Why Personality Must Be Considered When Designing Mobile Research

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Samantha Bond
Samantha Bond



mobile researchOver the past few years, “mobile” has become a market research buzzword. It’s not hard to see why, especially when we consider the explosion of mobile device ownership and its increasing impact on consumer behavior. More than 149 million people in the U.S. own smartphones, according to recent figures from comScore, and mobile devices have become an intrinsic part of consumers’ daily lives.

Mobile therefore presents an unrivaled opportunity for brands and market researchers to meet consumers on their own territory. This is particularly valuable because time is an increasingly limited commodity, and consumer engagement a growing challenge. Additionally, through participants self-reporting their opinions and experiences via their mobile, this tool can be used to observe consumer behavior in its natural environment — offering a commercially viable alternative to traditional ethnographic methodologies.

However, despite its potential benefits, mobile research has yet to become a mainstream practice. Agencies and clients are still learning how best to benefit from the opportunities it presents. With this in mind, we conducted a pilot study to better understand the practical dynamics of using mobile within the market research process.

Mobile Research Magnifies the Impact of Personality

In collaboration with CrowdLab, we created three mobile phone apps, each aimed at a different consumer group: mothers, luxury car owners and fashionistas. Each sample was split by age, gender and level of tech savviness, and each respondent was given three activities to be completed across five days (an introduction to their world, a diary task and a mission task). Following the research, a 20-minute telephone interview was conducted with each respondent to learn more about their participation experience.

Our study confirms that mobile is a unique method of research, and new skills and considerations are required to ensure its success. Crucially, we found that the quality of insight is dependent on respondents’ ability — and willingness — to self-report in real time via a range of digital mediums. Most interestingly, personality type is seen to be the key variable at play.

Personality has a bearing on any research project but — in the absence of a skilled moderator to mitigate its effect on insight — mobile research magnifies its impact. We therefore found that some personality types are more suited than others to self-reporting via mobile and fully embracing mobile research. This should be a key consideration for brands and market researchers.

Self-Reporting Versus Self-Censorship

According to our study, mobile research provides the greatest value when harnessed by extroverted consumers. They typically enjoy the process and offer dynamic, emotive, highly engaged responses. Moreover, they are not fazed by self-reporting via video and audio, being happy to share their views in the moment and without censorship. Extroverted respondents are therefore invaluable for gaining rich, visual, contextual insight, as they are open to letting researchers into their world via mobile.

In contrast, less outgoing respondents struggle with the spontaneity required by mobile research and reduce the quality of insights as a result of self-censorship. They are resistant to providing real-time feedback, particularly via video. As one respondent remarked, “I feel self-conscious recording videos, and they take ages to prepare.” Consequently, their responses tend to be submitted after the point of interest, particularly when opinion rather than factual information is required, and include limited visual data. For introverts, mobile research can even generate frustration and anxiety, with respondents’ objections including:

  • Not fully understanding the research’s objectives
  • Not being able to control the digital format for their responses
  • Not being able to plan, edit or review their responses.

In order for mobile to become a mainstream market research practice, it cannot and should not be limited to extroverted consumers. So, how can market researchers ensure that their mobile-based projects will engage a wide range of personality types? The answer, we believe, rests in greater collaboration and participant choice.

Collaboration and Choice Are Key to Success

Our study indicates that a collaborative approach between participant and researcher is necessary to improve the self-reporting ability of non-extroverted consumers. A thorough introduction to the mobile research process via an in-depth telephone briefing or personalized video is essential for participants; moderator feedback and reassurance throughout is vital to maintaining engagement levels.

In addition, offering respondents more freedom in terms of the kinds of media used to submit their responses will to some extent lessen the impact of personality type. Respondents are more likely to provide in-the-moment answers if they are able to use the reporting medium with which they are most comfortable (for example, text rather than audio).

We predict that the future of mobile research rests in open platforms, in which respondents can choose to participate across multiple devices. Allowing consumers the flexibility of answering non-mobile specific questions via PC or tablet is likely to suit a wider range of personality types and increase the depth of insights — mobile devices lend themselves to short, surface-level responses, whereas a PC/tablet allows for more considered thoughts and feelings.

In order for market researchers to benefit fully from mobile research, we would recommend using this methodology in conjunction with other qualitative techniques. Mobile is ideal as an inductive research tool that enables researchers to bring themes and stimulus into groups or depths based on real behavior rather than pre-defined assumptions and respondent recall. Mobile research can also be leveraged as a tool to cherry-pick the most suitable respondents to take forward.

The Future of Mobile Research

Undoubtedly, mobile research is a valuable addition to the qualitative toolbox, but it is vital that researchers understand how best to harness it. While extroverts’ responses showcase the benefits of mobile research, researchers should not overlook other consumers’ personality types and need to tailor the design of mobile research projects in order to engage with them.

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