New Possibilities with Mobile Qualitative Research
The best innovation in qualitative methods over the last decade is not online focus groups or bulletin boards or MROCs (Market Research Online Communities). It’s the smartphone. Your customers can snap pictures, take videos, and document all their thoughts and behaviors as they go about their everyday lives, generating some of the richest qualitative data imaginable.
For this update on new qualitative methods, we turn to one of our expert partners, Kathy Doyle.
Mobile qualitative has been a viable method for over 10 years. But as the technology has improved so have the possibilities. If you haven’t considered mobile research—or considered it recently—I’d like to give you three reasons why you should:
The Ubiquity of Smartphones
According to a Pew Research study, 77% of Americans now own a smartphone, and among Millenials that number climbs to 92%. People consider their phone a natural extension of themselves, and rarely if ever leave home without it. Mobile methods capitalize on the fact that we are not asking respondents to do anything unnatural or unfamiliar. It’s become a selfie culture, and many smartphone users already obsessively record every moment of their lives. So why not consider harnessing this behavior to better understand your customer? Short of moving in with them, you can’t get better access!
Behaviors In-the-Moment and On-the-Go
Mobile research provides an unprecedented opportunity to observe and capture behaviors when they are naturally occurring: in-home, in-store, in-car, or anywhere else. Not because we asked them to do something and report back to us, but because they were authentically doing it in their own time for their own reasons.
For one of our clients, we intercepted potential respondents as they entered a geo-fenced location—in in this case, a car dealership—and invited them to participate in a phone interview immediately following their visit with the goal of understanding and enhancing the consumer experience. As you can imagine, the level of detail and emotion as they reported on their experiences was far greater by talking to them in-the-moment than it would’ve been had we asked them the same questions six weeks later.
Behaviors Over Time
With in-person ethnography we usually observe behaviors at a single point in time, primarily for practical reasons. While there is no substitute for spending time with your customer, and seeing their lives in context, mobile ethnography gives researchers the ability to capture behaviors as they occur over time. This allows us to pinpoint patterns and triggers that often do not surface in a single visit. A good compromise is to conduct a hybrid study: an initial visit with the respondent in-person, followed by a mobile assignment over time.
Imagine asking a respondent to keep a week-long mobile journal to “show and tell” each moment related to making daily dinner decisions: the planning (what triggers a dinner decision), shopping (use a list? make an impulse purchase? shop a sale?), preparing (challenges), serving (what “makes” the meal), and even daily self-reflections (wouldn’t it be great if…). How much richer the insights would be than asking a respondent to recall this information in a traditional research setting.
If these are not reasons enough to consider incorporating mobile into your research plans, here are three more. When participating via mobile, respondents:
- Are less apt to censor or filter their opinions and actions because of a sense of anonymity
- Can be less self-conscious than when a moderator is present
- Can complete assignments anywhere, at any time of day (and can receive text alerts to remind them to do so)
By Kathy Doyle
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