Is mobile dead?

Head in Hands

I was at a meeting last week where someone said, “When you talk to the major panel companies about mobile they will privately admit that mobile is dead.” By that he meant that the promise of mobile—in-the-moment, geolocation tracking, etc.—is nowhere near at the scale once predicted. This blog post also is getting some attention, which to my eye says essentially the same thing.

The broader context here is the reality of innovation in our industry. There is no shortage of ideas both good and bad that are accompanied by the constant drumbeat of “innovate or die.” At the same time there is no shortage of handwringing about the inability to deploy these ideas on a broad scale. What is missing is the frank realization that there are two other equally if not more important players in the innovation game.

The first obviously is clients. If GRIT is to be believed, suppliers are doing a better job at “mobile first” than are clients. Many clients view the tradeoffs of mobile as insufficiently positive to move away from their traditional designs. Survey length is one key issue. The potential loss of data for key norms another. Simply getting enough interviews in-the-moment still another. Despite years of mobile evangelism we have not made the sale. Preaching to the choir, as we so often do, has not gotten us where we want to be. Blaming our customers is not a strategy. We need a better value proposition. Plain and simple.

The second is the people who we want to respond to our research requests. There is some real irony here when you think about the last several years. It was the respondents who insisted that we go to mobile to start. Five years ago few companies were designing for mobile, but respondents forced our hand by at least trying to do our surveys on the their mobile devices, even when the survey was not optimized for mobile. This was a key part of the mobile (and online) value proposition: the flexibility to respond on their own time and at their convenience rather than being interrupted by us who seemed always to call during dinner. But in-the-moment is interruptive and where’s the attraction in that? I may not mind responding to a text message from a friend while standing in front of the soup shelf at the market or waiting for my latte, but it may not be a time when I feel like doing a survey.

I would like to think that mobile is temporarily stuck in Gartner’s Trough of Disillusionment, about to begin its ascent up the Slope of Enlightenment. I’m not sure we are there yet. Our problem is not design. We have assembled a strong body of knowledge around what it takes to design a good mobile survey, although you might not think that’s the case if you go to MR conferences. Our problem is that we are over focused on the things over which we have direct control, and not focused enough on those areas where influence matters: clients and prospective respondents. This is a marketing problem. We are supposed to be good at marketing strategy. Seems like we had better get after it and start talking to the people who matter most rather than one another.

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