Mobile Market Research Trends, Part 5: Mobile Ethnography

mobile ethnographyOn January 30th, 2012, Survey Analytics sponsored a webinar on Mobile Market Research Trends. The webinar was moderated by Esther LaVielle of Survey Analytics and featured Romi Mahajan, CMO of Metavana, and Chad Bhandari, co-founder of SurveySwipe. Today we bring you the full text of Part 5 of the webinar, which covered the topic of Mobile Ethnography.

Esther Rmah LaVielle

Esther LaVielle

Esther LaVielle: All right, so let’s go ahead and move on to a really fun topic that I really like getting to which is mobile ethnography. So what’s the difference between mobile ethnography versus traditional ethnography, and what do you see as its benefits? Romi, do you want to start?

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan: Again, what mobile does is it offers you scenarios both in terms of time, and location, and context that traditional doesn’t. Ethnography – it’s an interesting word. Its background is anthropology. Where an anthropologist was studying, let’s say, a tribe or a people living halfway across the world, they would go there and actually get into the context of how these people lived. It wasn’t this parachuting in, parachuting out drivey-by type of knowledge collection, right?  And mobile ethnography allows you to go into the moment, into the location, and into the context of the people that you’re trying to learn from. So I have never been a person who’s been at the forefront and cheerleading of any trend because I think that a lot of this can be very self-serving. But I do believe that the mobile and local phenomenon is going to transform marketing and marketing research in a way that, while pundits are talking about it, no one really understands that we’re the notion of data and making it contextual wisdom. I’ve said that several times on this webcast, but if people go away with nothing else but that, it’s that mobile– the SoLoMo, really the mobile and local piece of that give you contextual wisdom, not just data that, frankly, data, there’s an overload of it and no one can make sense of it. But wisdom we can use.

So a very powerful concept. And again, platforms like SurveySwipe allow a person like me, a marketer without great technology savvy and without great budgets, and so on, and so forth to be able to conduct mobile ethnography with ease. And I thank entrepreneurs like Chad and like Vivek Bhaskaran of Survey Analytics for coming up with stuff like this.

Esther LaVielle: So what kind of technology do you think is going to make mobile ethnography so exciting? What kind of tech tools are you seeing that are going to be super beneficial? I don’t know, maybe taking pictures? What other things do you think is going to be beneficial when you’re using the mobile versus having someone observing people?


Chad Bhandari

Chad Bhandari: I’ll answer that. I think you have to think about what tools are available today and how mobile is going to enhance those tools. I think, like you said, photos, videos, the capability that phones have for scanning bar codes are very– when you look at a surface, it’s very simple. But when you contextualize it with the kinds of research that can be done, it’s not very far-fetched with mobile devices and the power that they have today to have a mom basically take a picture of all the products that she uses for breakfast. It’s not very far-fetched for folks to carry their phones and provide very deep contextual data about what they are performing at the moment.

So I think when you look at forums which were sort of passive, you have to have your laptop open to actually give feedback, so a lot of it was based on recall. With mobile, it’s instant. I think while it sounds simple, I think it can potentially provide very deep contextual data that could be very useful for marketing research.

Romi Mahajan: One of the areas that I’ve been thinking about, and I know people on this webcast must be thinking about a lot is, how do you go and understand, let’s say, consumer behavior in countries in which the economy is moving, but really ones in which they are some bereft of traditional infrastructure, right? I mean, how would you go and do real mobile ethnography in Brazil, or India, or Pakistan, or Bangledesh, or a place like that?

And obviously, the mobile devices, the burgeoning of the mobile world has allowed for that. And so we’re opening completely new vistas in research through this mobile revolution. And ethnography, again, like any disciplinary artifact, has to change with the times, and mobile’s absolutely making it far more powerful. So again, I think we’ve probably exhausted this subject, but again, a very powerful construct.

Esther LaVielle: Fantastic, thank you. Now, let’s dig deeper into a kind of mobile ethnography, hyperlocal surveys.

That’s it for Part 5: Mobile Ethnography.  The final installment of this series will cover the topic Hyperlocal Surveys.

Click This Link to Get the Webinar Video and Slides

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About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. […] ethnographic data for marketing research. Rather than going for a huge quantity of responses, mobile ethnography is best suited for depth in the quality of responses, when you want to really understand the […]

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