General Mills Market Research Goes Mobile and Beyond

Each day we’re counting down our Top 12 blog posts of 2014. Coming in at #11 is this presentation recap originally published September 19.

General Mills logo Are you still staring at 10 people behind some glass in a focus group facility, or asking people in a traditional online survey to recall the products they considered, their behavioral intention, and what they actually did? Ryan Backer, Global Insights for Emerging Tech at General Mills, reminds us of the obvious this week at the MRA’s Corporate Researchers Conference. If you are asking people in the moment, they don’t have to recall…it’s real, in context.

With a couple hundred researchers at General Mills, Ryan says that probably 80% have conducted research on smartphones. The advantages are clear…they are getting GEMO insights (Good Enough, Move On).  They have instant awareness and usage studies that incorporate pictures and video.  Because everyone has a mobile phone on them at all times, there’s a lot of rich insights to be had.

Although it’s clear that we all can see a payoff to the shift to mobile and beyond, Ryan took us through the clear key pain points we in the research community need to wrangle:

  • Lift and shift – Mobile research for the uninitiated is at first “hey, we need to put this 30-minute survey on a mobile phone” and that clearly doesn’t work.
  • Apples and oranges – Clients are reporting ‘gains’ of ten points on customer feedback once they capture it in the moment vs. in the 30 days following the purchase.  Traditional research and mobile do produce different results.
  • Multimedia paralysis – Photos and videos are scary for researchers because the categorizing and sorting is all manual and subject to far more interpretation than analyzing words.
  • New method flops – Sometimes you try things, and they don’t pan out.  Ryan talks about getting low response rates or data that doesn’t make sense.
  • Global panel – mobile panel is not yet global and low incidence targets are still impossible to find.

And what’s beyond mobile?  Ryan talks about the next trends that will impact our industry, such as:

  • The Internet of things – When homes, humans and everything in between are connected with devices and sensors, a lot of data is going to become available.
  • The quantified self – You run, you eat, you log all that behavioral data into your Fitbit or My Fitness Pal, and that’s our new diary. Once the fridge talks to the Fitbit, it’s going to notice when that gallon of milk goes past expiration and how quickly the big jar of Nutella empties.
  • Augmented/virtual reality – What can we do with that in research in the future? Facebook spent $2 billion on the Oculus Rift virtual reality viewer. That’s a big bet on the potential..
  • 3D printing – Another exciting new development for a lot of industries.  Picture Hershey’s experimental 3D printing vending machines creating custom candy bars and imagine how these consumer creations will become a goldmine of true consumer preferences.
  • Unstructured data – Once someone’s algorithms tame this, we’re going to have more tools for predictive analytics.
  • Robotics – What happens when we no longer need people to do a machine’s job in discovering patterns?
  • Location research – Go way beyond geofencing with beacons…what can you learn when you can connect with someone standing 4 inches from your product in a store?
  • Receipt scanning is now delivering insights in real time in the moment at local bodegas and food trucks.  Will this be yet another way for companies to understand usage and how will it augment understanding that has traditionally been sourced from Walmart and others?

Julie Kurd (@julie1researcher) scopes custom research for the Fortune 500 for Chadwick Martin Bailey. She’s an amplifier, tuned-in listener, socializer, and trendspotter.



  1. […] At the MRA Corporate Researcher’s conference in September, Ryan Backer, Global Insights for Emerging Tech at General Mills, also very clearly articulated several early learnings in the emerging category of mobile surveys. He said that 80% of General Mills’ research team has conducted at least one smartphone respondent study. (Think about that and wonder out loud, “should I at least dip my toe into this smartphone research?”) He provides a laundry list of the challenges they faced and, like all true innovators, he was willing to share his challenges because it helps him continue to innovate.  You can read a full synopsis here. […]

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