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Market Research Trends Spotlight: Mobile Ethnography


Market Research Trends Spotlight: Mobile Ethnography

market research trends mobile ethnographyMobile ethnography is one of the most innovative and exciting trends in market research today. However, before we dive into some of the means and methods, it’s important to point out that the basic concept of ethnography itself isn’t new – in fact, it’s been around for centuries, and has used by sociologists and other social scientists as a framework to systematically study people and culture. 

What’s more, ethnography in market research isn’t new, either. Approaches such as in-home ethnography, on-site ethnography, in-store ethnography (a.k.a. “shop-alongs”), and immersion have all been used for years by qualitative field researchers to better understand target markets, and solve market research problems.

However, the emergence of mobile devices from costly business tools in the 1980s to  ubiquitous consumer staples today, has paved the way for the new generation of ethnographic market research called mobile ethnography.

As the term suggests, the essential idea of mobile ethnography is to leverage self-operated mobile technology (typically smartphones, but also tablets, laptops, and to a growing extent wearable technologies like smart watches) to capture qualitative feedback in-the-moment, which is something that cannot be done through other methods such as focus groups and in-depth interviews (which, of course, are still part of the overall market research mix and as important as ever on a hyper-competitive business landscape).

Below are some of the more innovative ways that mobile ethnography is making market research richer and more valuable, and empowering business decision-makers to turn qualitative real-time input into profitable actionable intelligence:

  • Barcode Scanning: participants use their smartphone to scan UPC codes of the products they purchase.
  • Photo Recording: participants take in-the-moment photos (where they are, what they are doing, etc.), which are then uploaded through an app on their smartphone.
  • Geofencing Alerts: Participants receive an alert on their smartphone to take an online survey, snap photo, give their opinion on an ad or billboard, or take other action(s) when they enter a specified geographic area (e.g. walk into a store, walk through an airport, etc.).
  • Diaries: participants use the recorder on their device to create a series of videos over time, capturing their reflections, opinions, and so on (note: the concept of video diaries has been around for quite a while, but in the past participants had to record their reflections at a specific location because carrying around a bulky video camera was obviously not possible).
  • Intercept Surveys: Participants complete a short mobile survey in their natural environment.
  • Check-Ins: Participants check-in when they arrive at a certain location – such as a store – and are sent a survey. This is often used for mystery shopping.

Looking Ahead

Again, these are just some of the ways that mobile ethnography is increasing the efficiency, cost-effectiveness and overall value of market research, and how together with other data generation methods it helps businesses turn key problems into profitable solutions.

To learn more, contact the Communications For Research team today and talk to our co-CEO Colson Steber. We have extensive experience with various mobile ethnography tools, tactics, strategies and methods, and will help you determine what should be part of your results-focused market research initiative.

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