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Mobile Ethnography - Incredible Insights, Incredibly Affordable

Updated: Jun 13, 2023


Ethnography studies have always been some of the most useful, but also some of the most prohibitively expensive, market research methodologies available.


Many times in my career I found myself in someone's kitchen or home watching them make a new convenience meal, test a prototype appliance, or just filter their water. We had cameras rolling and note takers watching their every move. It was great research. And, it was pretty expensive, as you can imagine.


For the right project, that approach may still be the right one. But, for many other brands and companies who need that kind of learning depth, but don't have the budget to fund onsite visits – there is mobile ethnography!


What is Mobile Ethnography?

Mobile Ethnography uses the mobile phone that is in every consumer's pocket to take you into their home, to the store, or to anywhere they go that you want to go with them. I've used this technique very successfully to learn the deeper insights around the way people shop and enjoy chocolate. I've even had consumers take me video horseback riding and to the feed store, all from the comfort of my laptop.

In some respects, I like Mobile Ethnography even better than live ethnography. There are two primary reasons for this:

  1. With live ethnography, you have removed the "laboratory" aspect of the experience by being with them where they work, cook, shop, etc. But, there is still an element of the artificial since the research team is all huddled around asking questions and filming. Good, but not great. Using Mobile Ethnography, they are truly in their environment and just using their phone to capture their honest experiences for you.

  2. The research learning window can be drawn out over many days instead of being a single exposure. This allows for substantial latitude in the various ways you can approach the subject matter. Usually, when I do a study, I will schedule the participants for a full week. Each day they will have a new task which might be to: write down their thoughts on something, narrate a video, pick some images off the web to make a collage, or write a haiku.

Recruiting works the same as for any other focus style research and your participants can be across the country or across the world while you engage with them in real time. The software then lets you collect all of this information across your full range of subjects. You can sort the participants by sub-group, create word clouds, analyze the verbatims in their videos, and much more. Best of all, when I present the findings to my clients, I have an incredibly rich source of material to demonstrate the critical findings and insights with.




All of this richness comes at a fraction of the cost of doing a live ethnography study.


The software platform that I have used the most and can strongly recommend, both from a technology standpoint and from a customer service standpoint, is Indeemo.


Please reach out if this sounds like a good tool for your brand or service and let's discuss.

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