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Let’s Eavesdrop On Online Panel Providers’ Tales Of Woe

Eavesdopping Blog 17Oct17


The trustworthiness of online panels is dissolving like pennies in a tub of sulfuric acid, but don’t take our word for it. There’s an active conversation among panel providers themselves about the predicament they’re in. The state of that conversation is reflected in the excerpts below, which can be found online in eBooks and podcasts available at

  • “Data quality issues have proliferated throughout the industry, with increased incidences of fraud…”
  • Uniqueness is a major challenge for online panel development, leading to high levels of overlap between panels as sample companies all fish from the same pond.”
  • “With a smaller pool to draw from, many respondents belong to multiple panels…Their responses…can skew the results of a study, simply due to limited population sample.”
  • “Bots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, to the point that the data…is nearly indistinguishable from real data. It’s a mess as [fraudsters] increasingly use bots to mimic people and fill out surveys…”
  • “[Bots] don’t stand out the way they used to. [In the past] we would be able to see bot activity because it [had] completion time of one minute. Now the scripting can mimic behaviors of a real human.”
  • “And [bot creators] know the various checks that companies employ…and so they’re mimicking human behavior in a closer way than they ever have before. So it makes it very difficult…to be able to say without a doubt… that this [respondent] is good and this [respondent] is bad.”

There’s more, but how much angst can a person absorb all at once?


On the brighter side, the prospects for representativeness, panel reliability and engagement, and freedom from fraud have never been better for market research. All you need to do is seize the opportunity presented by the mobile apps that dominate consumers’ smartphone use.


For a productive and strictly upbeat conversation about how advanced mobile-app research can meet your projects’ specific needs, and relieve you of the kinds of worries you’ve just read about, please get in touch by clicking here.


And for a quick, entertaining video overview of mobile research, click here.

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Going to CRC? Mobile Insights Are on the Agenda

CRC Logo.jpg

CRC Conference Green


Consumer research professionals attending the Insights Association’s Corporate Researchers Conference (CRC) this week in Chicago will have an opportunity to hear two scheduled presentations about mobile research. But to get the full picture on mobile, carve out a few minutes to stop by MFour’s booth.


Mike Gaffney (Chief Revenue Officer), Todd Costello (Senior Solutions Executive), Andreas Hoelting and Pat Brassil (Solutions Executives) will share information attendees almost certainly won’t get anywhere else. For instance:

  • There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all mobile research technology and methodology.
  • As you explore mobile, it’s important to understand and distinguish between the two major approaches.

One of them, “mobile-optimized” or “mobile compatible” surveys, will be the subject of one of the formal presentations at CRC. The description of the talk, entitled “The World Is Going Mobile: Is Your Brand?” reflects the common belief that smartphones are just another conduit for traditional online surveys. At MFour’s booth, you’ll hear a different message, about how smartphones are upending market research just as they’ve upended every other aspect of daily life — and how harnessing best-practices mobile native research built around a smartphone app will give you data and insights opportunities you’ve never had before. 


The “World Is Going Mobile” talk promises to cover how “mobile-compatible surveys have improved feasibility, higher data quality and [reach] more diverse respondent audiences. So why are only one in five surveys 100% mobile compatible? There remains, shockingly, a great deal of improvement and transition to be done…”


 “Mobile compatible” surveys, however, ultimately only shoehorn traditional, pre-Smartphone Era online surveys onto smaller mobile screens. In all other ways, they remain tethered to last-generation technologies – notifications via email, which are easily ignored, and maintaining a connection to the internet to take the survey, with the risk that respondents will become frustrated if the load time is more than a few seconds, and will drop the survey entirely if it remains slow or the connection vanishes. 


At the MFour booth you can have the rest of the conversation, an all-angles look at mobile, including clarification and differentiation between the “mobile compatible” and mobile app methodologies.

  • Learn that when you talk about consumers’ mobile behavior, you’re really talking about their mobile app behavior – the key proof point being Flurry Analytics’ finding that 92% of time U.S. adults spend on mobile is spent using apps rather than browsers.
  • See why it matters crucially that mobile app research takes the survey process offline by loading questionnaires instantly into respondents’ phones. Now you’re meeting mobile consumers in the app zone that’s their sweet spot — where they really want to be.

