Mobile Phones Can Revolutionize the Way We Think About Consumers


Every year, data from surveys conducted by Nielsen and Scarborough is used to affect hundreds of billions of dollars of advertising spend. This is ostensibly an indicator of the level of trust that brands have in Nielsen surveys – but, at a time when over 20 percent of US households do not have cable, fewer than half have landlines, and cord cutting is on the rise, is that trust still justified?

Does the old way of collecting self-reported consumer data still apply in a world dominated by smartphones?

After all, mobile phones have increasingly become the place where people communicate, shop, and spend the most time generally – which make them a more accurate source of information on shopping patterns, media usage, and lifestyle trends than a survey sent through the mail.

As with many other research initiatives, there’s a fair amount of research bias in the way that companies such as Nielsen conduct their research. In order to come up with their findings, a relatively small group of people meant to represent a cross-section of the entire US adult population is recruited, and it’s the insights from these households that are then used to allocate advertising budgets. It’s not that the information gleaned from surveys is totally incorrect per se; rather, it’s simply that there are better technologies and methods that brands should be using to get a clearer picture of their customers. 

As a society, we are increasingly glued to our phones. They are with us everywhere we go—from the supermarket to the office to the beach. For some people, mobile phones are the only thing they use to communicate with others, surf the web, or shop. Data from mobile phones, then, is a valuable source of information on where people go, what they do, what apps they use, what websites they visit, and so on – and marketers can access this information without having to send a thick packet of survey questions to a household chosen after extensive demographic research. Instead of receiving self reported data from a select few, marketers have the opportunity to mine insights by observing mobile behavior from hundreds of millions of devices, insights that could completely change the way that they reach out to and communicate with their current and future customers.

But it’s not just about the quantity of data marketers can get access to; the quality also matters. Data from mobile phones can illuminate the many different facets of people’s lives, including how interacting with the things around them through the use of apps helps identify consumer behavior or how the locations they frequently visit and spend the most time further identifies consumer demographics and preferences.  And as more of our daily life at home, work, and play gets connected through apps and mobile devices, the quantity and quality of consumer data is continually growing, enabling a richer understanding of individual consumers. This in turn allows marketers to better personalize their messaging, ensuring that they meet the demands of today’s mobile empowered customer.

Another advantage that mobile data has over legacy data is with the ability to analyze unprecedented amounts of data at incredibly fast speeds.  Survey research takes time; you have to come up with the questions, determine who you’re going to send it to, figure out how much time you want to give people to respond – and only after all of these steps are complete can you analyze the data, at which point the results of the survey might already be out of date. Given how quickly trends rise and fall, and how important it is to target someone at the right time and place, it’s important to be able to access those insights as quickly as possible. Through the use of artificial intelligence and the ever increasing computing power of today’s mobile platforms, marketers have access to bigger, better, and faster insights that can be used to guide marketing decisions and media buys programmatically and practically instantaneously. 

At the end of the day, what marketers really want is to connect with their customers.  By getting to know them and their wants, they can deliver engaging ads that help lead them through the sales journey.  Needless to say, the best way for marketers to do this is to create content that best meets the want set of individual consumers – but the only way for them to do that is by having detailed information on those very users. Nielsen surveys might be all well and good for teasing out larger demographic trends, but they’re not really helpful when it comes to the granular work that marketers are hoping to carry out, especially when the data is readily available. 

It’s not enough to rely on Nielsen surveys anymore; instead, companies should use mobile data to enable a richer understanding of consumers, and to allow for better personalization.



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