Mobile Video Ethnography Dives Into the Teenage Mind

What shapes the identities of teens today? California ad agency BSSP wanted to reach beyond data-driven assumptions to find out, going deep into the minds of Generation Z. Using mindswarms mobile video surveys, they captured teens’ unfiltered responses. What they learned is that Gen Z’s attitudes center around purpose, authenticity, and technology. (Oh, and transparency.)

What is it like to be 17IN17?

Seventeen interviews with 17 seventeen-year-olds—it’s our initial exploration into the lives and minds of teenagers today. It’s our attempt at digging beyond data-driven assumptions to get to their mind-sets and motivations.

Much has been reported and debated about Generation Z, this new breed of future consumer that marketers are trying to familiarize themselves with before their spending powers become fully realized. We wanted to get past the stereotypes and statistics. We wanted to get to know them as distinct individuals with their own unique stories and points of view, not just as a collective demographic cohort. To do so, we partnered with mindswarms, a mobile video ethnography firm, and interviewed 17 seventeen-year-old participants from across the states through a series of mobile video surveys.

In some ways, not much has changed. It’s still about human biology, after all. Seventeen-year-olds are in that transitional phase between high school and college, with their teenage years disappearing into young adulthood. They are increasingly independent, and starting to think about the future. They are social creatures whose lives revolve around family and friends.

In other ways, it’s completely new territory. They are entrenched in technology and living out these progressive years online, under intense scrutiny.

We’ve identified three key themes that have shaped their self-identities.

As diverse members of this world, today’s teens are forced to confront the pervasive global issues that seep into their daily lives and flood their newsfeeds. They often reject the beliefs presented to them by their families and local communities, presumably because the Internet gives them access to alternative perspectives from a global community. They do not I. Exposure to global issues drives their sense of purpose. passively observe, but actively voice their opinions, shaping their own personal brands through these issues. Social media often becomes an amplifier for these points of view, whether it pertains to gender, race, religion, politics, or global warming. At times their beliefs are so actively rejected by their local communities that it seems as if they’re experiencing their teenage rebellion in the form of a social stance.

In their own words:

I grew up in the Christian homeschool community, and they’re not very accepting of gay feminine guys. I was taught that it was wrong. Growing up, I was taught that being gay was wrong, being feminine was wrong, being different was wrong. And I don’t believe that…
Being queer, I’d like to give out help to other gay people… So, I decided I want to be different in the sense that whenever I come out, I want to do it to help others. I’m very, very vocal about it online because that is worth more than money to me.

~ Jake S.

I live in a highly populated Hispanic community with all these stops that are being put up or all these people that are being sent up… [People are] being pulled over and cops these days just assume if you’re Hispanic or Mexican or whatever, they’re like, ‘Okay, well, let me see your… Are you a citizen of the United States?’ It motivates me to kind of speak on behalf of them or speak up for them.

~ Angelina

I’m from a really small hometown, like a really southern part of the United States. [Having empathy] definitely helped me see the people around me, like how they were raised and their values, and I lost a lot of friends because of it…
Basically they would think that maybe I was racist because I’m speaking out about it [police brutality]. It’s scary that there’s a lot of people out there that can’t even go to the store at night without worrying about dying, and there’s people who can get pulled over, and pull a gun out, and maybe because of their skin color or their background they won’t even die…
When something crazy happens—like when Trump does something, or someone dies at the hands of a police officer—during those times I’m probably on social media the most, because I know people are saying crazy things and I want to have my input on it

~ Katlyn

Causes that matter to me? I’m a black activist. I believe in equality of the races and gender equality. I don’t know if that makes me a feminist but I like to think I’m a forward-thinking person, liberal… I donate to causes when I can. I like to buy T-shirts and state my opinions on social media.

~ Myhani

I’m a really big supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement because I don’t like seeing people get hurt just because of who they are. They can’t change who they are. I tweet about it and I post about it on other forms of social media. And me and my friends talk about what we can do to help them.

~ Skylar

However, they are not more likely to purchase a brand that is purpose driven, because many don’t believe that most profit-driven brands can be authentic.

In their own words:

Brands are inauthentic because most of them just speak up about things that are important at the time, whatever is going to bring them the most benefit.

~ Katlyn

I don’t think companies should get involved in these [issues] because they’re supposed to be serving the consumer. And if the consumer has a different idea or political view than the manufacturer or person who’s making the product, it could mean that they may not buy the products, which could harm the company.

