Mobile research – why you should put the customer in control

Siamack Salari /

Siamack Salari, Creator, Journey HQ Ltd

We all know that the advent of smart phone technology has been the eureka moment for mobile market research. Not only can marketers now scale up sample sizes with ease, they can do so without losing the depth and richness of the data collected. However, what many mobile marketers may not know, is the true value smart phones offer as a window into the customer journey itself – and the unprecedented level of insight that’s now accessible as a result.

Understanding the customer journey – including how they hear about, investigate, compare, try and ultimately buy (or nearly buy) goods and services – is a key part of effective marketing, and the way we research it is central to developing a winning strategy. Until now, mobile customer journey research has always relied on the marketer to drive the process: posing questions and setting tasks. However, new developments in smart phone-based research are set to completely turn this on its head.

Chasing real, unaffected insight

An important factor to consider when looking at conventional mobile research, is that the presence of the researcher has the potential to distort participant outputs – not only by guiding and inadvertently shaping them, but also by relying on over-rationalised memory. So, what would happen if we removed the researcher from the equation? The answer is a more natural – and real – insight into customers’ journeys.

Thanks to consumers’ changing relationship with their phones, this is now a very real option. Not only do people tend to keep their phones with them (and easily accessible), day and night, they are now completely used to sharing information (via social networks, apps and instant messenger services) without ever having to be prompted. As a result, we’re now in a position to make use of this trend and take a real leap forward in mobile customer journey research. We now have the right tools to open a new window into the customer’s world and the purchasing decisions they make – all completely unaffected by the marketer’s gaze.

The challenges of natural, organic data

Whilst the changing consumer/mobile relationship gives marketers an access-all-areas pass to totally organic customer journey data, it also brings its challenges. Removing the researcher from the equation means relinquishing some control, and this can take getting used to for some. However, in a process that relies on gaining true, natural insight in all its non-linear glory, it’s vital that marketers fight the urge to ask questions or probe. Leaving participants alone lets them take the lead and share information on their own terms – making for a much more detailed picture of their decision-making journey.

Stepping away from the research process and letting participants take control also means entering the unknown. It’s a far cry from the controlled residential studies carried out by ethnographers working with small groups in the days before mobile, and it has the potential to yield some completely unexpected results. There may even be days where participants simply have no data to log. However, as anthropology teaches us, nothing never happens – and sometimes knowing what customers didn’t do can be just as valuable as knowing what they did do.

The true value for business

Rather than letting the researcher guide the study, using participant-controlled mobile tools actually helps raise the real questions that marketers should be asking – and can flag areas that they didn’t even know they didn’t know about. My advice to anyone carrying out this kind of research would be to let all the data come in and then set the framework for how you analyse it, rather than the other way around. After all, as well as having the mobile technology to collect this data in the first place, today we also have the tools to extract useful information from the chaos.

Using mobile to carry out research in this way lets marketers see brand choices being made in the real world, while service providers can see the real sources of influence on their customers’ experience. This is a breakthrough for identifying touch points and ‘trigger moments’ that haven’t been recognised before. It also puts marketers ahead of the curve when it comes to R&D, message development and selecting the right communication and retail channels. All in all, today’s mobile technology gives us the potential to completely revolutionise the way we gather, and use, insight into our customers’ decision-making processes.


Written by:

Siamack Salari,

Creator at Journey HQ Ltd

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