mobile devices

With mobile surveys, market research gets a makeover

March 25, 2014: 12:03 PM ET

People are moving to mobile devices in droves, but researchers haven't followed. Online survey companies are trying to change that.

By Heather Clancy


FORTUNE -- The days of lengthy online surveys are numbered, and the startup GetFeedback and online survey leader SurveyMonkey are both poised to benefit.

Countless millions of dollars are spent validating the mobile revolution with adoption statistics and usage metrics. Ironically, the field of market research itself appears to have overlooked this shift, relying on outdated technology and techniques that are increasingly at odds with mobile attention spans.

According to Forrester Research, just 17% of researchers had taken their survey processes mobile as of December 2012. The most obvious side effect is falling response rates. But businesses also risk alienating existing or prospective customers by seeming out-of-step with their communications preferences. There's a lot of money at stake: A staggering $18.9 billion on a global basis is spent annually on telephone polls, online surveys, questionnaires, and other market research, says the Council of American Survey Research Organizations. Roughly $2 billion is spent on online surveys in the United States alone, according to the market research firm IBISWorld.

"People have been using online surveys for a very long time, but now at least 50% of these emails are being opened on a mobile gadget of some sort," says Scott Holden, a vice president of marketing for Salesforce (CRM), responsible for the company's Salesforce1 platform. "If you're not thinking mobile-first, you're going to be left behind for sure."

MORE: Inside Stanford B-school's startup factory culture

Forrester analyst Roxana Strohmenger is more blunt in her annual report, "The Mobile Market Research Landscape." She writes: "Consumers have already decided for us: If you want to connect with them, mobile is the way ... For every new research study you commence moving forward, think about how mobile can play a role. Let this mobile mindset shift your perspective on how you approach testing your research questions. For example, rather than asking consumers to write about their experience at a festival, you can ask them to record through video or photos the parts they like and don't like and even have them write down their immediate thoughts and feelings."

Technology startup, launched in December 2013 by two former employees, hopes to get out front of this transition with a service designed to create surveys for smartphones, tablets, and mobile web browsers. The more than 1,000 early users of GetFeedback include high-tech powerhouses Salesforce, LinkedIn (LNKD), Facebook (FB), and Dropbox, and outdoor apparel company The North Face. Prices range from $20 per month for up to 100 responses to $125 per month for up to 10,000 responses.

"This was a personal pain point for me," says Kraig Swensrud, co-founder of GetFeedback, who fielded numerous research studies in his previous role. "I asked myself, 'What experiences are we delivering in the process of getting these questions answered?' and 'How are we representing our brand when we're having this conversation?' "

One big consideration for mobile surveys is optimizing them for far smaller screen sizes, so that they can be scrolled and processed quickly -- maybe during a two-minute cab ride or between meetings, Swensrud says. In markets where bandwidth is a concern or smartphone adoption is limited, some companies have also found success with SMS or text-based surveys. "This approach is also beneficial if one wants to reach a wide cross-section of a population: for example, both younger and older generations," Forrester's Strohmenger says.

MORE: Box IPO filing: The key numbers

Visual elements are critical: GetFeedback's templates integrate video clips, photographs, or images that reinforce a company's marketing. "You can use these surveys to create an emotional reaction to your company, product, and brand," says Salesforce's Holden. "You can make it fun and make it look like a representation of things you're looking for feedback on."

The GetFeedback software also integrates with Salesforce, so results can be shared and marketing teams can see how many different surveys are being fielded simultaneously (important for reducing respondent fatigue); additional integrations with leading marketing automation software platforms are forthcoming. This makes results far easier to interpret, Holden says.

Going mobile requires marketers to become far more disciplined about keeping surveys succinct and simple, says Dave Goldberg, CEO of online survey software company SurveyMonkey. His advice: Keep the entire process under 10 minutes. "People are going to resist long, complex surveys," he says.

How can you shorten a survey? One future method would be to integrate them with a person's identity on a social network, which could be used to collect basic demographic information. "That would be a shortcut, but it is also clearly a privacy concern," Goldberg says.

MORE: Consumers hate in-store tracking (but retailers, startups and investors love it)

As the de facto market leader with more than 15 million customers including the likes of Kraft Foods (KRFT), Sirius XM (SIRI) and Facebook, SurveyMonkey says it has seen a 14-fold increase in mobile traffic over the past three years.

