Fifteen years ago, if you told somebody you worked in market research, the response would invariably be ‘oh, do you stand on street corners with a clipboard?’ Those much-maligned individuals whose lot it was to persuade passers-by into ticking boxes on a questionnaire were at the coalface of market research, and it didn’t have a great reputation as a result.

Go back just a few more years earlier, and a mobile was something that hung over a baby’s cot. Mobile and cell phones were known as car phones. Not unreasonably, as they weren’t truly mobile, and were indeed only for use in the car. Of course a few city boys were wandering around with enormous contraptions held to their ear, but like those poor market researchers, they too could be objects of mockery.

How things have changed over the past couple of decades. Ownership of mobile/cell phones has risen dramatically - from under half of UK households and just over half of US households at the turn of this century, to 95% from 2015 onwards according to Pew Research Center and Statista, who also estimate that 86% of people aged 12 to 18 regularly use a mobile (and, as parents will know, can’t imagine the prehistoric world in which they didn’t exist).

Of course the type of phones we have has also changed. In 2018, 78% of the UK population and 77% of the US population used a smartphone – a far cry from the basic call-and-text phones of twenty years ago. What was once only possible on a computer, we can now do with a handheld phone, with the result that our daily tasks are increasingly dictated and managed by smartphones; indeed we can feel bereft without them. A recent Yougov survey that found 54% of people couldn’t be without their phone for more than two days and 55% check their phones during dinner. And when they do use their phones, as this year’s Global Digital reports by We Are Social and Hootsuite show, people are often going online. Of the approximately eight hours per day spent online by UK and US citizens, half of this is on mobile phones.

Smartphones have become ubiquitous and multifaceted, natural tools for our life admin and entertainment. Many a pub quiz must have been won with the covert help of a smartphone’s encyclopaedic knowledge. Road atlases have been cast aside in favour of Google maps. You don’t even need a separate alarm clock any more, and what did concert-goers do before they were able to light up an arena with their smartphone’s torch? Michael McIntyre hilariously imagines what we would have to take with us on any journey out of the house if we didn’t have our trusty smartphone…

What does this mean then for market research? Well, far fewer clipboards for a start. Populations adept at accessing and creating content online are a gift for market researchers; taking part in online surveys and posting videos is second nature to anyone using social media and curating their own photo and video albums. If you’re using your phone anyway for so many other areas of your life, it isn’t too much of a hardship to respond to a survey using that very same tool.

Beyond the ease of use, mobile phones change the dynamic between the surveyor and the surveyed. Paper questionnaires were a one-way street; answers were gathered up and that was the last the respondent ever heard of it. With online surveys, and especially video surveys, there is much more scope for dialogue between researcher and respondent, so that the respondent feels he or she has more power in shaping the future of a brand, product or service. And what’s more, it’s enjoyable for respondents and researchers alike; we talked last year about the increasing popularity of posting videos online and how video boosts the impact of research findings.

The face of market research has changed with the evolution of phones. Your research audience is at your fingertips, and your video survey is at theirs.

Check out Plotto’s tools to see how you can hear from your customers in an authentic and insightful way.

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