Supplementing Focus Groups & IDIs with Mobile Ethnography

Category : Mobile Ethnography ; Qualitative Research

We live in an era of constant innovation and evolution. The way in which we live and work is continuously being made more efficient with the aid of new technologies. Not so long ago, concepts like a contactless payments and autonomous vehicles were the reserve of sci-fi movies. Today they’re becoming the norm.

The technology press is abuzz with Artificial Intelligence and its scary potential to put us all out of work. Indeed, there are many in the Market Research industry espousing AI as the silver bullet to tell Qualitative Research teams everything they need to know about their research participants.

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As a Mobile Ethnography company that is constantly integrating emerging technologies into our platform, it might surprise you to hear that we don’t buy in to the whole AI replacing humans thing.


Believe it or not, the best way to truly understand human behaviours will - in our humble opinion - always require humans. AI is a long way off when it comes to interpreting body language, context and nuance.

Similarly, we don’t view Mobile Ethnography as a way to replace in-person qualitative research such as Focus Groups or IDIs.

We see it as a way to enrich it.

Mobile Ethnography: a powerful supplement for traditional Qualitative Research

Mobile Ethnography is a powerful, digital supplement for traditional qualitative research methodologies. 

At its core, market research is about people. Understanding their behaviors, attitudes, motivations, feelings and experiences is the end goal. Traditional market research methodologies, developed and honed over many years, serve as a great way of understanding people. But like payments and vehicles, Market Research needs to evolve with the times.

In-person market research will always be core to a successful qualitative research approach, but by supplementing traditional methodologies with Mobile Ethnography, you can make it even better.

Using Mobile Ethnography to understand passenger stress levels.

A Market Research Agency client of ours In San Francisco, InterQ Research, were recently tasked with understanding where and when passengers felt the most stress during travel. The client was keen to get face to face with their customers and as a result, Focus Groups and in-person ethnographic research were a central part of their brief.

However, to truly understand the in-the-moment passenger experience, and in particular their stress levels, InterQ proposed an innovative mixed method research approach. In addition to conducting Focus Groups and in-person ethnographies, InterQ also proposed a Mobile Ethnography component which also required participants to wear a heart rate monitoring device.

Joanna Jones, InterQ CEO said: “Rich feedback would have been cumbersome to collect (if not nearly impossible) had we just used traditional in-person ethnographies. Moreover, had we simply debriefed with passengers following their journey, we would have missed key moments that caused stress.”

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Mobile Ethnography helps you to get to know your Focus Group participants before you get to meet them.

As a first step, they gave passengers a heart rate monitoring device to help measure stress levels. Although these devices would give an indication of passenger stress levels, it wasn’t able to show InterQ the context of what caused these increases in passenger stress levels. This was the perfect opportunity for the supplement: Mobile Ethnography.

In addition to gathering heart rate / stress levels using the monitoring device, Mobile Ethnography enabled InterQ to remotely walk in the shoes of the passengers and experience the context of what was causing stress. Being able to correlate heart rates with in-context video footage, InterQ were able to not only understand when passengers were stressed, but more importantly why.

Mobile Ethnography was the supplement that helped InterQ and their client to experience the authentic, in-the-moment insights that Focus Groups could not facilitate. Further, Mobile Ethnography enabled InterQ to research a much larger number of passengers than would have been possible if they relied solely on an in-person Ethnographic Research approach.

Mobile Ethnography - the Methodology for the ‘Selfie Generation’

Take a look around you on the train, bus or subway tomorrow morning and calculate what percentage of your fellow passengers are glued to their mobiles. It’s likely that more than 50% will be!

As smartphone adoption is nearing saturation in most developed economies, communicating and connecting using Video has become second nature to us. In fact, we now consistently hear from clients that younger Millennial and Gen Z research participants are actually more open in video selfies than they are face to face in Focus Group or IDIs!

Anyone who needs to truly understand these demographics needs to evolve their approach to Qualitative Research.

At Indeemo, we’re not re-inventing the wheel of qualitative research, we’re evolving it. So are innovative Market Research Agencies like InterQ.

If you’d like to learn more about how Mobile Ethnography can supplement your qualitative research, get in touch using the form below.

Tags : Focus Groups, IDI

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We’ve supported researchers trying to understand the path to purchase for everything from smartphones to domestic appliances to cars to hotels to garage doors and aquarium filtration systems!

The one thing they all have in common is that the journey is non-linear, random and omni-platform.

If you’d like to discuss how we might be able to support your next project, please submit your details here and we will be in touch ASAP.

We’re looking forward to speaking with you.

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