~ Jake M.

They’re just trying to please what they think the consumers [want], how they think they feel. So it won’t be their true opinions, and it won’t be meaningful to them or to the consumers.

~ Alexander

No matter the brand, the point of it is just to make money regardless if it’s great quality or not.


Implications for brands:

Be aware of the diversity of today’s teens. They are different from previous generations and expect brands to recognize this. Some brands have, and are taking steps to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising. Unstereotype Alliance is a collective comprised of Unilever, UN Women, and several of the world’s largest advertising and tech players working together to eradicate outdated stereotypes in advertising. There’s been particular progress in the beauty space, with both CoverGirl and Rimmel London signing seventeen-year-old social media influencers James Charles and Lewys Ball, respectively, as brand ambassadors, recognizing their efforts in shattering gender-based beauty ideals.

Stay off the purpose bandwagon unless you are actively involved in resolving the issue at hand, or if it is intrinsic to who you are. Otherwise, Gen Z will see right through you.

That said, you don’t have to be a purpose-driven brand in order to succeed with them. Offering a high-quality product or service, supported by good customer service with a real human touch, is significantly more important.

You’ve heard it before. When it comes to their relationship with technology, the smartphone owns their world. Most teens indicated that life would be “incomplete,” “out of touch,” and “dull” without it. Their “whole life is on it.”

But while it’s a can’t-live without part of their lives, our respondents also recognized, and in some cases were saddened by, the downsides. They craved the stronger relationships that physical presence would enable and the time to invest in themselves.

In their own words:

If you didn’t have technology, I feel like you could gain things that we’ve lost through technology, like communication skills and being face-to-face with somebody.

~ Anna

It bothers me because it’s like… Because we’re hanging out and it’s kind of like we plan to be together, but you have something in between like spending the time together, where it’s like a wall.

~ Angelina

Without these things, I think my life would be a little different, because I’d be unplugged from the rest of the world, pretty much. But I wish that honestly none of this stuff was ever invented, because things would be so much better without technology. People would actually go out and do things and be more connected with the actual world.

~ Camryn

I think that I’d just be missing out on stuff that, honestly, doesn’t really matter. So I think that I would gain something from that. I would have the opportunity to invest my time in something that could be far more productive, like going to the gym, reading a book, or getting a new hobby that actually improves me.

~ Katlyn

I think I would learn a lot more about myself and what hobbies that I like, and I feel that I would be outside more than staying inside and being a homebody.

~ Nisean

Still others insisted that their smartphone was more additive than distracting. In school, it could be an educational tool. Among friends, it distracts from, but also supports, their social interactions as a source of information and entertainment. By themselves, it becomes an excuse to look and keep busy or a way to connect to their passions.

In their own words:

A lot of the older generation, they feel like my generation is too attached to their cell phone, and I really don’t feel like there’s a problem with it. I know a lot of older people, they’re not really in tune with technology, and they don’t understand what technology can do, so in the classrooms, I remember I would have teachers who didn’t want us to use our phones at all, and then we had some teachers that actually let us use our phones to look up stuff and actually incorporate in classrooms. They need to do that. I don’t really find it invasive at all.

~ Jhonte

I really only use it if I have nothing else to do. Nothing to do and nobody to talk to. I scroll and scroll… If I know I’m about to go somewhere and I’m not about to know anyone, I’ll probably bring my phone because you don’t want to just be awkward in the corner staring. I feel like everybody is staring at me so I’m like I got to have something to look down at… Half the time I’m not even reading what’s on the screen. I just need to look like I’m doing something.

~ Katlyn

Like when I was [in] Europe, I would have hated to not have my phone, because there was so many pictures I wanted to have taken of me that it would have really sucked if I didn’t have my phone. All those memories, because I’m definitely going to [get] those printed out and put up somewhere. I think it’s really important to get stuff off your phone and onto some paper, or something.

~ Katlyn

Implications for brands:

Don’t be too quick to judge. What looks antisocial to older generations is another way to be social for them. Brands can help facilitate these live social sessions. For example, the popularity of augmented reality app Pokemon Go saw people hunting for Pokemon creatures in real-life environments on their smartphones, with their friends.

Do more to understand not just what teens are doing on their phones, but with them. Create tools or work with other partners that empower them to explore and exploit their passions. Coca-Cola partnered with, a lip-syncing and video-sharing app with a core audience between the ages of 13 and 24, for its Share a Coke and a Song campaign. Users shot videos of themselves sharing a Coke with friends or family.