Todd wants to have a conversation that includes a little business philosophy about “the necessity of evolving and finding your way to successful transformation. If you’re open to moving forward, we can help by sharing ways to the most efficient and non-intrusive solutions for connecting with mobile consumers.”


One theme you can explore with the MFour team is how mobile-app research amplifies the voice of the consumer – because smartphones and mobile apps are literally the mouthpieces and earpieces we use today to receive and transmit information, opinions and emotions.


Stop by, and you’ll see how mobile multimedia capabilities amplify and deepen what survey respondents can tell you. Through photo capture they can show you exactly what they see in real time as they stroll the store aisles. Ask panelists to make video selfies, and you’ll see and hear them telling you in their own words what they feel about your brands and products, and their shopping experiences.


You’ll also get a quick education about mobile-app geolocation studies – how they bring you the consumer’s voice at just the right time and place, giving you ironclad validation of your respondents’ locations and getting their answers before their recall can decay. It’s the Smartphone Era’s advanced technological answer to traditional in-store, in-person shop-alongs and face-to-face exit interviews conducted with clipboards and pens.


As for those who aren’t going to CRC, you can join us for a productive, one-on-one conversation about mobile app research, whenever it’s convenient. Just get in touch by clicking here.





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Veteran Tech Exec Andreas Sautter Joins MFour as Director of Client Services

Andreas Sautter Blog 11Oct17


Andreas Sautter has joined MFour as Director of Client Services, bringing more than 25 years of broad tech-sector executive experience to the pivotal job of driving consumer insights projects for major brands and leading market research firms, from initial planning to survey execution to final delivery.


Besides overseeing teams for survey programming & data and survey fielding, he will play a key role in developing and enhancing MFour’s research products, while ensuring the ongoing advancement of internal systems that propel MFour as it delivers on its promise of Quality, Consistency and Innovation in market research.


Andreas comes to MFour having played executive roles in product management and technology development for companies in Europe and the United States. In the advertising technology field he’s served as Director of Digital Operations for YP, Vice President of Operations for SpotRunner, and Director of Product Marketing for NetGravity, a pioneering online ad-delivery company. Andreas also was deeply involved in the early development of online photography services as Director of Products for Ofoto, a photo-finishing and photo-sharing startup that was acquired by Kodak and renamed Kodak Gallery. After the ownership change, Andreas served as Ofoto/Kodak Gallery’s Vice President for European operations.


In an important formative experience, Andreas played a variety of roles at NeXT Computer, Inc., the operating system/software company launched by Steve Jobs after his initial departure from Apple. After an early role as Senior Support Engineer, he worked directly with Jobs as a systems engineer, and became Product Manager for OPENSTEP, an operating system developed by NeXT.


More recently Andreas has been a consultant advising new start-ups from inception and launch to subsequent strategizing for rapid growth.  He holds a degree in Computer Science from HTL Biel/Bienne in Switzerland.


Director of Client Services is a new position, established as MFour grows rapidly as the insights industry realizes that mobile research is the necessary next-step beyond traditional online surveys meant to be taken on desktops and laptops. MFour has built a responsive and engaged all-mobile panel of more than 1.3 million active members. Their satisfaction with the mobile-app survey experience that MFour has defined and steadily advanced since 2011 is the key to fast, accurate and fully representative data and insights decision-makers require in the Smartphone Era.


Welcome aboard, Andreas!

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Sorry, Online Providers. People Are Done with PCs.

Sales Falling Blog 11Oct17


Increasingly, we’re seeing online panel providers blame clients for their inability to deliver the quality, representative completes that a study demands. If not for poor survey design, the logic goes, online surveys wouldn’t be losing their ability to engage and deliver.  


But new sales figures for personal computers, the devices online studies primarily rely upon, tell a very different story. They show that the fault lies not in researchers’ failure to write effective surveys, but in the fact that consumers are ditching PCs and simply aren’t available to answer when online research calls. Online providers who pretend otherwise seem to have persuaded themselves that they are not riding the wrong horse, but that you, the client, are to blame for not feeding the stumbling beast the right brand of oats.


