Glossary of Mobile Qualitative Research Terms, Techniques and Tools

The convergence of smartphones, mobile apps, real-time video (now possible over 4G networks) and social networking technologies has precipitated a massive upsurge in the use of Mobile Apps and Technologies in Qualitative Research and Ethnography.

As the sector is rapidly evolving, we have put together a quick, beginners glossary to help you make sense of the various tools and techniques available to Researchers and how they compare with traditional methodologies.

Before we get into the specifics of what’s possible using mobile, here is a overview of the traditional methodologies and terminologies that are relevant in the field of Mobile and Online Qualitative Research.

 
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Traditional Qualitative Research Methodologies

Ethnography, In-depths and Focus Groups

If you truly want to observe how people behave in their everyday lives, then Ethnography is one methodology that helps achieve this goal. Originating in anthropology, Ethnography traditionally refers to the practice where researchers spend prolonged periods of time living within a culture in order to study and understand it. The term Ethnography has been coined within the Qualitative Market Research profession to describe situations where researchers spend periods of time observing / interacting with participants in their everyday lives.

Ethnography differs to the more common interview-based research techniques where interaction with research respondents involves one-on-one “in-depths” (aka “depths”) or Focus Groups that take place outside the participant’s own environment. In-depths and Focus Groups are the mainstay of qualitative research as they are more cost effective to conduct than a pure Ethnography, can be carried out using more respondents and enable trained researchers to get under the skin of the participants and probe their motivations and behaviours. Focus groups also allow brands to observe the Focus Groups from “behind the mirror” which enables the brand to directly observe participants’ attitudes and opinions.

However, the limitation of in-depths and focus groups is that they typically take place outside of the participant’s everyday environment thereby limiting the extent to which the researcher can truly uncover real-world, real-life behaviours.

The advantage of Ethnography over focus groups or depths is that the Qualitative Researcher gets to observe the respondent in their real-world context and as a result is much more likely to observe subconscious / spontaneous behaviours and – ideally – the hidden needs of the consumer that are impossible to determine in an interview based format.

However, Ethnography does suffer from the “observer effect” where participants tend to modify their behaviours as a result of the presence of the researcher. Furthermore, ethnography is a very expensive technique, especially at any form of scale and as a result is only typically within the budget of larger clients.

Post Rationalisation Effects

In-the-moment research methodologies seek to minimise the impact of post rationalisation. In-the-moment refers to any methodology that can observe or capture the spontaneous behaviours or feelings of the respondent while they are doing what you asked them to do. Ethnography (notwithstanding the impact of the “observer effect”) is one way to truly observe consumer behaviour in-the-moment. However, this is expensive, time consuming and beyond the reach of most clients.

In-the-moment methodologies are particularly relevant to any shopper research or research that requires the researcher to truly understand the behaviours and motivations of the participant when they do what you asked them to do. Mobile and smartphones are rapidly empowering researchers to capture more in-the-moment observations at a clarity and scale that was previously previously impossible. By asking a participant to record their feelings or video their actions when they actually do what you ask them to do, you are far more likely to uncover true behaviours and as a result get a deeper understanding of the real motivation of the consumer.

Furthermore, with a one-to-one, private and real time connection to multiple participants using a platform like Indeemo, you can quickly determine if different participants behave in the same manner and, when they do, you can instantly trust the reliability of this insight as there is no group-bias at play, something which is typically a factor in traditional focus group formats.

In-the-moment Research

Whenever participants are asked to diary their experiences or discuss their experiences after the experience took place, their responses are likely to be post rationalised i.e. they recount their experiences from memory and are more likely to post-rationalise the decisions they made at the time. Post rationalisation is a issue with any research that occurs “after-the-fact” and as a result, the responses need to be analysed accordingly. To counter post-rationalisation effects, many researchers are looking to try more in-the-moment methodologies and this is where mobile is rapidly evolving.

 

Mobile Qualitative Research Techniques & Technologies

With recent research showing that up to 75% of Americans sleep with the smartphones, it’s no wonder that mobile qualitative research technologies are starting to take off.

If you want to truly understand consumer behaviour, then brands must embrace the smartphone as the new lense through which they can observe real-world consumer behaviour in real-time.

 
 
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Mobile Diaries

Mobile diaries are typically available as either a device agnostic, mobile optimised web page or a native mobile app. Whereas browser based mobile diaries require a network connection to enable respondents to use them, native mobile diary apps like Indeemo allow participants to keep journaling even if they are out of network coverage – which can be particularly useful for public transport projects where reception is not always guaranteed.

The main advantage of Mobile Diaries for Qualitative Research purposes is that Respondents AWLAYS have their smart phones with them and as a consequence are more likely to actively engage with your research. Respondents can journal their experiences and feelings in-the-moment as either a note, photo, screenshot or video which maximises the spontaneity and authenticity of the response and minimises any post rationalisation effects. Platforms like Indeemo will automatically dashboard all responses in real-time for moderators to observe.

Mobile diaries for qualitative research are particularly useful for In-depth or Focus Group pre-tasks, consumer journey tracking, path to purchase, travel / vacation journaling, shopper diaries and in home product tests.


Mobile Ethnography

Mobile Ethnography (aka “Auto Ethnography”) involves recruited respondents using their mobiles to record information (“Ethnographic Data”) about their everyday lives. Respondents typically journal photos or videos with or without captions. Videos in particular are a really rich source of insights for researchers.

Researchers / Moderators can sometime probe responses in real-time using comments and push notifications. This enables researchers to get to the truth of the moment and uncover the spontaneous motivations behind their behaviours.

Ethnographic data is mostly unstructured data in the format of note, photos and videos. Moderators can typically codify responses using Tags to establish a code frame for their analysis. Mobile ethnography tools and apps are more cost effective and enable research to be carried out in multiple locations at a time.

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Brand Communities

Smartphones and social networking have made it possible for brands to connect with their consumers in real time. In a landscape where there are so many social networks and so many platforms on which you need to engage with your community, it is becoming increasingly important for brands to understand the various tribes who make up their brand community.

This is where private social networking platforms can enable brands to create a private community of their engaged customers. Brand communities (aka Research Communities) involve brand community managers (who are usually Researchers) carrying on an ongoing dialogue with the brand’s customers. Adhoc questions or tasks can be posted into the community and responses in the format of photos, videos or social comments can be aggregated in real-time.

Private social networks offer brands and researchers a real-time connection to their customers and as a result, the ability to conduct social, qualitative research at a speed and scale that was previously not possible. This methodology also has the benefit of building a deeper connection between the brand and it’s consumers.

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