Steve Richardson, Director of Communications for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) explains how text messaging is being used for both qualitative and quantitative market research
Imagine a brand manager being able to receive a text message with a
detailed response to her product immediately after a customer first
experiences it. Or a set of nationwide respondents being able to
evaluate a clients or a competitors communications materials right
after they first encounter them.
As mobile market research using text messaging has grown, it has typically been thought of as a quantitative research tool one thats used to get short, measurable, fact-based information from research subjects. But its applications are growing for qualitative research, where researchers seek to understand emotions and motivations in response to a product. Knowing when and how to use text messaging for either type of market research is critical to using the tool effectively.
In her recent article in QRCA VIEWS, Shaili Bhatt, QRCA member and an independent Moderator based in Chicago, explains that the trend of texting has been most commonly associated with teenagers, but it has grown into a more mainstream activity on mobiles among broader market segments. According to a 2007 Mobile Attitude and Usage Study conducted by Synovate, a global market research company:
Teens and young adults up to age 34 use text messaging more than any other demographic. People age 13-24 send and receive the most - more than 50 messages per week, while half of all survey respondents use text messaging at least once a week.
54% of 13-34 year olds use text messaging for social networking.
44% of 13-34 year olds said they use text messaging for flirting or dating.
10% of 13-34 year olds said they had broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend using text messaging.
Innovative market researchers have begun to incorporate mobile market research into their studies in recent years, as a whole or a part of their methodologies, and numerous suppliers are now available to help the next wave of researchers take their own steps into the field to take advantage of this growing trend of mobile text studies.
Consumers on the go
Our world seems to be moving at a faster pace than ever in this digital age. It can be difficult to keep up with consumers lives when they are constantly on the go. Bhatt describes how mobile market research might fit the bill for those who need to reach busy consumers, specifically with outbound text surveys, which are the latest growing trend in mobile market research.
With outbound surveys, researchers can send a personalized survey directly to their recruited respondents mobile phones. In turn, the respondents are able to access the survey on the phone and text back a response to the researcher wherever they are, at a specific time or place, and through the convenience of a device that they already carry with them.
Inbound text surveys are perhaps the better-known sibling in mobile participation.
These surveys are used extensively on reality television shows, says Bhatt. For example, inbound surveys can give viewers a chance to cast a vote from a set of multiple options flashed during the reality show, often with a stirring audiovisual compilation by texting a specific keyword on their cell phones.
According to Bhatt, there are many benefits to text-based research,among them:
Anyone with a mobile phone can to participate in this type of study, provided that they fit the other research specifications.
A single text message can contain all of the answers for a given survey, or the questions can be sent one at a time. Since the answers are provided in a text message, questions can be single-choice, multiple-choice or open-ended.
For an additional fee, some software will also allow researchers to personalize all outgoing messages, so each participant receives messages and questions that include her/his name or title.
With most software suppliers, researchers can see their results online immediately. The results are often available in real-time in the convenience of spreadsheets, and sometimes other file types as well.
Some software can support any or all of the following reporting services: a graphical display of the results of each question (with a choice of format: pie, bar, column etc.), cross-tabulation and the ability to filter results on the researchers screen/web browser.
With some suppliers, it is possible to send an automated custom Thank you text to the respondent for an additional cost. This is a polite way to let respondents know that you have received their text submission(s) and are paying attention to them.
Things to remember
To ensure that respondents will open and acknowledge your text messages, they should receive a heads-up of your plan to contact them. Keep in mind that the fewer text messages that are sent, the easier and less expensive it will be for the respondent to reply, Bhatt advises.
In addition, unless respondents are on an unlimited text messaging plan, they will be charged standard text messaging rates (e.g., $0.10 per message) by their network operator, which can add up. Be ready to cover the respondents additional expenses in relation to sending (and sometimes receiving) text messages.
Even so, Bhatt acknowledges that the trend of text-based research is likely at the primitive stages of mobile market research. Mobile messaging alternatives on consumers mobiles are already beginning to address the limitations of text messages by offering Enhanced Messaging Services, which resemble e-mails in that the text messages can contain formatting, small pictures and audio; Multimedia Messaging Services, where the text messages can contain animations, audio and video files; and Mobile Internet Messaging services using GPRS (i.e., mobile Internet) technology for two-way communications capabilities on users mobile phones.
As more cell phones and other devices become enabled with these technologies, they will substantially advance researchers capabilities from the way that mobile text communications are currently being used in mobile studies today.