Here’s the latest bad news for online, PC-driven research:

  • The technology research analyst, Gartner, reports that U.S. shipments of PCs fell 5.7% in the second quarter of 2017 compared to Q2 in 2016.
  • This follows a 2.4% drop in Q1. Globally, personal computer shipments have now declined in 11 consecutive quarters, which CNet characterized as “the longest slump in the PC industry’s history.”
  • Commenting earlier this year on the Q1 sales, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa told USA Today that “the whole mechanism of consumer computing usage is through smartphones. We go to sleep and wake up to them. You maybe open your personal laptop once a day, but your smartphone is an indispensable item in your daily life.”
  • According to Gartner’s most recent report, “consistent growth” in the business market is propping up PC sales somewhat, but not nearly enough to make up for consumers’ flight to mobile.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index’s latest report on how consumers rate their devices is the proverbial other shoe that’s dropping on personal computers. Satisfaction with personal computers fell 1.3 points to 77 on a 100-point scale, according to its latest ACSI E-Business Report. That’s one more indication that opting for online research is like betting on a long shot at the race track.


“The problem with PC demand is actually quite simple, and it’s reflected in weak customer satisfaction,”  said Claes Fornell, ACSI’s chairman and founder. “Manufacturers aren’t investing enough in innovation. Compared to smartphones, there is very little advancement in technology to speak of. Functionality is basically the same as it was a few years ago. That’s not a formula for creating satisfied customers, and provides no reason for people to replace their old model with a new one.” According to ASCI, this increasing indifference is reflected in plunging Q2 sales for desktops and laptops:  “the lowest quarterly shipment volume since 2007.”


Are we beating a dead horse when we beat up on online/PC-fed research?  We’ll be happy to stop when the consumer insights profession finally put online out to pasture and seizes the mobile solutions that will make up the loss in representativeness and data quality the industry experiences when it bets on a horse that’s past its prime. For a productive conversation on how offline mobile-app research can meet your  projects’ specific needs, just get in touch by clicking here.

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Mobile App Tracking Takes the Guesswork Out of Targeting Shoppers

App Tracking Blog


Smartphones put the world at shoppers’ fingertips. And understanding how those fingertips are tapping on mobile apps is a new goldmine for insights.


For example, if your research project focuses on finance, knowing who’s got a banking app lets you make a beeline to the exact banking customers you need to know. The same goes for finding survey respondents for studies of quick-serve restaurants. In that case, whoever has an app for a QSR brand is someone worth knowing. What if you need to talk to sports fans about buying team jerseys, or about what they like to eat and drink at viewing parties? Getting in touch with users of league apps or sports channel apps would be a great place to start.


Mobile app-tracking makes it all possible by giving you a fast, efficient, cost-effective and unerring way to target survey panelists. In one project, a researcher wanted to know how willing Panera Bread customers would be to pay $3 for delivery service. Here are some information points to show what app tracking meant for that study, and other potential uses.

  • Mobile App Tracking efficiency achieved a 100% incidence rate for targeting Panera app users – not surprising, since targeting respondents by the known apps currently on their phones is a sure thing.
  • App tracking removed the problem of relying solely on respondents’ stated assurances that they buy from Panera. Having the app is a strong validation point.
  • Target consumers who use more than one app in a category – for example, both Panera and Subway, or Walmart and Target, for competitive insights and a broader understanding of how these consumers decide which app to use when confronted with a particular shopping objective.
  • Target an app’s users to learn about satisfaction with the app itself, and how well it’s driving revenues. Does the app need to be more user-friendly?
  • Find exactly who you need to talk to in satisfaction studies – products, brands, and shopping experiences.
  • Study non-buyers by starting with consumers who have a competitor’s app, but not yours.
  • Get broad insights into a consumer segment: for example, to understand readers, target panelists who have the Kindle app. To understand travelers, home in on people who have hotel or car rental apps.

While Mobile App Tracking works directly on Android devices, panelists with iOS devices can also be tracked down by their apps with an uncomplicated alternate targeting approach. There’s a lot more to say about mobile app tracking, given its immense versatility as a door-opener for sophisticated research. To have that forward-looking conversation as it relates to your specific projects, just get in touch by clicking here.

And for a quick, entertaining video overview of mobile research, click here.

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The News Has Gone Mobile, and Surveys Are Next

Mobile News blog 9Oct17


If market research can’t keep up with consumer preferences and behaviors, what industry can? Sadly, this is no longer a rhetorical question.


