Advantages of Mobile Ethnography

 A great variety of market research tools and techniques are used to study the consumer. Perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, motivations, and ideals are approached in different ways. However, most research techniques are based on explicit responses of the consumer to questions that are posed in a “laboratory situation,” or are outside the environment in which interactions with products or brands actually occur.

Faced with this, mobile ethnography proves to be an interesting market research method that allows access to real-time consumer behavior in which all relevant variables are present, allowing a much more accurate and in-depth analysis. It analyzes what the consumer does and not what they say they do, overcoming unreliable factors such as errors of memory or the filter of what may be socially and culturally not considered appropriate.

Fortunately, the ubiquitous mobile technologies of today allow researchers to document behaviors in real environments using different methods of mobile ethnography. Ever since the advent of smartphones and their continued rise since 2009, a surge of numerous mobile apps have been available to researchers for the execution of mobile qualitative research. More respondents can be reached quicker, more frequently, and more efficiently. Immediate input is available to respondents and researchers alike, who can toss out questions or ask for feedback right away. Participants are then enabled with immediate response features, effectively recording their unadulterated insights in the moment.

Mobile apps offer usual functions of sending notes, photos, videos, and audio recordings, allowing for comfortable communication between researcher and participants, facilitating comparison and categorization of data and presenting it all in a comfortable and intuitive digital interface. They may eventually end the time of folders and folders of documents. Now, you can carry all your research material in your pocket.

Why Should Researchers Take Interest in Mobile Ethnography?

  • Scalability - Mobile devices continue to be ubiquitous with a growing penetration reach that traditional research struggles with. There is no longer that logistical restriction in the number of participants or geography as encountered with traditional research.
  • Availability - A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center found that 95% of American adults own a cellphone of some kind; 77% of Americans are comprised of smartphone owners, while five in ten US adults own tablet computers. We spend a significant amount of our daily lives on mobile devices with a seemingly unstoppable year-over-year growth in mobile searches that indicate constant and high dependence on mobile. Supplemented by the continued growth of mobile apps, ethnographers are enabled by self-ethnography tools that empower them to conduct customizable and flexible market research studies on mobile.
  • Flexibility - The majority of mobile ethnography research activities generally take around 3-4 hours in total to complete, but depending on the research goal, participants have a duration of a few days, weeks, and even up to months to complete the research thus allowing the capture of a more ample range of situations and realities of daily life.
  • Interactivity - The immediacy that mobile brings does not only apply to respondents but to researchers as well - researchers can probe participants as they go through the research study. Mobile ethnography can also be customized with activity and gamification options depending on the study.
  • Economic - There are no heavy costs of travel, personal time, and equipment. It allows one to focus on the more important factors such as number and variety of participants.

The Respondent Journey

Mobile ethnography tools prove to be effective in engaging respondents in-the-moment as they are empowered to report their experiences freely using their mobile device. Using mobile, researchers can provide the necessary information and instructions to guide participants through activities. This means that you can engage them:

Before the Moment

It can be valuable to know what respondents are thinking before they make the decision. For a qualitative researcher, it is just as important to know what leads to a decision as it is to know the decision itself.

In the Moment

The beauty of mobile ethnography is being right there even if not physically. You can hear the thoughts of the consumer right in the moment they are exposed to over a hundred visual stimuli in their natural environment, going about their usual activities.  Capturing the unadulterated in-the-moment experiences of your consumers is priceless.

After the Moment

Mobile caters to all types of research even if it’s about gathering feedback after the fact that an activity or event happened. Thoughts and emotions can drastically change after the moment of action.

The opportunity to engage or probe the respondent as they immerse in various stages of their buying journey is essential in uncovering authentic, unadulterated insights. With the right mobile tools and intuitive features, ethnography can be optimized to its fullest capability that is sure to drive your study to its success.


If you’re looking for a way to get a close look at your participants’ natural settings, routines and key decision moments, and eliminate expensive travels and in-home intrusions at the same time, Civicom’s Mobile Ethnography solutions are ideal options for various applications. 

Explore multiple options for conducting mobile ethnography - call us at (203) 413-2423 to schedule a demo right away, or click the button below:

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