Go to any qualitative research conference, and you’re sure to hear the term “mobile research” as much as you hear “Where’s the lunch session?” Mobile research is the next greatest thing, the subject with the most buzz. It’s also a subject with more than its share of confusion, beginning with the question of whether mobile research is a tool, or is it a methodology?
So let’s clear the air: Mobile research is a methodology, a means to an end. We shouldn’t let our fascination with the new obscure our obligation to our goal; and the goal of qualitative research has always been, and will always be, to get to the truth of what consumers are thinking and doing. It’s not about innovating or adopting a technology because everyone else is doing it, and we fear being left in the proverbial dust. It’s about using better methods to capture the consumer moment – relevant data in a time and place where we can uncover a richness in responses that leads directly to better strategic decisions.
Mobile research does that, so long as we don’t compromise our objectives in terms of who we can reach, the data we need, or in the self-limiting belief that only smartphones and tablets are a prerequisite for mobile research. If mobile research fits only some assignments, don’t limit your objectives – expand your tools.
That worked for Hewlett-Packard (HP) on a qualitative research project that followed the purchasing journey of incoming college students. Instead of forcing the respondents into a rigid methodology, HP and Qualvu employed flexibility in its methodology to include webcams, pocket cams and screen-tracking – and gave respondents the freedom to share their insights using the method they wanted and in a way that made the most sense for them. Because of that, HP was able to virtually be with the students whenever and wherever relevant to capture the full participant experience. There was no madness to their methodology!
We need to guard against projecting our technology values onto others. Although smartphones and tablets are increasingly ubiquitous and none of us would ever leave home without one, other tools such as pen cams may be less intrusive when conducting a shop-along or mystery shopping study. Or a pocket cam might make more sense in a study to capture the daily routines, say, of a farmer. (We recently mounted pocket cams with pre-recorded questions on tractors so that farmers could watch and answer a question at the click of a button without having to access the Internet, which would have been virtually impossible when they were out in the field.) Two parties had a great harvest from that study.
We know that when we give consumers the flexibility to participate on their terms, when, where and how they prefer, the quality of the data is commensurately better. Lots of tools can be integrated to deliver superior results. Giving ourselves flexibility in methodology is essential to making that happen.