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Why are Market Researchers Holding Back Market Research?

Here’s a question everyone in the market research industry should be thinking about: Why has mobile been relatively slow to take off within the market research industry? In contrast, mobile is transforming the meetings and events industry at a rate of knots.

The truth is that while more and more surveys are being taken on mobile, the better part of the industry and its practitioners still focus on online when it comes to digital. The order of priority remains PC first, tablet second, mobile third.

It is not as if slow adoption of mobile in general can be the explanation. It is axiomatic that more people now access the Internet via smartphones than by either laptop or desktop. Moreover, it is not as if the implications have not been discussed within the industry. You could easily argue that no other industry has talked more about mobile but done less to promote its deployment.

Of course, it is disingenuous to say nothing has happened. Lumi Say, the mobile survey platform and app that Lumi launched in 2013, has processed nearly 10 million completes, and the app has been downloaded nearly a million times. However, recent compound growth in usage has been in the tens of percent rather than the widely anticipated hundreds of percent.

Using Lumi’s Meetoo polling app to elicit feedback from around two hundred attendees at market research conferences I recently addressed, I found out some very revealing facts.

The vast majority agreed with the following key propositions:

  • Surveys are far too long for mobile.
  • The way people interact with their phones is fundamentally different to the way they use PCs.
  • The best mobile experience is in a native app.

I have no doubt that this would also be the view of the majority of market research industry practitioners.

To date, the industry has largely promoted mobile by optimizing online surveys for completion on the mobile device. This has meant that panelists have been asked to complete what are essentially the same long surveys as before, designed on and for PC survey platforms, but optimized to render slightly better on a small screen, with the participants notified via email.


To date, mobile market research has focused on creating device agnostic surveys, which acknowledge the inconvenient truth that more and more people access surveys from their phone. But it is important not to confuse this with a mobile-first approach.

Device agnostic surveys obviously have their place, but in practice they have usually been adopted because they were easier to create compared to designing a native app that’s respondent-centric. In other words, device agnosticism perpetuates mobile third; it does not promote mobile first.

The requisite sample becomes harder to find and to retain, and response rates concomitantly decline. So doubts grow over just how representative this entire exercise has become. Of course, I am not neutral on this. Our business at Lumi is specifically about mobile-first market research technology, but I would be astonished if these trends are not keeping some of the industry’s leaders awake at night.

Let us consider the issue of survey length. It is uncontroversial. Everyone thinks surveys are too long (and to be fair, they are reducing in size). However, many consider cutting a 45-minute survey down to 15 minutes as a huge achievement. But to be truly mobile first and to conduct research in a way that accords with how people actually use their phones, the very concept of a survey, as it has been historically understood, disappears.

By definition, a survey is a discrete, one-off, concentrated exercise. Yet, people tend to flit in and out of their phone. You will be familiar with the statistic that the average mobile user interacts with their phone nearly two hundred times a day. The message is not just that mobile is virtually ubiquitous but also that people adopt a “little and often” approach to how they use their phones.

In this context, we examined some of our aggregated data across several different panels and branded instances of Lumi Say.

A random selection of one million interactions with Lumi Say showed us that the average duration of a user’s session, within the app, was of less than 30 seconds duration and less than a minute for 80% of the entire sample. Therefore, it’s no surprise to us that mobile diaries have been much more successful than mobile surveys.

Gleaning what people think for research purposes requires more than bite-size chunks of information. It needs precise, nugget-like questions and it needs to be linear rather than discrete in terms of process. Nagging at researchers to do this, however, does not work.

The solution is a technology one and this is at the core of what we are focused on at Lumi in an effort to protect the traditional market research industry by creating the product set to bring it into line with the very patterns of consumer behaviour that it exists to discern, analyse and make comprehensible to the benefit of its paying clients.