Tips for planning and running a Mobile Diary Study

Category: Mobile Diary Study

Contextual research is all about getting under the skin of customers and users. It’s about walking in their shoes and seeing the world as they see it. It’s about understanding their context and what influences how they act, feel and behave in-the-moment. It’s about adding depth, colour and vitality to faceless segmentations, analytics and metrics.

The tip of the spear of contextual research is the Mobile Diary Study. For some, it’s the richest, most intimate and contextual type of study there is. Great design starts with deep understanding and a longitudinal diary study is a powerful, non invasive and cost effective methodology that our customers are increasingly embracing to deepen their empathy and improve their customer and user experience.

Modern, mobile first Mobile Diary Study apps enable Researchers, Designers & Brands to experience - like never before - in context, in-the-moment behaviors that help them better understand the everyday lives and needs of their users and customers.

There is both an art and a science to conducting a longitudinal mobile diary study. In this article we are going to explore, at a high level, how to go about planning and running your next Mobile Diary Study.

Mobile Diary Studies are flexible and agile

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A mobile Diary Study is an extremely flexible and agile methodology that can be used in any sector at any stage of your innovation life cycle. They make up around 50% of the projects that are carried out on our platform and are very much the “bread and butter” of our and our clients’ business.

Our clients use diary studies for multiple research scenarios:

  • Consumption diary studies,

  • Day-in-the-life (DILO) or week-in-the-life diary studies that bring their personas / quant segmentations to life.

  • Product usage studies,

  • User and usability research,

  • Understanding daily routines and needs in the workplace.

  • Figuring out their path to purchase or capturing online and in-store (omnichannel) shopping behavior.

  • Mapping customer journeys,

  • Capturing your customers’ experience and much, much more.

The Planning guide below is designed to give you a framework on how to plan a Mobile Diary Study. In addition to providing you with a Diary Study app and a Researcher Dashboard to carry out your project, we also provide you with a design and strategy service to help you maximise the capabilities of our platform to achieve your research objectives and/or fulfil your client’s brief.

If you’re new to Mobile Diary Studies, we will completely de-risk your adoption of this powerful research methodology. We take a concierge approach to every relationship and, should you work with us, you can rely on our team to hold your hand at every step of your mobile study journey from scoping to task design to project set up and ongoing support to ensure a frictionless user experience for you, your clients and your participants.

Step 1: Defining Your Mobile Diary Study Goals

Let’s be honest here: we all have blind spots when it comes to truly understanding our target audience. I think Rummy said it better than anyone…

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

As with any project, the first thing you must put in place before launching your Mobile Diary Study is a set of stated goals - what are you trying to achieve here (or do we have any idea of what the customer really needs / does)?

These should not be tied to the outcome of the study but rather to the questions that you want answered. The goals should be about ensuring coverage across all of the current challenges and blindspots or questions unanswered in your brief.

If your Diary Study is at the very start of your innovation lifecycle, then the chances are you are not entirely sure what you should be asking. This is perfectly ok. In fact, the most successful studies we supported to date started with wide open tasks and iterated into the findings from there using agile, scheduled tasking (this requires a whole other post in itself).

Keep the goals simple and the tasks open ended.

Some examples of goals might be:

  1. Understanding food or beverage consumption over the course of a week

  2. Tracking how and when different men shave over a period of 2 weeks (and does it differ on weekends versus weekdays)?

  3. Keeping a diary of what people shop for on mobile over the course of a week (and how)?

  4. Understanding a week in the life of a sports fan (and specifically what they do on match day)?

  5. What recipes do people use when cooking eggs at home?

  6. What does a week in the life of an Electric Vehicle owner really look like?

  7. Recording what it’s like to live with a medical condition and the impact of diet or medication on the patient’s condition.

  8. Understanding Gen-Z media consumption (what are they watching, on what platform, when and why)?

Setting goals allows us to have a stable framework on which to base the study - it focuses the client and the team on the right objectives and ensures that the tasking follows a coherent strategy.

If you’re geared up for it, a truly agile mobile diary study can start off with the relatively vague goal of getting a more contextual understanding of user behavior. Embrace the unknown unknowns! Gather a few days worth of data, quickly synthesize what’s going on and then add tasks as you go based on the trends you are seeing.

Scheduled tasking is great for this agile approach where you’re tasking on the fly based on what you’re learning. (Contact us if you’d like to learn more about this approach).

Recruiting Participants for Mobile Diary Studies

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Participants will not work for peanuts

Paying a realistic incentive will have a massive impact on engagement and completion rates

If there’s only one thing you take away from this post, it’s the absolute necessity to recruit the right respondents, screen them rigorously and incentivize them realistically.

