by Marie Lena Tupot and Tim Stock, scenarioDNA inc.

‘Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

–Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, 1865

And so goes the standard market research conversation today. Brands, much like the Caterpillar, respond by asking again. `Who are YOU?’ And each time, a cynical consumer is further shaped.

[Alice] drew herself up and said, very gravely, `I think, you ought to tell me who YOU are, first’ (in spite of the fact that Alice knew the essence of the caterpillar). We do the same. We know the essence of the brands we engage. However, all that matters in the end is our own perception.

That said, we’re never really getting to the heart of perception. We’re just being annoying and getting annoyed. With every transaction we make today, there’s a call to action: “tell us about our service;” “your opinion counts;” “after you’ve browsed our site, would you be interested in taking our survey?” “Get $3 off.” “Win $100.”

We’re being trained to get stuff for less. And, in the process, we’re learning how to lie — ”I’ll tell you whatever you want. Just give me the coupon code.” And when people take part in panels, surveys, communities, etc., we’re still trolling in only the hand-raisers. A lot of money gets spent doing that too.

Meanwhile, we’re leaving behind  a long trail of useful data via transactions and apps that go, well, — unread.

There’s been debate surrounding mobile research lately. Will it help us bridge the gap in gaining more rich valuable information? Will it give us the freedom we need for expression? For certain, NOT, if we treat mobile the same way we treated online. Is mobile data as valid as online survey data? Of course, it is. We like to think we live untethered.

The future of mobility as a concept is that it turns big data into good data. Corporations are scrambling to figure out how to read the big data.

To truly be untethered and mobile, we need to rethink what we consider mobile. Mobile is every experience that touches us. People are mobile. Devices are mobile because people are. The mobile devices are great tools because they allow people in context to share, incite and engage.

The “cloud” will further enable our mobility. And mobile ad hoc networks (MANET) will keep everyone guessing how we’re connected.

Someday, when we mention mobile we won’t be referring to a phone or a tablet or infrastructure. Problem is there is long road ahead until we can get to the point of seamless data.

But there are things we can do now that elicit change. We can start by shifting our research from reflexive to expressive, less monotonous data gathering like the Caterpillar in Wonderland and more big picture cultural data mapping.

We’ll also have to get used to incremental data that builds upon itself. We’ll have to embrace anonymity. Privacy concerns will force that before we are prepared. What we’re after essentially is consumer stream of consciousness and knowing whose stream of consciousness heeds listening. What rituals and behaviors can we learn from? From there, we can build a picture, a “mise en scene” of what the consumer might like, want and need.

If mobile research can do anything, it first needs to be smart. We can get that smartness out of mobile. When it comes right down to it, this has nothing to do with mobility. It has to do with how data is viewed. And what is considered valid data.

And now here’s where we end up back in Wonderland. We all know that systems must change but we still keep asking for what we know. If that isn’t the essence of a Mad Tea Party…?