viewing their lives as they live them without interrupting or interfering. This is something other methods, such as focus groups and even online communities, can find challenging.
Further, in some markets mobile is even more attractive as a research method because of its wide-spread adoption and social acceptance.
As mobile evolves, much of its growth will come out of the Asia Pacific. The International Telecommunications Union predicts that the Asia Pacific region will grow this year to have more mobile internet users than Europe and the Americas combines. And Asia is nowhere near capacity yet – only 23 in 100 Asians even use mobile internet, compared to 67% in Europe. But that is still plenty. Indeed, last year China alone already had 400 million mobile internet users. This makes sense. Mobile internet is larger than PC-based internet by 8 million users in China alone. 18% of all Asian web traffic comes from mobile devices. Asian consumers are simply very comfortable using the Internet on their phones. 43% of people in Asia are willing to make purchases on their phones (source).
“Hangzhou – Note the Cell Phone” by Flickr User Justin Talbot-Jones
We’ve already spoken about the benefits of using an online methodology with Asian participants. As we have discussed before on this blog, there is a cultural tendency to be more open through online mediums, particularly in China. But if mobile is the easiest way to access the internet for them, why not make use of the whole mobile toolkit right now?
Well, there are a few challenges to using mobile research methods in Asia.
One of the biggest is coverage. Though these consumers might be very enthusiastic smartphone purchasers, they can’t always use all the features, namely the mobile internet. Indeed, though last year 62% of phones purchased in China were smartphones, only 16% of subscribers have mobile internet connections. Consumers may have the desire, but not necessarily the means to participate in research.
This has regional implications, too. The maps below show where Samsung and iOS, the two market leaders at the moment in China, are located (darker coloring means higher numbers). While both providers are making progress as they expand to the smaller cities in China, they are still located mostly in the larger population centers. China is very regional, which means mobile research methods will leave large parts of the country un-studied.
The current challenges to mobile in Asia are limiting, of course, but there are ways around them.
- One is to help ensure that your participants have access to your website or service by paying for their data during the study. This can even serve as part of the incentive for the participants. Join the study, get Internet.
- Make sure your websites are simple and easy to load for people who are using slower mobile internet connections.
- Of course, the Internet is sexy, but it isn’t the only option. Consider an SMS-based research method. This will open your research beyond the bigger cities.
- Finally, rather than create something up out of whole-cloth, use platforms that are already in place. For instance, use WeChat, one of the most popular social networks in China, to collect mobile responses.
While significant considerations in choosing a research methodology, these challenges are really only temporary. I have no doubt that mobile internet will grow in China. China Mobile Ltd, the largest telecoms carrier in the country has already stated that mobile internet will be the future direction of company.
Asia is leading the pack in terms of mobile adoption, but it isn’t the only country to take to the phone with gusto. Brazil and Russia are also notable mobile users. Indeed, Brazil outranks China in terms of 3G and 4G penetration at 33.3% of the population compared to China’s 21.8%. In Russia, mobile subscriptions outnumber the people, showing enthusiasm if not necessarily deep penetration. Mobile research methods could excel in each of these markets.
Mobile research methods aren’t just a great advancement for the market research industry, they also seem to be tailor-made for some of the most exciting, up-and-coming markets in the world. Though challenges may exist now, mobile adoption is growing. And with it, the possibilities for research.
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