The answer should be, “of course market researchers are the first to know where consumers are right now, and where they’re heading.” But the industry’s unaccountable failure to embrace mobile research effectively calls into question its ability to keep up. And a new report on Americans’ mobile behavior from Pew Research Center shows that the huge gulf in understanding between U.S. consumers and skeptics in the market research industry is growing at an alarming rate. 


The Pew report focuses on which devices Americans use to access news – the consumer behavior that in its very nature is perhaps most akin to market research’s own mission, which is to inform. The findings, based on a survey of 4,151 respondents conducted in March, make one wonder what’s keeping any industry from embracing mobile without hesitation.

  • “Use of mobile devices for news continues to grow,” Pew reports, with 85% of U.S. adults getting news on mobile at least some of the time – up from 72% just a year ago.
  • Among young Americans and those in early middle age, mobile news access is virtually at the saturation point: 94% for those 18 to 29, and 94% as well for the 30 to 49 age group.
  • Mobile news consumption soared among older demographics during the past year, from 63% to 79% among 50- to 64-year-olds and from 43% to 67% for those 65 and older.
  • 85% of Americans said they alternate between using mobile devices and desktops for news. Among those who use both, 65% said they prefer mobile, up from 56% a year earlier.
  • For 18- to 29-year-olds who get news on both mobile and desktop, 77% prefer smartphones over PCs.

News publishers have gone all-in on mobile, for obvious reasons. Is there any doubt that the same reasons apply to consumer research? 


Apparently there still are doubts among insights professionals who continue to see online surveys as the most useful way to find and understand consumers whose every other communications preference favors mobile. Due diligence would seem to suggest the need for some research on the part of panel and research technology buyers into whether there’s been a shift in the communications atmosphere. You could start by assessing your own behavior when it comes to getting the news.


For a productive conversation about how advanced mobile-app research can meet your projects’ specific needs, click here. And for a quick, entertaining video introduction to mobile, just click here.





News | Blog | Events
News | Blog | Events

How Mobile App Tracking Puts Brands in Touch with Customers


App Targeting Blog 5Oct17


How could car manufacturers and dealers persuade rideshare passengers who don’t own a car to start shopping for their own set of wheels?


Should a hotel chain that’s trying to boost its market share invest in top-to-bottom remodeling, with an emphasis on workout rooms and other amenities? Or would price-cutting be the best path to increased revenue?


Is a big bank’s app giving its users the ease and functionality they want? Do they still care about in-person banking at a physical branch? Do attitudes vary among different regions? Taken together, do the answers suggest closing more branches – and, if so, which ones?


There’s clearly a lot riding on the answers to these questions, and businesses count on insights professionals to help guide them by obtaining reliable and accurate consumer data.


The business problems above have something in common: before making a decision, it would be extremely valuable to interview a natural, representative cross-section of the company’s regular customers — or a competitor’s customers. Mobile App Tracking is a solution developed specifically to identify and reach out to consumers according to the apps they use.


The consumers and customers being tracked are members of a mobile panel who participate in research via a mobile survey app. Besides providing detailed demographic information when they join the panel to enable accurate targeting, panelists agree to allow some of their phones’ functions to be passively tracked, including app use.  (Currently, Mobile App Tracking is enabled for Android phones but not for Apple iPhones). 


In the first use case above – the rideshare passengers who don’t own cars – auto dealers and auto manufacturers could target people who have the Lyft and/or Uber apps and ask them all about why they haven’t bought a car, how satisfied they are with doing without, whether they pay attention to car commercials, and any number of other relevant questions aimed at giving the research client a deeper understanding of a quickly-changing personal transportation landscape.


Meanwhile, Lyft and Uber could query their own riders about brand and service satisfaction, and do some opposition research by targeting their rival’s app users. The same dynamic would apply in the hospitality and travel industries, and for the financial institutions needing to know how to fine-tune their decision-making in the face of changing technology and changing consumer preferences related to in-person versus online banking.


