Local organisations and agencies need to practice ‘m-research’

Wednesday, 23 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Thanzyl Thajudeen

Mobile and smartphone handsets are evolving and changing our lives in the past, present, and the future – it allows doing what we want, and be who we want to be – it’s most obvious to state that many people consider mobile phones as extensions of themselves.

As famously said ‘these days it’s more likely that you’ll forget your keys than your mobile phone when you leave home in the morning’.

I have written on various trends and practices related to the whole integrated mobile ecosystem – from m-commerce through to m-couponing and m-advertising. Then there is something called the ‘m-research’ which stands for any research done on a mobile phone or mobile device; wherever people may be – at home, work, out, abroad, etc.

Dr. Liz Nelson, Chairperson of Fly Research, expects growth of m-research to be proportional to the penetration of smart phones, tablets and mobile broadband – that is predicting a 10 percent growth in the next five to seven years - but if there is an increase in mobile broadband prices, this could inhibit growth.

What trends should we watch for in mobile research? Well, they are the same as marketing research and customer engagement. In order to engage with individuals and get valuable input from them, you need to fish where the fish are. I have always been saying these throughout all my writings – they are increasingly more and more on mobile handsets and social networks!

Towards the Sri Lankan context

Mobile subscribers in Sri Lanka surpassed 16.3 million by September 2010 according to statistics from Telecommunications Regulatory Commission – which is closer to three-quarter penetration of the total country’s population. When comparing to some 1,700,000 internet users, mobile usage is just incomparable.

A massive, almost the only biggest service used throughout all individuals in Sri Lanka is SMS when comparing to that of voice or 3G, etc. – this allows surveys and so on through SMS! We should also not forget the smartphone and mobile internet penetration – it’s noticeable that it’s on the increase – so this gives room for mobile web based!

Glancing through these numbers, could you just imagine the potential to do ‘m-research’? Seriously speaking, it’s a massive opportunity.

I see many opt-in for the latest offers and discounts or other promotional materials on their mobile handsets – they won’t mind spending time and giving out their response if you practice m-research – what is the main issue?

It’s that not even a single organisation or local research agency or multinational research agency with branches in Sri Lanka has ever thought about practicing this massive area that will bring out a wealth of insights and valuable information.

Just think about the targeting. Wow, you precisely know the demo-psychographics; hence you exactly know who the user is, his or her age, occupation, location, social – cultural, income level! Your research thus will be highly precise and well-targeted! Why aren’t any of our locals doing this? Seriously, I guess it’s time to light up – come to your senses.

Benefits of using m-research

As said earlier, you exactly know to whom you are sending the survey to. The data hence is fresh, immediacy, richness of response (it’s obvious to conclude that open-ended questions get fuller responses). M-research also has options of sending supporting materials, such as photos, etc to the handset devices.

Mobile research has a very high trigger and hence the speed of collecting data is at a lightning pace when compared to web based surveys. A study recently revealed that 80 per cent of responses come within two hours – how cool is that right?

And moreover, the number of people using mobile handsets is massive and cannot compare them to those online or on fixed line phones – mobile handsets have got so personal that it’s just an extension of you as I stated in the beginning – so this means that access is at a higher rate.

This is not just the case globally, take the Sri Lankan scenario for example, and look at the mobile penetration compared to fixed lines and internet users – research agencies need to get into this mode!

Drawbacks of using m-research

While most people are familiar with what an online, print or telephone survey entails, they will be biased as to how mobile based surveys will look like for example. Another critical point here to say is that all surveys and research carried out has to be short: surveys can last no more than 10-15 minutes – we all know how wild we get when we see surveys that are long!

Screen sizes of many mobile handsets remain a big limitation – but yet, think about the big screens that are coming out from major mobile and smartphone manufacturers such as Apple with their iPhone collections, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, and even upcoming Chinese and Indian manufacturers for example – the screens are massive so it allows more space for the survey, etc.

As the internet based surveys are not at all a cost, the cost of sending invitations to participate for instance (via SMS) is typically charged and is higher – hence the costs come into play here but yet, just look at the perfect data that you would get through highly profile targeting to these mobile users. I would argue that the benefits obviously outweigh the drawbacks.

Best practices in m-research

The very first obvious thing that comes to mind is that you need to keep surveys short especially due to the screen size, etc. It’s very critical that you focus on freshness – exactly targeting to the relevant recipient by doing a demo-psychographic filtering.

Once you get the data and responses, through my experience, many organisations just don’t really apply it to their businesses in real time. This is not acceptable; you really need to apply all data gathered in quick real time.A key approach is to be human. That is telling people what you expect – mobile invite is much easier than the traditional telephone or web based surveys.

When carrying out a survey, it’s best to use a mix of methodologies such as mobile web, SMS, and other operator-based models for example. Anything you do, just keep surveys simple; do not try to shoot too many questions, and never assume that your list is the total population you expect – it’s your challenge to work out the customer targeting and engagement.

Case example – Coca Cola

Taking Coca Cola here, the mobile approach for the beverage giant gave out research findings in real time, allowing Coca-Cola quickly to make changes in their ongoing ‘topical’ campaign in newspapers as the results were analysed – and further it was deemed the perfect platform for reaching the target market of 25-49 year old ABC1 respondents and it was able to capture experiences with the brands being measured as they happened, including photo.

This case study will be presented at the Globalparks Mobile Research Conference to be held in March.


It’s very interesting and exciting to see how research is evolving; it’s actually becoming highly relevant and targeted. Social media and mobile technologies are shaping the whole ground in the way of reaching, collecting and analysing data – mobile research is regarded as one of the best tools to use – you just need to discover meaning, and take more timely and informed actions.

Taking Sri Lanka’s context, looking at the mobile penetration and the underdeveloped infrastructure in many areas for fixed and internet lines, mobile is one of the best to use in research. Why aren’t the research agencies trying to get into this? Well, you need to – it’s time to adapt to the evolving ground and deliver quality, real time data and results that will give your client’s business the best!

(The writer is an evolving marketer and strategist, and is the world’s youngest ACIM, and provides practices and knowledge on industry, marketing, strategy, communications, digital and social media, and strategic reputation. You can reach him on [email protected] feedback and services. Browse through his articles on www.thanzyl.com.)