The company is adjusting its platform accordingly. In late February, it released a mobile app for Apple iOS devices that marketers can use to launch surveys, and monitor and analyze results in real time. In addition, SurveyMonkey is planning technology for late 2014 that software developers can use behind the scenes to track how users interact with their mobile applications: essentially another way to gather feedback, in the moment. "Right now, they can see what people are doing, but they can't ask them why," Goldberg says.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misquoted Holden on the percentage of online survey e-mails opened on mobile devices.

  • How much longer can HTC hold on?

    HTC makes some of the best Android phones in the market, but that's not enough anymore.

    By Kevin Kelleher, contributor

    FORTUNE – First Palm. Then Nokia (NOK). Then BlackBerry (BBRY). Is HTC the next smartphone maker to go from a strong contender in the smartphone market to a troubled company in need of rescue?

    It's starting to look like it. Earlier this month, the company warned investors to brace themselves for the company's MORE

    Oct 17, 2013 3:34 PM ET
  • Bring your own device to work is finally here

    CIOs are under pressure to allow personal devices into their enterprise IT departments. Companies that treat this change as an opportunity rather than a threat are more likely to win.

    By Gary Kovacs, senior vice president at Sybase

    When Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, the speed limit in most places -- provided you were outside city limits -- was just 20 miles per hour (in town, it was usually MORE

    Sep 1, 2010 7:00 AM ET
  • The numbers don't lie: Mobile devices overtaking PCs

    Here it comes: Mobile will soon outsell PCs.

    Tim Bray last week attempted to conceptualize the market change that is happening in computing in a post called the Great Game.  In a nutshell, what we are seeing in smartphones is bigger than anything that has come before it.  Much bigger than the PC.  And it is coming so fast that we don't realize what's happening.

    The Numbers Are Really Big MORE

    - Aug 11, 2010 6:41 PM ET
  • The new kings of apps

    Their names may be unfamiliar -- Zynga, Fring, SPRXmobile -- but their apps are everywhere. Software is now dominated by a short list of powerhouses and start-ups offering byte-sized, mobile solutions.

    Software development has officially gone mobile. If you asked developers 10 years ago where they observed the most innovation, they'd have pointed to companies working on the PC, Mac, or game consoles.

    Today, the most innovative programs are being developed exclusively MORE

    - Jul 7, 2010 2:20 PM ET
  • Techmate: Everyone vs. Apple

    In a special Presidents' Day episode of Techmate, Jon and Michael discuss Intel (INTC) and Nokia's (NOK) strange alliance to develop mobile software and compete with Apple (AAPL)  plus the on-going mess at MySpace (NWS)


    - Feb 15, 2010 11:41 AM ET
  • Breaking up with the Nexus One

    Was I fickle? Or was our relationship doomed from the start?

    I just put my Nexus One "superphone" back in its box to send it home to Google (GOOG).  I taped the sides of the Googley-themed cardboard, lest I be tempted to exhume it before the FedEx guy came to pick it up. So far, it hasn't entered my mind to get the phone out of its package and fire it MORE

    - Feb 9, 2010 6:00 AM ET
  • Putting cell phones to the test

    Device testing needs to drastically improve or carriers and manufacturers face big risks to their reputations.

    By Abhijit Kabra, senior executive, Accenture

    Cell phones have come a long way in the last five years: We can surf the web, listen to music, watch TV, and make payments on our phones. So why is the process of testing these devices stuck in the 1990s?

    Leading mobile handset makers around the world spend millions of MORE

    Oct 28, 2009 6:00 AM ET
  • Can Sanjay Jha save Motorola?

    A new tech wizard is fighting to return the ailing cellphone maker to relevance with a slate of new phones–and help from Google.

    It's been more than a year Sanjay Jha left wireless chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM) to come to Motorola (MOT). As co-CEO of Motorola (along with Greg Brown), he took on a task even the private equity firms had passed on: saving the iconic handset division. Just as he MORE

    - Sep 29, 2009 11:55 AM ET
  • In the hands of people

    How hand-held computers – also known as cell phones – are changing the world.

    By Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir, director of the MIT Legatum Center and founder of Grameenphone

    Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, an extraordinary event for all of us to celebrate. Forty years later, there is another extraordinary phenomenon to celebrate – billions of people around the world, including those in the MORE

    Aug 13, 2009 7:30 AM ET
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by VIP.