Mobile Qualitative Research

Posted On: 03/12/13

By: Ilka Kuhagen   

Leveraging smartphones to capture consumer experiences in the spur of the moment

How it works

Mobile technology is helping transform research projects from stand-alone, project-based studies to a continuous research process.

Consumers’ attachment to their mobile phones allows access to them wherever they go.They are able to talk, text and share videos while cooking in the kitchen, commuting to work or buying groceries.

For experts and business people, mobile provides an easy way to capture quick thoughts that can be followed up during later research in-person or online.


Despite the current excitement about the new mobile and online tools available, each communication channel faces drawbacks. Researchers can tailor their questions, however, to take advantage of the relative strengths of each of channel.

A preferred method will be influenced by:

  • Where the research takes place (on-the-go, at home)
  • The complexity of the question and/or task given
  • The kinds of answers expected

Each communication channel lends itself to answers of varying depth and level of detail or precision. Most allow respondents to be spontaneous and fast, while providing an anonymous atmosphere.

  • Voicemails are best used to answer a single explanatory question in a private location. Answers can be wordy but show a lot of emotions.
  • Texting (SMS or MMS) is best for generating quick, but rather short and simple responses, usually straight to the point.
  • E-mail answers are best for generating longer responses from any location that can be followed up with questions and answers by the moderator. Detail can be captured quite well.
  • Online forums can be accessed through smartphones and are best used for generating thoughtful, more detailed and interactive responses that can lead to a group discussion in a later step of the research.


Mobile research can be used as a standalone research method, but it also opens up many new options such as when it is added as homework before focus groups, a diary to provide a basis for further discussion or as part of a community or bulletin board.

Respondents should be given flexibility about how they communicate with you. Their preferences for different communication channels vary almost as much as the features on their mobile devices.

Build on the strengths of each of the communication channels during the research design. Mobile phones, tablets and the internet have opened up opportunities to combine immediate, in-the-moment findings with reflective research. Information gathered at the spur of the moment provides the researcher with the emotions as experienced and not memorized. Take advantage of it.