How COVID-19 is Driving a Huge Surge in Smartphone Ethnography

How COVID-19 is Driving a Huge Surge in Smartphone Ethnography

For the last six months, COVID-19 has shut down qual researchers’ ability to get out into people’s homes and capture a powerful, in-person ethnographic perspective on consumer behavior.

But innovative insights seekers, brand strategists and product development teams are using smartphone ethnography to regain their ability to look into the worlds of their consumers and get the first-hand view of consumer reality they rely on to inspire innovation.

Before COVID-19, our product insights teams would regularly go out into real people’s homes and just watch them use our development products in their real home environment. It was a crucial element of our process. Smartphone qualitative has given us back the ability to get back that perspective and continue driving our thinking and our development forward.

Some clients are trying to restore their ability to see products being used in real-life occasions. Others are trying to understand how their consumer’s lifestyle, needs and purchase decisions are rapidly evolving behind quarantine-shuttered doors. And smartphone ethnography is proving an invaluable way to keep the insight pipelines full and the teams closely in touch with their consumer’s reality.

For other clients, the dynamic is different. Deprived of their traditional, go-to approach of in-person focus groups and interviews, many qual practitioners and clients have been forced to try out online qualitative and smartphone ethnography. And many are sticking with these new methodologies even as focus group facilities begin to slowly reopen.

Losing our ability to do any face-to-face qualitative suddenly in early March was brutal. It forced everyone to try new ways of getting qualitative insight like smartphone qualitative. And now that we’ve seen what can be done, I think we’ll definitely be using virtual, online and smartphone qualitative more.

What’s really inspiring us is that practitioners and clients are doing an amazing job of adapting and innovating their methods to maintain a clear view of their consumer and actual empathy with their situations. And in the process, they’re sometimes finding BETTER solutions to their insight needs leveraging online and smartphone-based qualitative.

We’ve seen product-testing clients who used to rely on bringing participants into facilities to pick up test products or do taste-testing instead innovate in very smart ways. We’ve worked with one to adapt their product testing methods so that they are 100% remote (using the participant’s smartphone as the central point of contact with the study). And the result is not just the ability to keep the product testing going and the insights and data flowing, but actually producing richer, more insightful data.

Having to adapt our approach very suddenly because of COVID-19 wasn’t an easy task. But it forced us to re-think and innovate and do things in new ways, like using smartphone qualitative as part of our process and building virtual interviews and even virtual client workshops into how we operate. Six months into the experience our business is still growing, and the level of insight we produce for our clients is actually even better than it was prior.

With the Over the Shoulder solution, 20|20 is grateful to have been able to help a large number of qualitative practitioners and ethnographers expand from traditional face-to-face work to include smart use of online qualitative and smartphone ethnography. Do you and your teams need to get back into your consumers’ worlds? Are you itching to bring the “ethnographic perspective” back into your insight work again? Reach out to us or check out some of our best practices for designing smartphone qualitative – we’d love to show you the possibilities.