Imagine a market research tool that could provide frank opinions from consumers in real time as they interact with your brand and its rivals, while preventing those consumers from forgetting where they had been, and what media they had seen, and flagging up the white lies they had told to make themselves sound more interesting.
Attractive? According to many, that is what smartphone-based market research services now offer. People who are always connected to the internet via their phone, or other personal communication device, are well-placed to give feedback on any number of brand experiences.
The ‘in the moment’ nature of mobile response is one of the key factors valued by brands. Consumers taking part in market research projects, usually for an incentive, can provide accurate, timely feedback on brand experiences as they happen, rather than days or weeks later when they take part in a panel discussion.
Commenting on airport check-in procedures while in the queue might give an airline a more accurate view of how travellers feel than the results of a focus group, for example. Market researchers also contend that participants give more candid responses to questions posed through mobiles than those in a traditional survey because they are relevant: people asked ‘why did you order a round of Jagermeister?’ would respond differently if asked in a focus group than in a bar at 2am.
Window manufacturer Velux is one brand employing mobile technology to find out more about the ways customers respond to its products. The company faces a specific challenge, shared by brands such as Jacuzzi and Hoover, in that many consumers use its name as a generic term for products in its sector. But while Velux may be the best known manufacturer of windows for sloping roofs, it does have competitors.
Velux appointed research agency Marketing Sciences to run a long-term series of qualitative research initiatives to help understand this and other branding issues, and to differentiate itself from its rivals. Marketing Sciences took a ‘device agnostic’ approach to the task, which is still ongoing, enabling research participants to use whatever internet-enabled device they preferred when taking part.
A bulletin board approach was used for Velux, with groups of 20 people engaging in a variety of research tasks over the space of a week. Those who used their phones to take part downloaded an app and were then able to share photos and videos with the researchers and other group members as they took part in discussions. The small groups allowed the brand to focus on different areas of its customer base, which consists of both a B2C market of home improvers and a B2B market of builders, window fitters and architects.
Velux insight and intelligence manager Jane Bushell explains that this approach allowed the company to really understand consumer behaviour. She says: “When customers carry out a change to their home, they invest a lot of time, emotion and energy into the project. The customer journey is complex and we wanted to gain a greater understanding of customers’ motivations and experiences when carrying out building projects.”
She adds: “The online qualitative research we carry out allows customers to share photographs and videos of their homes, which give us a great insight into their lives. We find that customers enjoy participating, seeing what other people are doing and discussing ideas.”
Mobile phones are, increasingly, the tool that many consumers favour to access the internet
and their use in research is growing accordingly. The capabilities of modern phones add an extra dimension to the way that customers and brands can interact, allowing a dynamic multimedia conversation.
Mobiles can be used for broader research projects too, and reports suggest they can be more responsive than traditional methods in some situations.
Research group Ipsos carried out a self-funded study into alcoholic spirits brands to demonstrate its Brand Shout research tool. The platform takes sample groups of 500 consumers, recruited for week-long studies conducted entirely through a mobile app. Participants are asked to use the app to record any interactions they have with a list of brands, typically the client and its key competitors. This could include advertisements seen, conversations heard or social media comments read. For a drinks brand it might include conversations with friends or bar staff during a night out.
A smaller group of 100 consumers took part in the demonstration test. They were asked to respond to a set of questions about their brand experiences and provide a picture each time they encountered a listed brand. The relatively small Disaronno liqueur brand achieved the most brand touchpoints during the test period, ahead of more established brands such as Bacardi and Smirnoff. It transpired that during the week of the test, Disaronno was sponsoring the Bafta Awards and the research picked up a related spike.
While most clients and market research groups consider mobile to be a useful addition to, rather than a replacement for, traditional methods of market research, there are areas where the new technology has a clear advantage.
Supermarket giant Tesco commissioned Marketing Sciences to visit all of its 950 stores in the UK and Northern Ireland to capture instant responses to customer service standards through a questionnaire. The agency has carried out more than a million face-to-face interviews, using Android tablets rather than the traditional clipboard. The technology allows results to be collated almost immediately, giving a rapid and location-specific measure of service standards. Errors are reduced too, and the agency calculates that 18 tonnes of paper would have been printed and posted to achieve the same results if it had used clipboards and pens.
