We all know that life hasn’t been the same since the introduction of the smartphone. Most of us have our smartphones with us 24/7 – in our pockets, bags or backpacks, on the nightstand or under the pillow, at work and on planes. We are always connected!

In fact, a typical smartphone user touches his or her phone 2,617 times per day. These facts suggest that when conducting qualitative research, this touchpoint cannot be ignored and must be embraced.

The following are what I consider to be the top 5 benefits of using smartphones for qualitative research:

1. Real-Time Insights
Smartphone mobile technology allows us to gain real insights into real moments when and where they happen because we are OBSERVING participants, which is arguably the most revered of social science methodologies, adapted to the digital age. Mobile qualitative research allows us to easily collect and analyze video, images, audio, text, and survey feedback in real time.

2. Improved Accuracy
This real time, in-the-moment feedback avoids the pitfalls of relying on memory of the experience, which is often murky at best. This murkiness is due in large part to the brain’s natural tendency to only remember things that fit into its existing knowledge base or that conform to societal norms. In fact, in the book ‘The Seven Sins of Memory‘, Daniel L Schacter outlines a plethora of riveting examples of consumers’ inaccurate accounts of what they believe happened versus what really happened.

As such, mobile qualitative research is invaluable for exploring habits and practices, purchase triggers/inhibitors, and shopping behavior – all of which should be observed in-the-moment versus relying on memory.

3. Anonymity
Mobile qualitative research allows consumers to provide thoughts and feelings in an environment of safe anonymity, which often leads to the deepest and most personal details of human behavior. It allows consumers to manifest their self-consciousness because they don’t feel like they are being analyzed under a magnifying glass, thereby removing the need to change the way they act or the things they say.

While there is no question about the power of focus groups and real face-to-face qualitative conversations, offering an environment in which body language or facial expressions don’t exist, and a timely response is not necessary, can significantly strengthen consumer insights.

4. Experiencing the Consumer’s World
I like to think of it as ‘going periscope’… truly experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes. Smartphones allow us the opportunity to observe a person’s culture at times and in places that we could never go otherwise. What is it like to see through the eyes of a consumer the Super Bowl party they attended? Or details of their vacation? Because of consumer’s ability to capture these moments without us there, we have the opportunity to observe them.

5. National Scope
Finally, mobile qualitative research provides an effective and efficient way to obtain feedback on a national basis, which can then be followed up with in-depth webcam or on-line text interviews to understand ‘the why’s’ behind the thoughts and behavior. To drive effectiveness and efficiency, we can also hand-pick the most articulate national consumers for the in-depth discussions.

In summary, while there are many ways to gather insights, the benefits of real time, in-the-moment videos, pictures, audio, and text afforded by smartphone mobile research is an invaluable tool. I like to think of it as a 3-5 day (the typical length to get at the behaviors and insights desired) ‘homework’ journey to unleash insights garnered prior to diving deeper into the ‘whys’ behind these learnings. In my experience, this approach best leverages the benefits of both technological and in-person research!

Photo by Sharon Hahn Darlin (Creative Commons)