The rapid adoption of smartphones is changing the landscape of the marketing research industry. Last month’s “Market Research in the Mobile World” conference in Cincinnati highlighted many ways the market research industry is trying to adjust. The industry is evolving from using lengthy printed surveys and personal interviews to instead collecting consumer reactions “in the moment” that are transmitted digitally as it happens. What was once a process of collecting “many answers from few” is becoming a process of collecting “a few answers from the many.” With their trusty appliance in hand, consumers can now share what’s on their mind virtually any part of their day. Not only is data received faster, it is also more reliable by sampling smaller bites from a larger pool.

Mobile market research is proving to be better than online surveys. With online approaches, the consumer has to be taken out of the moment and put in their workspace in front of a computer. Mobile, on the other hand, gets you into virtually any consumer places including their private spaces.

The smartphone trend has huge implications for innovation professionals as well. The mobile nature of our society gives practitioners the same advantages as market researchers. Testing and refining new ideas can be done “in the moment” as ideas are generated. Imagine generating ideas systematically and at the same time, testing them outside the workshop room with potentially thousands of people.

Using mobile devices has other advantages. It is cheaper and easier to target the right consumers who are presently in a situation that is relevant to the idea being tested. Innovators can collect more natural, unfiltered responses by people in usage situations where their answers will be more salient. Mobile technology also facilitates geo-tagging. Innovators not only get demographic insights, but also geographic and behavioral data. Because mobile is so immediate, innovators can test initial concept “right out of the head.” Given the LCDs on smartphones, innovators can also get consumer feedback to visual or graphical renderings of the idea. Participants in an innovation workshop can then use this consumer feedback to make real-time adaptations to the idea and improve its potential value.

Andrew Sauer of Procter and Gamble and Steve August from Revelation delivered one of the many case studies that caught my eye. They described how P&G uses mobile devices to capture insights about mom’s and their use of diapers for their babies. P&G was losing consumer share and couldn’t figure out why. Was it pricing, brand confusion, or perhaps performance issues? Use of mobile data transmitted by moms, P&G was able to “be there” as the consumers used the product. They realized they were losing customers during the transition to the next larger size diaper. Moms were confused over selecting the right size diaper. Three months of mobile ethnography allowed P&G to innovate new packaging and retail concepts to alleviate the confusion and regain the customer base.

The lesson from the P&G case is that mobile feedback helps innovators understand the context of what consumers are dealing with. With context, innovators can then track the emotions consumers are feeling. Finally, innovators can connect the emotions to the subsequent behaviors. In situations like this, where the consumer can’t even articulate the problem, mobile research allows the issues and insights to unfold, even when the consumer is unaware.

To learn more about how mobile technology is changing the market insights, visit the Mobile Marketing Research Association.