Remember that they are true digital natives who don’t appreciate being interrupted. Annoying advertising can be skipped, and the next best piece of content is a simple tap, click, or swipe away. Your communication needs to be compelling enough to be sought out.

Today’s teens grew up watching Millennials take on massive amounts of debt to pursue a college degree, only to be greeted by sky-high rental prices and dismal career prospects. Millennials moved home after graduation and are now notorious for delaying major life events like marriage and having children, often due to financial stress. When we asked today’s teens about their visions for the future, they described low-risk lives of financial stability, and do things now to set themselves on that path.

In their own words:

I guess just it being my own money and knowing that I worked for it and I think about more when I spend, if I shop and it’s a $30 shirt or something, it’s like, ‘Okay, do I really want to spend that much money for this thing?

~ Angelina

I want to become a CPA. I’m really good at math, and they make a pretty decent amount of money… They say money doesn’t buy happiness, and I do think that’s the truth. Because if you’re not happy with yourself, nothing’s going to make you happy. But I do think that it makes things easier, if you don’t have to worry about bills and all these other things.

~ Anna

Implications for brands:

Today’s teens expect more for their money. They’re skeptical of advertising and tech savvy enough to see through marketing BS. When asked for reasons why they like the brands they do, they pointed to functional product benefits. While we don’t recommend losing the emotional story, today’s teens may need to be given the practical reasons to choose one brand over another.

Maybe it was Millennials who championed the art of borrowing (e.g., Rent the Runway), but it’s teenagers today who are demanding it across verticals. Brands that offer access will win out over those that offer ownership. The simple reason: accessibility has less risk than ownership. Consider the following ways to allow them to try before they buy:

  • Subscriptions like Spotify allow consumers to pay month-by-month so the product can continue to prove its value to gain reuse.
  • Personalized trial boxes like Ipsy give consumers a sampling of things they may like, bringing the Sephora experience home.
  • Make buying and returning easy, with free shipping. If it arrives and doesn’t fit, last, or work as expected, teens need to know they can send it back for free and without hassle.
  • Of course, there are some purchases that can’t be sampled. For these, consider ways that virtual reality could give prospective buyers a sense for what’s to come, as IKEA did with its virtual showroom.

Have we cracked today’s teens? We hardly think so. Do we know what it takes to reach and engage them? We have some ideas. To truly understand them, we encourage brands and marketers to go out and have real conversations with people, as opposed to relying too heavily on generalizations. Instead of interpreting some ambiguous data point, spend time with them and ask them.

BSSP is one of the largest independent agencies on the West Coast. Adweek named BSSP Small Agency of the Decade, and Outside magazine recognized the agency by naming it one of the Best Places to Work in America. For further information, please contact Patrick Kiss at or visit

The mindswarms community provides people all over the world a platform to easily share authentic opinions and experiences through self-recorded videos to impact the creation of some of the world’s most innovative products and brands.


Special thanks to the people who shared their personal stories and insights with us as part of this mindswarms study.


Customer Appreciation in the Age of the Weaponized Consumer

At Fabric, we recently designed a study to help us understand the emerging culture of customer appreciation. Our goal was to dive below the surface, gaining insight into how customer appreciation and recognition feel emotionally to consumers. We wondered: Do customers perceive a distinction between appreciation and recognition? What are consumer expectations around appreciation and recognition, and how have they changed over time? Which brands are exceeding expectations and how are they doing it?

The results? We uncovered 5 trends that suggest a striking power shift in how customers view their role in the business-consumer relationship, illuminating tangible tips companies can act on in order to create a meaningful appreciation program, or to enhance what’s already in place.

Here’s a look at how we set things up, and what we found.

The Insight: The Rise of the Weaponized Consumer

Our study unearthed a strong undercurrent around two important concepts: Power and Validation. Although consumers don’t believe they are as powerful as any massive corporation, the most share-worthy experiences that surfaced in the study suggest just that. A perceived transfer of power is beginning to be realized, where consumers are implying they are to be treated as equals by corporations, thereby shifting consumers’ expectations from simple appreciation to deeper, more meaningful recognition.