No matter how much you think your super users love your product or service, you’re competing for their attention.

We can tell within 12 hours which projects are not paying participants enough and which ones are: the metrics never lie.

Poor incentive = 20% registration rates.

Proper incentive = 90% completion rates!!

Scrimping on incentives is a false economy. The time you spend chasing them to even sign up will quickly cost you more than paying them a realistic incentive.

The second task is to make sure you are getting the right people for the study. This is not just about getting people who are willing to take part, it is about getting a good representative group, who fit your target demographic or segmentation and who are going to provide you with genuine insight.

Your Recruitment Strategy should have three component parts -

1 - Find the right Respondents

Whether you are using a Recruiter, a Field Agency, your database, client CRM or simply going out onto social media and finding respondents yourself, you should be looking for the persona or personas that fit with the brief. It is critical that you either brief this to the Recruiter or have signals that help you discover the right persona in your own search.

We recommend that the minimum number of respondents you have per segment / persona is 8 - 10. Quantity is not as important as quality, but you don’t want to go to shallow with your numbers either. Don’t make up the numbers with just any respondent. Get the right people.

We strongly recommend you work with a recruiter who personally sources, screen and manages the participants. Although it might stretch your budget, the impact proper recruitment has on the success of your project is huge. Our data consistently confirms this.

2 - Incentivise Diary Study Participants Realistically

Pay, pay well and pay smart. We’ve supported hundreds of diary studies. We know what works well and what doesn’t. We have a raft of data on incentives and our strategists are happy to discuss incentives over a call to help you find the sweet spot for your incentive strategy in terms of pricing.

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Proper screening of diary study participants is critical. We strongly recommend you get your recruiter to screen them by phone.

Every type of study has one, and we have the data to guide you. Sometimes, paying is not enough by itself though. Sometimes, especially on longer duration longitudinal diary studies, you need to gamify it a bit. Create a target. Offer them a prize. You might look at paying a bonus for completing all of their tasks or a discretionary prize for the best respondent / uploads. The key here is to maximise your return on incentives and see them as a tool and not a necessary evil. Again, we can expand further on a strategy call if you do choose to go ahead with a study.

3 - Be explicit on what they need to do to get paid

Indeemo has found that ensuring the respondents are comfortable with the technology and informed as to what is expected of them ahead of the study, is key to a study’s success. Our on-boarding experience is extremely comprehensive and easy to use, but whatever technology you use, make sure the respondents are well prepared ahead of the study.

When you recruit them, be very explicit on the following:

  • What the purpose of the study is

  • What you need them to do

  • How long it will last and how often they need to engage

  • How much time it will take them to complete their tasks

  • How much they will get paid and when

Ensuring Respondents are aware of what they need to do and clearly briefing them up front (ideally by phone during the recruitment phase) will ensure that they “buy in” to your study. This also gives you the moral high ground” when it comes to chasing the ones who are slow to get up and running.

How long should your Diary Study be?

Diary studies come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on what you need to understand, where and when, diary studies can be as short as 1 day or can be as long as 12 months.


On average however, most of the diary studies we support are between 7 and 10 days long. Depending on your use case, the window of your study will vary:

  • Looking to understand a day-in-the-life? Allow for 3 days: 1 day to get everyone up and running the app, 1 full focused day for diary study tasking and a day to allow some stragglers to complete.

  • Need to understand a week in the life, allow 9-10 days again to get respondents registered and up and running and then allow yourself a full “clean” week of data capture so you understand what a full week looks like.

  • Considering a long term, longitudinal diary study? We have some studies that have been ongoing for up to 2 years. On these studies, screening and incentives are critical to ensure respondents stay the course and cadence is key. You won’t be able to get respondents to engage daily for very long - hence you need to establish a rhythm and a cadence that gets respondents into a groove. Getting this right is complex and hard to cover without jumping on a call to understand the context and the objectives of the study.

Tasking Strategy for your Diary Study

Tasking is such a critical part of the process that we could devote a whole post to it and still not cover all of the nuances. Getting your tasking right is critical to the success of your diary study. We’ve done hundreds of diary studies and our strategists will guide you through the process of choosing the right taking strategy and optimising your discussion guide / list of tasks for mobile.

At a high level you have three different types of tasking you can avail of -

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“Ideally, a task should never be longer than a Tweet”

Eugene Murphy, Founder, Indeemo.

