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


I am a Millennial

I am a millennial. Twenty-one years old, I have never not known what it means to be connected. I have always had access to a computer, I haven’t had a land-line since 2008, and I haven’t had cable since 2009. I spend more time on social media per day than I do in real-life with my friends or coworkers, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind on those social networks where I might have been hesitant to speak up in my personal life. And yet, my peers are the highest-unemployed demographic in the country, and I have a brand-new private college education in a field that I doubt I will ever enter. I am the profile of your average millennial.

Why am I explaining all of this? Because, at this very moment, thousands of market research professionals are trying to figure my generation out: what makes us tick, why we shop the way we do, and how we interact with brands. We’re resistant to traditional forms of advertising (I haven’t had a magazine subscription in my life, and we miss out on all of the cable advertising by watching Netflix and Hulu), we’re aware that we are being targeted (I have two different ad-blockers built into my web browser) and yet, we leave all of our personal information, our likes and dislikes, lying around online like digital fingerprints. Our interests, our desires and our data are the elephants in the room for market researchers, and yet, there is still one component missing: mobile.

I barely use my laptop for anything but work, but I carry my smartphone with me everywhere. My cellular data moves faster and is more reliable than my home connection, so it’s my primary device for web browsing on the go or at home. Even my tablet is more desirable to use if I’m watching streaming content or simply browsing the web. If we see an email in our inboxes, we decide whether or not it’s important within a microsecond and then it’s either read immediately or sent to the trash. When it comes to work, I live on the same device, with emails and notifications coming from separate accounts all day, every day. My phone has more processing power than my home computer, and it’s surprising to find how little interest there has been in how I use my device and what I do on it. Every time you see a Millennial on their device, they’re not just goofing off or playing a game. More often than not, we’re connecting with dozens, even hundreds of our peers depending on the social network we’re engaged with at the time. Our friendships are stronger, and my brand loyalty is stronger, because of mobile devices.

Never before has there been a generation like mine: constantly connected, sharing and willing to trust a brand with my personal information so willingly. I do a majority of my shopping online while on my phone, whether through mobile applications or mobile sites. This goes in stark contrast with Gen-X’ers and Baby Boomers, whose adoption rates are more spotty.  I work in the wireless industry tackling user issues and hearing about mobile experiences every day. I meet people who have never had a smartphone, and those who have had them for the past decade, who lack the willingness to trust their information to their device, or understand how their information can be used to tailor information, advertising, or marketing to them instead of just another Joe-smartphone.

To understand my generation is to understand the future of mobile. I now own a smartphone and a tablet, but soon, I’ll probably go out of my way to pick up a Pebble smart-watch to deliver smartphone alerts to my wrist instead of my pocket. Or, I may decide the Google Glass headset will be more preferable. Either way, my generation is more prepared to integrate mobile and wearable tech into our everyday lives, and in ignoring the opportunities we may pose for your firm, you may be missing out on a generation of sharing, willing, and mobile consumers.


Cole Hanson is a recent graduate of Hamline University, and the Lead Technology Adviser with Tabla Mobile, a mobile research advisory service.