Let’s break this down into 5 lessons:

Lesson #1: Appreciation is viewed as personal for consumers, and promises to deepen brand relationships

Consumers said it loudly and clearly: Bring on the personal touch. When they’re singled out, customers shared that it makes them feel important, which leads to loyalty. In addition, they believe appreciation fosters a virtuous circle, triggering mutual care and respect, and encourages repeating the cycle. On the other hand, unappreciation hurts: feeling unappreciated gets noticed too, and leads to insecurity, a dynamic the company is certainly not aiming for.

Being appreciated emotionally makes me feel important and gives me a sense of value. And I think it’s important to be appreciated just because someone’s acknowledging that there was an effort made on your part and that, in turn, you were doing something good or doing something to help out another.

~ N.S.

Lesson #2: Recognition is seen as public, acknowledging an achievement relative to others in a group

Unlike appreciation, recognition often hinges on a declaration for others to hear about, beyond the recipient. Recognition is about doing well relative to others, at work or at school, and as a result, the consumer wants to stand out. Meaningful recognition from companies can take the form of awards or accolades, and ultimately, it shows that the company is paying attention: people feel proud to be recognized for their hard work.

But it also suggests that the most original and modern exchanges – and those most ripe for innovation – are now public. Public recognition gives consumers the added benefit of elevated social standing by associating themselves on equal footing with a powerful corporate entity.

I think everyone is pretty familiar with rewards programs, but an idea of a spotlight post would be a customer posting a photo using a product from the company and then that company reposting it to their own social media site which could make a customer feel special and feel a connection with the brand. I myself enjoy writing reviews of businesses I visit, and I always feel appreciated and connected when that business actually goes out of their way to respond to my review.

~ R.N.

Lesson #3: Recognition today comes to consumers not from one single act, but many little things

When it comes to what matters most, it turns out that “little things” remain timeless in the eyes of the consumer. As in, small things that add up and put a smile on their face— perks, discounts, birthday cards— contribute to brand loyalty. Even more, customers want to be recognized for their loyalty. When companies keep track— noting what the customer has bought and how many times, and then act accordingly— this makes them feel special. And also, the element of surprise retains its allure. Although customers value regular rewards, they admit they enjoy the unexpected ones, too

To me, that’s recognizing— they appreciate you as a customer. I get little happy birthday cards, some of them actually in the mail, from utility companies and things like that and I’m a member of several loyalty programs and it’s nice when they remember little things like your birthday. It’s a small thing, but just that and offering a little perk or discount and I feel appreciated.

~ R.B.

Lesson #4: Brands that are exceeding customer expectations: Southwest, American Express, Starbucks, Sephora

So which companies are winning with customers, and why? What does it take to make the who’s who list of corporate America? Respondents shared some strong words on this topic. Like love. Let’s face it, “love” isn’t a word that’s thrown around often to describe brands, but it is with these companies. For example, one customer couldn’t say enough about how Sephora goes above and beyond with their rewards program. And Starbucks? They have a handle on fun. The company doesn’t simply reward purchases, they make a game of it. From sincere thank you’s to surprise free-be’s, what’s clear is that top brands are showing that they genuinely care.

I think the most recent time that I felt specifically appreciated by a company and specifically a loyalty program that I’m a part of is with the Southwest Airlines. I’ve achieved one of the highest status levels, the A-list Preferred. They sent to me a letter. I already knew that I made that. It was something that I was striving for, so I was aware of the exact time that I achieved that status level. But I got a letter. It had a sort of a congratulatory postcard in it as well as sort of a identification card as part of that achievement.

~ C.M.

Lesson #5: Consumers embrace companies interacting with them, not just reacting

These days, it’s not just about responding to and resolving issues. Great companies are speaking up, actively looking for ways to do little things for customers, interacting with them instead of simply reacting. There’s almost a dizzying array of creative gestures rolling out, from interactive spin-the-wheel prize games to a return program in which no receipt was required. This fosters honesty and sincerity, two values that shine when it comes to loyalty.

I feel like companies now are being more vocal about their appreciation. I’ve had a few companies reach out to me on social media when I had issues. UPS did that. For example, when I had an issue, they reached out to me via DM. They resolved my issue. They followed up with me. They even followed me back. I’ve had companies show me appreciation through credits on my account, just for being a valued customer, or waiving ATM fees for me.

~ X.C.

So what does this mean?

