Mobile Musings: Disintermediation

My prior blog post ‘What is Mobile Research’ was a simple primer in the form of a Q & A. I thought I would stir the waters a bit more with this submission. I’ve been discussing, and in fact advocating, mobile research (not mobile surveys, which are different) as a methodology with both market research firms and end clients since early 2012. I haven’t kept count but certainly over 50 separate discussions/presentations, roughly split between the ‘channel’ (MR firms) and client siders. I developed two different talk tracks, based on viability with the company type and also awareness of a new business model:

  1. Within the channel, the positioning is more a VAR model (value added reseller), in which the fieldwork would be outsourced to a specialty firm who is equipped with both the technology, i.e., a mobile research smartphone app, & the traffic, i.e. engaged people who have installed said app. The MR firm then adds their ‘secret sauce,’ hence adding the value, to the fieldwork. Same model as with online panel sourcing, for example.
  2. When I’m with end clients (for me, typically CPGs and big box retailers), the people I’m chatting with have comparatively more open-minds about the methodology. The difference can be dramatic. I’ve seen it over and over.  Mobile research can (virtually) take them into their stores, in front of their products, and their competitor’s products, all from the consumer’s perspective. It’s more a case of ‘how do we get started’ as opposed to ‘what about representativeness?’ (I’ll address representativeness in a later post).

Well, is there a point to this? I think there is, and it’s this: end clients are calling upon their MR firms of record to engage in ‘in the moment’ research with today’s mobilized consumer, and the channel has been caught unprepared. And whatever interest is there now will be dwarfed a year from now. And two years from now. In defense of the channel, the rise of mobile research technologies has grown so quickly, it’s not fair to expect MR firms, whom, after all, are hypotheses generators and insight strategists, to have sophisticated smartphone technologies and a mobile panel in-house and ready to go. Noted.

However…the reactions I receive from my channel discussions, and I’m usually in the room with the senior execs, is one of four:

  1. I’m going to ignore this and hope it goes away
  2. We’ll take a wait and see approach; perhaps my clients will magically request a mobile study
  3. Hmmm…maybe this is a paradigm shift, maybe not, but I should get up to speed
  4. This would have been perfect for a qual/ethnography/mystery shop/shelf set sim study we ran last month, let’s add this to our competencies

I think if you’ve spent time observing mobile research as a business model, you’ve become aware that the end clients are leapfrogging, or disintermediating the channel and going straight to the ‘OEMs,’ i.e. those firms who have been quietly developing the apps and promoting them to audiences (recruiting I addressed in my prior post). These OEM suppliers, be they online panel firms or pure mobile plays, have naturally jumped into the void and are assertively getting in front of these end client study sponsors.

“But what about the secret sauce” I’m often asked (I’m paraphrasing) by the channel? Well, two items of note: raw, or semi-raw, data feeds from inside stores restaurants, etc, with pics, vids, and open end audio clips (what I consider the real Voice of the Customer, finally!) from mobilized consumers is as pure and non-biased a data feed as this industry has seen. Moreover, the OEMs are hiring research pros to diversify their service offer as well. Check out their press releases or attend their conference sessions if you don’t take my word for it.

If I was running an MR firm and planning to be around awhile, I would hedge my bets and initiate frank chats with other industry insiders. Specifically, about the implications of smartphone ubiquity, disintermediation, and how to maintain our perceived value as insight strategists and domain experts with these new technologies swirling around us.

Scott Weinberg, Tabla Mobile LLC

Immediate Past President, MN / Upper Midwest MRA Chapter

 

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