OK, somebody had to blink! For the last few days there have been several tweets and comments using the phrase “Smartphone surveys prove their validity in marketing research”. When I saw the first post I immediately classed it as harmless hyperbole. But when I saw that MSNBC had used the same headline (14 June 2011) I felt I had to shout out “The Emperor has no clothes”.
The stories seem to track back to a press release by Gongos Research, released on 14 June 2011. The press release includes the phrase “a new study proves that smartphone-based survey data is statistically comparable to online survey data.”
This claim in linguistically and methodologically ludicrous, a single study cannot prove that something happens, it can show that it sometimes happens, but that does not prove a positive. A single, well designed, study can show that something is NOT true. For example, the claim that all swans are white is disproved by finding one black swan, but finding one more white swan does not prove all swans are white.
If we assume, for the moment, that the press release means that Gongos Research conducted a study, looking at a wide range of questions types, in one or more markets, with one or more types of customers, and that the study showed the results were acceptably similar, then we would not have proof of the validity of smartphone research. We would have evidence that smartphone surveys can sometimes work. If more tests are conducted (and ideally other agencies should be willing to pay for them) we can start to find out if smartphone surveys are ‘often’ (or better still ‘usually’) acceptably similar to other modalities. If we had the results of say 20 studies and they all showed that smartphone research was acceptably similar to other modalities we would not have proved it, but we would feel reasonably confident about using it, even 10 out of 10 positive results would make us pretty happy about trying it for a live study.
I do hope that Gongos Research publish their research as it is potentially really helpful to the industry, as evidence about the viability of smartphone research.