Think of the mobile app as the equivalent of the phone number in the days before telephone surveys lost their mojo amid falling response rates (Pew Research Center reports that its own phone surveys now get response rates of about 10%). Or think of approaching known app users as an update of the traditional clipboard and pencil survey conducted on the sidewalk outside a store. Whatever analogy you want to draw with legacy research, Mobile App Tracking puts you in direct touch with validated brand-interested consumers who can tell you a lot about the strengths and limits of their loyalty.


For a productive conversation about how Mobile App Tracking might be a solution to some of your own specific research needs, just click here.

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To Get Mobile Research Right, Get the Right App


Mobile Apps blog size


By now the idea that insights professionals need to get mobile research right probably has sunk in.


But for that knowledge to blossom into effective projects, it’s important to dig one layer deeper and understand you can’t get mobile right if you’re not conducting it through a state-of-the-art mobile survey app. That’s because consumers aren’t simply on mobile. They’re on mobile apps, to an extent that eclipses the other method by which smartphone users can take surveys – using their phones’ browsers to connect to the internet. Key data points on app use versus browser use come from a study by Flurry Analytics:

  • The average U.S. consumer is spending five hours a day using a smartphone.
  • Of that time, 4 hours and 36 minutes (92%) are spent using apps; the other 24 minutes (8%) belong to content accessed in a mobile browser.

It’s clear that consumer surveys and passive data acquisition will increasingly be conducted with mobile apps. But mobile apps are not commodities – least of all mobile research apps. Developing research-specific capabilities and ensuring the app’s smooth functionality for clients and panelists alike is an ongoing, full-time task. It requires a team effort by software developers, quality assurance analysts, client service liaisons and survey programming and fielding experts, all of whom have the needed experience and expertise to make the app and the complex research apparatus it houses translate into seamless and effective consumer insights projects. So when you make your move to app-based research, make sure to learn about the people who stand behind the app, because it’s the team as a whole that will make all the difference.


An illustration from another industry is worth noting — as outlined in a recent MediaPost commentary about a new app rolled out by a beverage retailer.


“The … app at this early stage feels like a “me-too” execution but lacks the vision for where it’s going. I feel like a marketing team checked off the box to get the app out the door, but didn’t explain the longer-term vision to the customer. It almost feels like they did a soft launch, hoping not to come out of the box with installs blazing so they could gauge customer interest.”


“Mobile is a way of life, one that’s not going away anytime soon,” the article continues.  “I’d think … [the company] should be looking at this as an all-in strategy, trying to uncover ways to exceed customer expectations and surpass its largest competitor.”


The takeaway for insights professionals is that when a sample or survey technology provider tells you “we’ve got mobile” or even “we’ve got a mobile app,” that’s merely a conversation-starter, a minimum acceptable ante for getting into the mobile research game. Apps must be finely-tuned to their tasks, especially one as complex as carrying out mobile surveys. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the app is not a new arrival created by a company with little or no track record of developing survey apps.
  • Be wary of providers who focus on technology but have little or no knowledge of the objectives of market research, and even less about the specifics of how panelists are recruited and how surveys are designed, fielded and reported. 
  • Be sure to give close consideration to the most proven and well-established app-based research platform. Surveys on the Go® from MFour debuted in 2011, just four years after the debut of the first iPhone and three years after Android smartphones came on the scene, cementing this change in how we all live
  • Get specific answers about what the research app provider is doing to ensure that it can gather a quality research panel around that app. That’s not possible without fair cash compensation for taking surveys, nor can a panel be recruited and kept well-engaged without providing its members with excellent user service. The SOTG app has more than 1.3 million active U.S. users, virtually all of whom discovered it by word of mouth.
  • Download the app, join the panel, and see for yourself whether the surveys measure up to your expectations for engagement and smooth functionality.
  • Get opinions from tens of thousands of app users by checking their publicly-available ratings and comments stating their satisfaction with the survey app’s performance. As of the start of this month, 59,344 users had posted ratings or reviews of Surveys on the Go® in the Apple and Google app stores from 2011 to the present. 69.5% had given SOTG the top rating of 5 stars; an additional 17.3% gave it a 4-star rating. The app’s overall score continued to stand at 4.5, an approval level it has enjoyed for years.

For a productive, forward-looking conversation about how app-based mobile research can address your specific needs, click here. To download Surveys on the Go® and take it for a spin, click here. And for an entertaining video introduction to mobile app research, just click here