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Mobile. The next big thing, right? Well, maybe or maybe not. I've just been Googling mobile marketing research topics, downing a few white papers, and reading some conference presentations, and it strikes me that an awful lot of marketing researchers simply don't understand what mobile means for the research business or the impact it's going to have.

Here's the problem: Imagine you're a buyer of marketing research. Today. Now. You've got more questions and issues than you can easily cram into your limited budget and timeline. You've worked up a survey research design, and you're balancing sample costs against the sample sizes you need for the analysis.

Then someone points out that some of your key segments are going to be pretty difficult to get. People who are very mobile. People who don't have home computers and internet connections. "But they have cell phones," says someone else. "We could maybe interview them on their phones!" Briefly, your spirits soar - you'll add an online sub-sample!

Then the realities hit: short interviews, something called a "mobile template," increased sample costs, a whole new technology to tackle, and a methodological nightmare to merge the mobile data and findings with the rest of the project. The benefits aren't enough to justify the approach. "Great idea, though. We'll have to keep that in mind."

This is totally wrong. It's not just wrong today, for today's project - you almost certainly made the right choice for your already over-burdened, under-funded current project. But it's wrong for tomorrow, and wrong for the industry.

Because mobile isn't simply a matter of sample. Mobile is about culture. More specifically, it's about culture change. And you're very likely to be part of that change already.

Don't believe me? Do you have a smartphone? Have you had it for at least six months? OK - answer this question: Out of the last ten times you checked your email, how many times did you use your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone? Office computer? Home computer? Tablet?

I've been paying attention to my own behavior for the last week or so, and I'd guess that out of ten tries, I check email 4 times on my phone, 5 times on my office computer, once on my tablet, and I probably didn't use my home computer at all.

Now think about those times when you used your phone: Where were you? For me, I check my email using my phone from lots of places: sitting at home with the phone at my side, driving to or from work, running errands on weekends, in the office when I'm away from my desk. And that's where the culture shift lies.

I have my phone on me most of the time - it's sitting on my desk as I write this on my office computer. And I use it almost everywhere, including a few times when I've already got Outlook running on a computer right in front of me. I'll bet you do the same.

My phone is with me most of the time. It's my personal device, the one I have close to me no matter where I am or what I'm doing.

The smartphone is the logical culmination of what people talked about in the 80s and 90s when they got enthused about how personal the desktop computer was. Here, for the first time, were computers designed to be used by a single person, with all kinds of ways that they could be customized to that person's tastes. Screensavers, wallpaper, custom menus and button bars, programs you liked and used - all eons away from the big iron where you might have had a timesharing account.

The smartphone is the most personal PC yet. The longer you have one, the more you find yourself using it, often for things you thought you'd never do on such a small device, in places where you never used your previous "not"-smart phone. Over time, you find yourself expecting to use it for just about anything that you can use it for. And you're increasingly annoyed when you can't - when a web site doesn't render using a mobile template and forces you to endure a nightmare of zooming and hitting links inadvertently because it's cramped, crowded layout is hostile to your little screen and big fingers. Or when a survey invitation dumps you into a questionnaire clearly designed with the expectation that you're sitting at a keyboard, looking at a big screen, and navigating with a mouse. When you're not in the "mobile sub-sample" because the marketing research industry didn't get how the culture changed when smartphones appeared in force and everyone used them for everything. Because MR got mobile wrong.

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