  1. All At Once Tasking - This is where the tasks are delivered to the respondent in one go, right at the start of the dairy study. This is often the preferred methodology where the timing or sequence of tasks isn’t that important. It gives the respondent a fuller view of what the project is trying to uncover from them and it gives them the flexibility to do tasks when it’s convenient for them.

  2. Scheduled Tasking - This means that the tasks are released to the respondent at a pre-defined date and time. This is powerful when you want to maximise the in-the-moment capabilities of mobile diary studies. Respondents get a push notification alert when a task goes live and can then respond in the moment which maximises the contextuality and immediacy of their reaction. If you need to understand respondent needs or behaviors at particular times e.g. launching a dinner shopping task at 4pm or asking them what they are watching right now, scheduled tasking allows researchers to really experience their respondents in the moment.

  3. Sequential Tasking - This process releases tasks only when the last one has been completed. This is much more of a customer journey project tool. It allows the researcher to have much more control over the journey of the respondent.

Here are some key tips in how to write your tasks -

  1. Remember the medium - the respondents will be seeing these tasks on their mobile phones. The screen of their phone is much smaller than the desktop you are typing your tasks on, so be mindful of how much scrolling it might take for respondents to actually read your task. So, keep it short and succinct - ideally a task should never be longer than a tweet. Respondents will have to remember the questions you have asked them while recording that video or uploading that photo, so don’t ask too many questions per task. Instead look to ask a maximum of three questions per task. e.g. Record your Monday morning shaving routine. What time is it? Tell us about what razor you are using? Tell us about the products you are using?

  2. Mobile Ethnographic Research tools have a multitude of ways to help your respondents answer these questions - video, photo, text, screen recording - make sure to choose the right response type for the respondent when setting each tasks. Sometimes videos are essential. Other times, photos might suffice.

  3. Use normal, natural language that is going to resonate with the actual study participants as well, i.e. don’t be too scientific in your language here. You want them to see you as a real person not a faceless researcher wearing a white coat in some lab somewhere). Embedding a selfie video of yourself in the intro to your Diary Study has a huge impact on building rapport with respondents and keeping it personal. Don’t overthink these questions, keep the language and tone natural and make it simple.

Contextual inquiry using probing

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Once your diary study is underway, one of the key tools you have at your disposal with a Mobile Diary study versus other forms of research methodology is probing. This is where you, the researcher can ask questions of the respondent in real time and drill down on what they have shared with you.

Probing is a critical element in the success of an agile mobile diary study. Going back to Rummy’s “unknown unknowns”, the reality is you have no idea of what journey respondents will take you during a mobile diary study. So keeping your diary study interactive and conversational using comments and probes is an agile way to follow the insights and dig deeper into what you are observing.  

Modern, mobile diary study apps have a number of tools including real time alerts and 1-1 commenting that allows contextual, in-the-moment probing to happen naturally. This allows you to get right into the moment with your respondents. Make use of this capability!

Ask why.

Ask them to elaborate.

Ask them to think about their response and qualify it.

Be indeemoment!

Presenting Data

Finally, the key to a successful study is about how you present it. While reports are typically presented in PowerPoint or Keynote, supplementing your presentations with access to the raw data can be immensely valuable when it comes to building empathy with your users and customers. Enabling your clients or internal stakeholders to view participant uploads in an interactive dashboard can be impactfully valuable. Supplementing your de-briefs with an in-platform drill down can really bring the personas and the data to life. Platforms with Observer logins that enable clients to see but not engage directly with respondents really move the needle in this regard.


Indeemo enables you to do just that.

Indeemo has been created to allow you present your Mobile Diary Study findings in various ways. You can walk in the shoes of an individual respondent and follow their journey. You can create visual collages that instantly communicate a particular task or respondent or theme. Timeline capabilities enable you to understand and communicate how trends developed over the course of the study. Social networking style tools enable you to follow the in-the-moment dialogue between researchers and participants. Keyword tools and automated video transcription can drastically cut down the amount of time it takes to analyse and present the data.

There is a life and a depth to a Mobile Study that static slides can sometimes struggle to convey. Presenting the insights of your diary study in-platform has the capability of vividly bringing your user - and their context - to life in a way that other methodologies cannot.

Tag : Mobile Qualitative Research

Contact us

If you’re struggling to truly understand the needs of your users or you are drowning in segmentations and analytics but still have no idea of who the people behind the pie charts really are, then a Mobile Diary Study can be a powerful way to augment and enrich your existing data and understanding.

Studies can be activated in days and are extremely cost effective.

If you’d like to discuss your particular requirements or brief with one of our strategists, get in touch now.

We’ve supported hundreds of studies. We will quickly be able to propose a solution that will work for you.

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