A mobile diary study works like this: instead of asking a consumer to answer a single survey or set of questions, you ask them to record their experiences with your product or service over time.
“Dear Diary, today I used my new vacuum steam cleaner to clear up a mess that the kids made. It was helpful to have it immediately available so that the stains didn’t settle in….”
“Dear Diary, I’m having some trouble with the carpet cleaner. I set out to do the whole house, but the process is so slow that I’m getting frustrated and thinking about calling Stanley Steemer…”
Diary studies have helped marketers and product managers for decades to get a level of insight into the way that customers use their products over the life of ownership. These studies have been used and implemented globally to get highly relevant qualitative data that flushes out an understanding of how the market relates to your product over time.
A closer look at the limitations of surveys helps to put diary studies into perspective. For example, if a person buys your product and you give them a survey that examines why they chose that brand or model, you get valuable data about brand awareness, product perceptions, and the factors that influence decisions. But your data gathering ability, and thus capacity for making valuable inferences, stops there.
If you follow up with customers after a customer service experience or many months or years after they purchased a product, you’ll get more in depth knowledge about its performance. But at the same time, you’ll be faced with the reality that their responses will be limited to memories. Surveys reveal high-level impressions, but don’t get into specific situations or real-time reactions on day to day use.
Diary studies have been somewhat limited in the past – specifically, the logistics of a diary study presented numerous challenges. Studies required that you ask participants to carry around a notebook and record certain types of details. Problems included everything from high abandonment rates to less than perfect compliance.
At the same time, what insights researchers did get were an invaluable look at their products’ lives in the field. These insights made it possible to really understand how customers use your product. This improves everything from the precision of your messaging to the tweaks to the designs of your products.
The advent of mobile technology has made diary studies much easier, for both researchers and for participants. Respondents can enter details into a survey or diary on their smartphone or tablet. The medium is unobtrusive, and since they’re likely to have the device with them anyway, people are more likely to report in regularly.
Professionals in other industries such as healthcare have begun to use tablets and diary apps to track different metrics over time. For example, healthcare professionals are using apps such as MyNetDiary to help Alzheimer’s patients plan meals and improve brain health.