Tesco strategic marketing manager Diane Denham says: “Using the tablets has meant we can capture the opinions of 100,000 customers per month as soon as they leave the store and gives us timely feedback on how our customers’ experiences have been in store that day.”
This almost instant collation of customer responses allows brands to react quickly to consumers’ wants and needs. Although there are data protection challenges (see box below) that need to be overcome, the appeal of more accurate, timely data is pushing marketers to try out new technology to help them to make decisions in a tough market.
When insurance group More Than wanted to track people’s reactions to its new brand positioning, the business decided to invest in smartphone research, proposed by research group Mesh.
Key to the process is a consumer panel, recruited on a rolling basis, with members who participate in the research via their smartphones. Each panel member reports on any interaction with the More Than brand, or with a list of its competitors, to allow accurate tracking of brand perceptions. Panel members are briefed to mention advertising or even overheard conversations, with their phones allowing them to check-in instantly, which appealed to More Than marketing director Dominic Grounsell.
“Never before have I been able to measure the impact of overheard conversations on peoples’ perceptions of my brand. And the insights we are drawing are super powerful,” says Grounsell. “You get a really powerful mix of qualitative and quantitative insights.”
Smartphone capabilities allow participants to show exactly what they are seeing and their response to it. He says: “We have had shots that people have posted of their TV screens, and you get immediate reactions. That’s not something I had not seen before. But because you are using such a large sample size you can translate that powerful individual insight into quantitative data, which is robust and which
I can make decisions on.”
The project allows More Than to understand the effect of individual creative treatments within a wider campaign, adds Grounsell. “We can see clearly which media channels give us the most positive experiences over a period, which is something you could never track with traditional brand tracking methodologies.
“That’s helping us to understand which part of our advertising media mix is working hardest. We are also getting powerful insights into how the ads stimulate people within our respondents peer network to discuss the brand.
That is something we have never seen before and it’s allowing us to see the kind of ripple effect that our communications are having. So it is helping us to understand the power of our creative, how we can shape it for better effect in the future, and it’s leading to more interesting conversations around the media mix.”
Mobile technology offers tremendous opportunities, but there are still bridges to be crossed.
One significant concern is data privacy, which is subject to different laws in different countries. Issues such as using location-based technology that will ask participants questions depending on where they are, or record where they are when they respond to a general query, have not been used extensively in the UK. Clients are nervous of appearing to be intrusive, say some market research agencies.
Many are waiting to see what happens with uptake of Google Glass wearable technology because, if privacy concerns are overcome, augmented reality technology could offer a boon for market research. It could, for example, let consumers ‘try out’ new paint colours on the walls of their home or see how products would look in the living room, or be integrated with eye-tracking technology to monitor reactions to advertisements or packaging.
Mobile bandwidth is still an issue for some kinds of mobile research. While research participants are showing themselves willing to upload pictures or video content from their phones, this can take too long or use up too much of their mobile data allowance. New 4G services should help this, say market researchers.
How locator data gives insight to brands
Some research agencies and app developers are taking the opportunity to harvest available data so they can provide insights to clients.
Location is a key element, explains David Shim, chief executive of Seattle-based agency Placed. He says: “We are taking the fact that a smartphone is almost like a persistent ‘cookie’ file or meter that someone always carries with them, and we are measuring this location data and pulling it into insights that people can use.”
Consumers download the company’s Panel App, going through a triple opt-in process to have their location data monitored in return for incentives that can include cash, gift cards or donations to a charity. More than 70,000 people use the app on any given day, and each will visit around 1,000 locations per day, says Shim.
The app will soon have been running for its first full year, meaning year-on-year comparisons of behaviour can begin. It also means that clients can retrospectively question the data and
obtain accurate results: they could ask, for example, how many times in the past 30 days
a customer has visited fast food restaurants
and not have to contend with poor recall.
Crucially, the data could tell retailers where customers went before or after visiting their stores. Placed was able to tell one client that
US shoppers who go to a JC Penney were 66 per cent more likely to then visit a branch of Macy’s than the US population in general; stores can tell if customers who only browse in their store then visit a cheaper outlet next to buy something.
Grapple Mobile, meanwhile, has developed its Insights Engine by harvesting data from over 300 branded apps it has developed, allowing it to gain insights that can be presented to clients while maintaining the data confidentiality. It could tell the most effective time of day to send a push message to a retail brand customer, for example.