A hit song from 35 years ago has a lot to say about the state of consumer tracking studies today.
“Should I Stay or Should I Go,” by the Clash, has stood the test of time brilliantly – as confirmed by its prominent, recurring use in the Netflix sci-fi series “Stranger Things,” one of the biggest hit TV shows of 2017.
In the show, a teenager plays the song for his younger brother and tells him it will “totally change your life.” The little brother then gets hurled into a nether world where he has to hide from a predatory monster – and softly singing “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to himself helps him avoid panicking.
“Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble,
And if I stay it will be double.”
The Clash’s refrain has echoes for trackers because they are at a crossroads where disruptive technological change is clashing with tracking studies’ mission of providing continuity while compiling a long-term, ongoing measure of consumer sentiment.
The disruption is consumers’ wholehearted and near-universal adoption of mobile devices, relegating the desktop and laptop computers that power online research to secondary status. As one expert, Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagawa, put it in explaining why PC sales are fading, “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.”
Trackers have long been conducted as online studies, but online is being supplanted by mobile research, for the simple, unavoidable reason that it’s growing hard to find enough respondents who spend significant time in front of a PC. Problems with the representativeness and engagement of online panels are now widely acknowledged, prompting experts such as the editors of the twice-yearly GreenBook Research Industry Trends Report (GRIT) to advocate a greater emphasis on mobile surveys as the best solution.
But trackers present a special problem. They are predicated on yesterday’s and last year’s data being directly comparable with the data being collected today and tomorrow. Should you stay with the online methodology that generated your historical data? Or should you go with mobile, which you’ll need to keep your trackers properly aligned with today’s consumers?
The Clash didn’t sing about standing still as an option, and it isn’t an option for insights professionals as they confront the reality of the Smartphone Era. One promising solution is to move to mobile tracking, but gradually, working in mobile sample bit by bit and taking measures to align it with a tracker’s online data. At first, use mobile to include otherwise “hard to reach” Millennials, Gen Z, Hispanics, African Americans, parents of children 18 and under.
As time goes by, insights professionals who use trackers will have to reckon with the fact that online, PC-oriented surveys are going the way of the vinyl LPs and singles that Clash fans snapped up back in 1982, when “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was released. But in the interim there are proactive measures that can bridge the gap between the online methodology that generated a tracker’s historical data, and the mobile data that’s crucial to an accurate understanding of consumer sentiment now and going forward.
For a productive conversation about how a mobile-app survey panel and advanced mobile research features can meet your tracking studies’ requirements (along with many other uses), just get in touch by clicking here.