As Search Goes Mobile, Consumer Research Must Follow

Today’s Center for Media Research brief ran some new statistics about the rise in mobile search. As you may have guessed, the percentage of mobile subscribers who are using their phones to search for information about goods and services has risen dramatically year over year, with growth figures ranging from +51% to +83% depending on the mobile search application used. Two of the largest genres searched via mobile device are restaurants and movies–in short, local goods and services. Mobile IS local because the mobile device can be accessed while the customer is in transition–i.e., exactly in a position where a call to action, offer or compelling proposition to do something locally can be most effective.
Marketers might be able to measure searches, but gauging the efficacy of mobile search campaigns is something else entirely. Where in the purchase continuum did the search occur? Was the mobile search merely used to identify where the already-decided consumer was going to make their purchase? Or was the purchase decision made as a result of the search? Undoubtedly, there is a spectrum of possibilities here, and simply measuring clicks won’t get to them. With mobile phone research costs (at the time of this writing) in excess of four times the landline costs, and with an indeterminate amount of time likely to pass between the search/purchase and the customers’ likely ability to take any kind of online survey about their behavior, catching up to the mobile consumer is a thorny research challenge, albeit an intriguing one.
Reaching consumers in transition is, of course, a job tailor-made for research techniques like consumer exit polling. It may be that the best way to narrow the gap between search and purchase decision is to–literally–catch the consumer in the act (or at least shortly after the act) with out-of-home measurement tools like consumer exit polling. When marketers and brand managers can tie the “what” and “how many” measures of search metrics with the “why” measures enabled by methodologies like consumer exit polling, mobile marketers will finally be able to understand how consumers behave relative to mobile search, and where mobile search really fits in to the consumer’s decision process. Only then will the savvy mobile marketer truly have an edge on leveraging–and monetizing–this powerful emerging platform.

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