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  • Writer's pictureBruce Crandall

In the Moment Insights: Getting to Know Mobile Diaries

I enjoyed a delightful trip to the UK recently. My favorite times were in the stunning countryside. I love being off the beaten path, and the UK delivered. My great, great-grandfather was born in England in the 1800s. We visited places where he lived and traveled, and which he mentions in his life history, including a small church with a museum where we unexpectedly found additional diary entries. These entries revealed things about him we had never known or imagined and are a treasure for me.

You see, my great, great-grandfather had written the history of his life shortly before he died. While his recollections were thoughtful and important, written forty years after the fact, they lacked many details and emotions. To me, the newly-found diary entries are priceless because he wrote them soon after the events occurred when his memory was fresh, and his emotions were still deep.

This brings me to Mobile Diaries and how they give researchers a window into the lives of people ’in the moment’ when memories are fresh. They can also be a treasure, allowing us to discover insights and realities that are missed with other forms of research that rely on memory, if you do them right.

Can't wait? Download Mobile Diaries: 10 Guidelines for Success today.

What is a Mobile Diary? Years ago, the first research diaries were created using paper notebooks which researchers gave to people along with a short list of assignments to complete during a specified time-frame. Researchers asked them to jot down their actions, experiences and feelings, capturing them as close to the moment as possible. These paper diaries were difficult to administer, but they offered insights that couldn’t easily be found any other way.

Enter the mobile phone, which brings new power to diary research. We can be ’in the moment’ in ways that are far superior to paper diaries because people are rarely without their phones. We can capture information about events soon after they happen, even exploring events and issues that are difficult or too sensitive to gather any other way. In addition, we can take advantage of texting, photos, and videos to create deeper insights with better context and emotion.

Mobile Diaries in Action Most people quickly see the value of mobile diaries. Their application is almost endless including examples such as:

  • A Cruise Line wants to know about daily experiences during a 7-day cruise.

  • A Fast Food giant wants to understand where they fit in out-of-home dining.

  • A Hospital wants to understand the ups and downs of moms-to-be.

  • An Insurance Company wants to know what it feels like to go through a claim.

  • A Dairy Company tracks dairy consumption for a week to explore opportunities.

Of course, we could use traditional research to gather these findings, but the highs and lows that occur and/or the details of what happened throughout the series of events are often lost. Further, a standard questionnaire done at the end of the experience would be long and burdensome if you tried to capture the same amount of data. It’s simply better to gather the insights along the way.

For example, we conducted a mobile diary for a beverage company that wanted a deep understanding of the beverage landscape. Their 24-hour consumption diary was 60-90 minutes long. However, we asked people to complete it in bite-sized pieces over several days, with each consumption moment taking only about two minutes - whenever they had a drink. Most people recorded seven drinks each day. This approach allowed us to gather far more reliable and in-the-moment data with far less fatigue.

Tips for Mobile Diaries OK, so you’re likely sold on the idea of a Mobile Diary but keep in mind, they are complex and need to be thoughtfully designed and executed with tips that include:

  • Double and triple check that all vital info is included in the design

  • Deliver tasks in small, manageable chunks to prevent early drop off

  • Do the diary yourself to make sure the App is easy to use

  • Make use of reminders and incentives to keep respondents engaged

  • Keep focused on meaningful insights to effectively navigate the wealth of data

But that’s just the ‘tip’ of the iceberg. For more inspiration on creating mobile diaries with treasure-worthy insights, I’ve developed a helpful Tip Sheet.

I hope this has been helpful to you, and wish you every success in your next mobile diary. Stay tuned for my next blog and check out prior blogs on our website.

Thanks. Ron

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