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Happy 10th Birthday iPhone: 6 Smart Mobile Market Research Applications

Can you believe that it’s nearly 10 years ago that the first iPhone was shipped? The 29th June 2007 was the date that the mobile market changed forever. This was probably the first death knell for Nokia, but also marked the remarkable growth of Apple and mobile computing. The use of smartphones has revolutionised every industry from retail to publishing. And market research is no different.

To celebrate the birth of this exciting methodology, here are 6 of the most valuable mobile customer insight applications by sector.

1. Retail: Point of Purchase (POP) Experience

Direct mobile feedback at the point of purchase gives both retailers and brands a previously unseen view of what influences customers when they are choosing which products to buy. Insight informs stakeholders of display, signage, placement, packaging and offer impact. It identifies the high and low points in the in-store customer experience as well as the changes required to remedy weak areas.

Real-world Example: Our client, the supplier of a high street grocer, wanted to understand how to increase the sales of British grown fruit. They wanted to know what influence the labelling, packaging and pricing signs had on the final purchasing decision. We used a smartphone diary study task to collect in-store feedback on the POP elements noticed by shoppers. In addition to textual commentary, the POP study participants were asked to submit images and videos to explain their final purchasing decision. As a result, the supplier had confidence to change the label design instead of discounting and profits increased.

Challenge Solved: Previously, we would have had to rely on shopper’s recalling what they thought had influenced their purchasing decision via a reflective research study or incur the costs of accompanied shops, neither of which would have built the same level of confidence in this particular circumstance. The photographic and video capabilities brought by the smartphone also allow for fluid image and video capture and upload. Audio and visual stimulus did and does fuel business action.

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"Mobile market research feedback is uncensored. fluid. contextual. emotive. agile"

2. Marketing: Outdoor Advertising Influence

Outdoor advertising influence is a subconscious one, but a subconscious one that needs to be understood in order to maximise the value of million-pound campaigns! Smartphones give us the chance to do just that by allowing for real-time in-situ customer feedback 24/7. Be it on their commute, in their active leisure time, shopping, sitting at home or going on holiday, participants can document what they notice and why in any given period of time.

Real-world Example: Outdoor advertising influence was the focus of a recent client syndicated study. Specifically, we sought to identify which outdoor advertising opportunities had the most influence, why and how this influence was affected by situation; time, weather, etc. We used a mixed methodology mobile approach, using qual and quant to provide a rich scalable account at to what people saw and when. The results showed that the top influencing sites were bus-shelters along public transport routes, billboards on the underground, on major roads on city commuter routes and airport departure lounges.

Challenge Solved: As with POP studies, the optimum placement and content of outdoor advertising campaigns used to be predicated by the post-activity ‘recall’ of research participants. This just can’t get to the true route of site and situational specifics like the real-time insight provided by smartphone enabled mobile methods. If you are interested in distinct location feedback, complement your digital research study with geofencing technology.

3. Publishing: Media Consumption

Smartphones are unique in that they go with us everywhere. Not only can they pinpoint location, they can track our movements and online activity making them the ideal platform for exploratory media consumption studies. As publishing continues to struggle to get to grips with the shift from print to digital, the need to understand how the associated changes in consumer behaviour impact media types as well as specific publications has never been greater. Mobile research holds the key.

Real-world Example: We worked with a national newspaper group during a period when sales of print were in significant decline. In order to get their products back into the daily routine they needed to understand how people now consume the news. A mobile media diary identified that news consumption had switched from specific reading in habitual patterns to bite-sized ‘dipping’ throughout the day. Being able to map a daily customer news consumption timeline allowed our client revise their publishing schedules in line with demand. Their app was also re-designed for faster bite-size use purposes.

Challenge Solved: The power of the smartphone here is in its functionality and mobility combined. Actual quant data (GPS and Internet enabled website / app usage statistics) provided by the phone mixed with the qualitative customer feedback provided by the research study gives us the what, when, where, how and why of media consumption today. Such an approach can naturally be extended to print and online advertising.

4. Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG): New Product Development

The risk associated with new product launches for both brand and bottom line are huge, so getting the product exactly right for your target audience is pretty important. Customer feedback gleaned within the exact environment in which your product will be used, the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. is fundamental to this aim. Smartphones give us unrivalled access.

Real-world Example: Our client wanted to assess the family reaction to a new food flavour range. With the product aimed at young teens, it was vital we got two perspectives: one from the teens themselves and one from the mums. Family dynamic and parental influence is critical to teenage decision-making. We employed a mobile ethnographic methodology. Smartphone video ‘vox pops’ live from participant dining tables provided interactive feedback for analysis. The client felt like they’d visited customer homes in person. The result was not only a refinement in the final flavours chosen, but also an alteration to the packaging and labelling designs to maximise marketing appeal.

Challenge Solved: Whilst in-home ethnography would likely achieve the insight required in such circumstances, it is vastly more expensive and time consuming. The mobile ethnography approach got our client to the dinner table… with parents and teens… where products were naturally consumed and discussed… for a fraction of the in-home ethnography price.

5. Healthcare: Perceptual Drug Trials

The healthcare sector is experienced at running scientific drug trials, but the advent of smartphones also allows them to evaluate the public perception of use which has a direct effect on take-up - the advantages and disadvantages in terms of side effects and the overall emotional impact.

Real-world Example: Our client, a university department, wanted to understand the perceptual barriers to the adoption of critical eye treatments. A mobile methodology allowed us to get instant responses from participants throughout the day, to prompt and probe for even deeper emotive feedback, creating an almost continuous dialogue that would have been impossible via larger devices - People don’t carry their laptops around in their pocket! The study highlighted the level of public knowledge regarding the condition as well as the level of emotional investment needed to seek early treatment. The result - a ground-breaking paper presented at international pharma conferences.

Challenge Solved: Before the smartphone gave us the ‘always-on’, i.e. always accessible participant phenomenon, more often than not there would be a time delay between prompt posting and participant viewing. Where emotive feedback is concerned such a time delay can be particularly detrimental as emotions are so fluid, and so readily forgotten or at least minimised when a new feeling becomes primary. A mobile approach to sensitive studies of this nature gives us access to participants in the moment for deeper uncensored insight into every entry.

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"POP experience. media consumption. FMCG NPD. beta testing - 4 key applications of mobile research"

6. Technology: Beta Testing

The software industry has pioneered agile development practices, but the smartphone allows technological advancements to embrace an agile market research approach also. Any software product can now iterate in line with customer feedback, from the beta stage through to soft launch and immediately post hard launch.

Real-world Example: Our client, a national broadcaster, had a high-profile launch of their new on demand service. With so much riding on the launch, the release date couldn’t change; it was essential that the software iterate quickly, both in advance of the launch and soon thereafter. Smartphones were a vital component of the process. They gave us the consistent participant access necessary - in situ as they set-up, first used and showed the service offering to family and friends - with a perfect fit methodology. Be it group, individual, qual, quant, visual or audio visual, the smartphone was able to support the right feedback data type for the specific software element or user-journey being tested. And all with the contextual client dimension of being right there with the end user as they felt the frustrations of first use.

Challenge Solved: The smartphone expedited research iteration in order that it maintain pace with software iteration. Customer feedback was available to developers within 12-24 hours direct from the point of experience. Other devices would struggle here which is not to say they can’t be used in study extension.


Here’s to you iPhone! Happy birthday! From our point of view your arrival will always be an exciting landmark in market research history. We will continue to watch you grow and can’t wait to invent alongside you as your ‘tweenage’ years see new features added.

Paul Hudson

Written by Paul Hudson

CEO and Founder of FlexMR, Paul has over 20 years of market research experience. As an experienced online researcher, Paul remains active within the insights industry and is dedicated to innovating market research techniques for online application. You can follow Paul on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Topics: Beta Testing, Shopper Behaviour, Insight Innovation