How to Leverage the Power of Mobile Surveys for More Effective Marketing

pollfishWithout question, the advent of mobile technology and the pervasive acquisition of said technology by billions of consumers across the global landscape has dramatically impact the formulation and execution of marketing strategies for practically every enterprise with products and services to promote in every nook and cranny of the planet.

Yet the ways in which mobile remains vastly underutilized and underappreciated by some within the marketing space are astonishingly abundant. That is, mobile is undeniably a primary target today for marketing messages. But it is still poorly leveraged as a vehicle to help first research and determine which messages and strategies should be used to target these devices.

It’s a reality few understand better than the team at Pollfish, a leading survey platform that delivers in-depth online surveys at lightning speed through mobile apps on a global scale. Recently, MMW caught up with Ray Beharry, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at NYU, and Head of Marketing at Pollfish, to discuss the powerful and plentiful opportunities that mobile offers the research community at large, and especially within the marketing world.

MMW: Are you surprised by the fact that the vast majority of businesses and digital marketers are still largely unaware of just how quickly, efficiently, and affordably important information can be gleaned from consumers today through surveys conducted from mobile devices? 

Ray: I’m actually not surprised. Mobile is a new area for a number of industries, and market research, in particular, has been slow to change its methodologies – for a variety of reasons. Businesses and digital marketers are just beginning to understand the consumer journey across mobile, and how they can use this new medium to interact on a more intimate basis, 24/7.

Bill Gates recently said that “the process of innovation tends to take longer than many people expect, but it also tends to be more revolutionary than they imagine.” This is true for mobile and its role in connecting with consumers. The majority of us now have tiny computers in our pockets that facilitate not only two-communication, but instantaneous responsiveness – and that’s going to change this industry in exciting ways.

MMW: Considering the reach and speed of mobile, are mobile-focused surveys the future of research for companies seeking actionable data as they prepare marketing strategies and take steps to grow their business?

Ray: We will soon wake up to future where people are no longer interrupted with robo-dialer phone calls at home, impromptu in-person interviews that catch us off-guard – even the lengthy, online surveys that tax our attention-span (and compromises results) will change dramatically due to mobile. Speed is certainly an advantage of mobile – but that is also attributed to the massive reach of the platform. And there are population segments that can only be reached on mobile.

Very similar to how mobile-optimized web experiences has forced us to become more efficient with our design, content, and messaging to cater to the needs of the highly-demanding, short-attention-span mobile consumer – so must surveys.

Let’s face it, no one wants to take a 100-question survey on desktop (or anywhere, for that matter), they certainly won’t want to do it on their mobile device. That will hopefully translate to all survey design practices, across all modes, whereby researchers no longer can rely on the crutch of adding questions to get information. In fact, the opposite will be true. Researchers will be challenged to reduce the number of questions to the single-digits. Why say it in two when you can say it one takes on a 10x factor when it comes to writing questions.

MMW: Why are the established market research companies doing such an inadequate job of harnessing the opportunities engendered by mobile today?

Ray: Market research companies have built an industry on a standard of practices for data collection and analysis that is systematic, and as objective as possible. Therefore, according to David Rothschild, economist at Microsoft Research, “the market intelligence industry tends to stick to pre-approved mechanisms. In industries where market intelligence is now moving faster than the ability to relocate resources, companies need to build new mechanisms to take advantage of new technologies.”

There is also the conundrum of innovator’s dilemma – where, in essence, the existing markets are so entrenched in their current methods of value creation, that they reject the notion of a new innovation’s ability to deliver that same value. Or, more simple stated, “firms fail when their core product is undermined by a “disruptive technology”.

In large markets, there are typically three states of technology: current, emerging, and disruptive. We do such a good job meeting current customers’ needs and cementing the value of the solution, that the adoption of a better/faster/cheaper disruptive technology would weaken the value proposition on which the current technology was sold. We call that cannibalism. Some companies embrace it (think Apple), others don’t (think Kodak).

We have yet to see how the established market research companies will react to and plan for the movement to mobile market research. Also at stake, is the quality of the data. As more DIY platforms are opening up advanced research techniques for novice researchers to conduct on their own, an industry full of people who are knowledgeable, experienced, and dedicated to upholding the highest quality standards for data capture and analysis may watch in wonder. Will they oppose it, accept it, or enable it?

Many people scoff at the idea of letting novice researchers have access to customer insight tools – which could lead to poorly designed surveys, misinterpretation, and perhaps disastrous results. It might be like having too many over-confident house-flippers trying to build a Manhattan sky scraper. I liken it more to the airline industry. We have a number of amateur pilots who fly small airplanes, but we leave the commercial flights to trained professionals.

MMW: For those who have never considered mobile for consumer surveys, what are the must-have requirements of a survey leveraging mobile devices?

Ray: I like to think there are three types of surveys that are available online today: mobile-unfriendly, mobile-friendly, and mobile-optimized.


We’ve all seen them. Emails or websites that are simply mobile-unfriendly.

  • The page/email is just a smaller version of the one designed for desktop. The font sizes are small and it is difficult to interact with it on a mobile device – particularly a smart phone (vs a tablet).
  • It is not responsive, and requires pinching-and-zooming, or horizontal scrolling to view. These are the least desirable actions for a mobile user.


Mobile-friendly, on the other hand, does the exact opposite.

  • Responsive design adapts to the device’s screen size and is clear and easy-to-read.
  • Minimized horizontal scrolling and desired actions are easy to perform.

Mobile-optimized Surveys

Mobile-optimized surveys are designed specifically for mobile devices, and consider more than the look-and-feel of the interface, it involves the whole user experience.

  • Format optimized for mobile experience
  • Reduces the amount of unnecessary scrolling (both horizontally, and vertically)
  • Considers a user’s context – e.g is it web-based, email, in-app
  • Avoids lengthy survey questions, answers, and overall survey length
  • Limits the number of open-ended questions
  • Uses small logos and short videos to reduce download time and keep respondents engaged
  • Enables a ” mobile preview” so you can view the survey experience as a respondent would

Mobile-optimized surveys will ensure a better respondent experience, and therefore provide higher quality results, increase response rates, and get more responses faster.

MMW: In your experience, what are some ways to increase the response rates of a mobile survey?

Ray: Mobile surveys, such as those distributed on our network, have the advantage of reaching a wide audience, where participants respond at their convenience, in-app – where we spend 90% of our time on small screens, are more engaged since surveys are mobile-optimized and shorter. Further, since the average person checks their as much as 150x a day, chances are, you’re going to connect with your audience a lot sooner than on other platforms.

MMW: If someone reading this wants to learn more about mobile surveys for their business or marketing objectives, what is the first step you would advise to explore this avenue?

Ray:  It depends on your target audience.

  • Who are they? What are their likes, their interests, their habits?
  • Where do they hang out?
  • How do they find out about you, how do they interact with you?
  • Do you have an idea to test?
  • After you get the results, what will you do with them?

One of the best ways to answer all these questions is through online channels, however, there a lot of different ways to reach people, and they have their pros and cons..

So before you embrace the technology, think through the following:

  • What are your survey goals? What are you trying to understand or validate?
  • Is this B2B, or B2C? Or B2B2C
  • Do you want to know the size of the market?
  • Are you trying to understand their attitudes or opinions?
  • How many questions do you want to ask them?
  • Do you need quantitative or qualitative results? Or both?

All of these questions will determine whether it’s better to head down to your local coffee shop and offer people $10 gift cards for their time; or if you want to conduct an online survey to reach hundreds of people.

So, what should you look for?

You can check out this guide on mobile consumer market research.