Telephone research is going mobile

A recent eMarketer Daily report on new research shows that an increasing number of Americans - 11% - use only mobile phones.

A recent eMarketer Daily report on new research shows that an increasing number of Americans - 11% - use only mobile phones.

What's most striking, though, is that the 11% skews heavily toward the young. In fact, 55% of the mobile-only crowd falls into the 18- to 29-year-old demographic. They are also more likely to be white and have a college degree.

This is all good news if you are in the mobile-marketing field. But it's increasingly bad news for phone-based market researchers, especially because the trend would seem to be toward more, not less, abandonment of land lines.

Despite the fact that we are in the online-based market-re-search field, we are the first to admit that telephone (and, for that matter, postal) research can be preferable for some kinds of studies.

So what can market researchers do to be sure their phone-based panels aren't inadvertently suppressing important demographic segments?

First, when you conduct phone research, be sure to over-sample - especially among segments that are likely to be in the mobile-only demographics - to make sure you get a balanced sample.

But that doesn't completely solve the problem. It's not enough to get 18-year-olds who have land lines and ignore those who don't. You need to find a way to reach those mobile-only homes so that their voices can be included in your research.

If you build your own panels, or you work with a provider who will build them for you, consider building a mobile-only one. Specifically ask for a mobile number and permission to call. This will give you a ready-made group of people you can use to complete surveys that require telephone contact without skewing your results.

Another way you can combat this trend is to build in an online component. Use e-mail and an online survey to get the ball rolling, and then seek permission from your sample to follow up with a phone interview. The panelists will give you the number that they prefer - including a mobile line if that's all they use.

Interestingly, this method can actually save you money over traditional phone-based research as you narrow your calls to consumers who have raised their hand as being interested in your survey, increasing your call-to-complete ratio.

Obviously, the mobile-only universe is still relatively small. But we believe the time is now for market researchers to start experimenting with ways to work when those numbers inevitably start to climb.

Matt Blumberg is CEO of Return Path, a company that helps top marketers build relevant relationships with their customers.

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