In our modern world, the bottom line is that recognition has become more elevating than appreciation. Recognition is what deepens loyalty. Social media and other technology have given consumers the option of a mighty sword; to complain in front of thousands on social media, and to demand a response. This “nuclear option” for consumers opens the door for companies to engender deeper brand loyalty by publicly addressing, calling out, awarding, and/or thanking consumers who have gone out of their way and worked hard to praise the brand. If the corporation is deaf, uncaring, willfully inflexible, and unwilling to transfer power to the consumer, a public spiral of negativity and frustration can ensue.

Top brands today are being highly creative, detailed, generous and trusting in how they show appreciation for the customers. The very smartest are recognizing them publicly, rewarding and awarding them, thanking them for their hard work.

How to create (or enhance) a Customer Appreciation Program:

  • Make sure your accolades are public,not just private: Demonstrate Recognition (seen by others) not just Appreciation (1-on-1).
  • Be creative:Companies that are creative in their approach stand out.
  • Don’t forget the little things: Incorporate large numbers of small things that make people happy today.
  • Implement game-like tiering:Develop rich game-like levels to show appreciation for both big and small efforts.
  • Create share-worthy stories:Enable protocols that will make for loved, share-worthy stories, often revolving around unexpected, “above and beyond” company actions to be made public by consumers.

Unique Research Methodology

Mobile video surveys are revolutionizing the qualitative research industry because they enable respondents to speak freely in an environment that is comfortable for them. This methodology not only captures emotion and nonverbal cues that uncover customer truths, but is especially relevant in the context of customer appreciation and recognition because often the company to customer interaction is 1-on-1 and personal.

Who did we talk to?

We recruited consumers across the US from a diverse range of cities and states, and each responded to 10 questions crafted by the Fabric team. The recruits included active rewards/loyalty members across various categories (airline, entertainment, retail, etc.), as well as consumers who do not select rewards/loyalty programs solely on value/discounts. There was a mix of genders, household income, education a socio-economic status.

Want to learn more about mobile video survey design?

If you’re interested in learning more about using mobile video for consumer insights, visit our website for free resources on mobile video ethnography, use cases, methodologies and study design.

About the Author

Tom Basset

Tom is the Founder and CEO of Fabric. He has spent over 20 years in consumer market research and strategy for some of the world’s most iconic brands, including Nike, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Sonos.

A specialist in using mobile video survey technology for ethnographic research, Tom has completed such studies on behalf of F500 global brands in the US, Asia, Latin America and Europe. He also has led Fabric collaborations with Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computing Interaction Masters program, Wharton’s MBA program, and Stanford Engineering.

Tom was a panelist on the London Design Festival’s Global Innovation Forum, and he has interviewed leading creative visionaries including Frank Gehry, David Rockwell, John Boiler, Yves Behar, John Jay and Maira Kalman for a documentary film he created and produced called “Briefly.”


True Emotion Revealed via Mobile Video

We’re not far off from a time when everything people do in public will be videotaped at all times. How does this shift impact the way people behave in public? Or does it? We asked 50 people across the country to weigh in - with a twist. Using mindswarms, we had people speak on video about their feelings regarding this shift. Then, we had people record their feelings on the topic WITHOUT ALLOWING THEM TO USE WORDS - we only permitted gestures and body language.

What we found through the video responses was that while people SAY they are not concerned about the proliferation of surveillance cameras in public, their body language indicates a much deeper fear, distrust and level of anxiety than their words.

As researchers, what more can we learn about human behavior through nonverbal expression? Mobile video is a medium that allows us to connect with people on a level beyond verbal communication, providing another layer of data and resulting in deeper findings.

Why not use words?

We prompted a straightforward, verbal video response from respondents around how their behavior might change if they knew they were being videotaped at all times. However, we also wanted to take advantage of the mobile video format of the mindswarms study and thought we’d give a nonverbal question a try, for the sake of experimenting with the platform and a new research methodology. So, in their second answer, respondents were only allowed to use body language and gestures – no sounds. The responses we got back were not only extremely expressive, but deeply insightful as well. The speech center is located in the left hemisphere of the brain – the left side tends to be more logical and rational. However, by limiting consumers’ responses to gestures and body language only, we wanted to understand what the right hemisphere might reveal on its own, without having to pass through the left side.


What people say - “It doesn’t bother me!”

In short, while people SAID they wouldn’t really be bothered by the idea that all of their actions were being videotaped at all times – largely because they say they have nothing to hide – their body language replies surfaced their deep-seated fears.

If everything I did was being recorded, everything I did in public, my behavior would not change, I don’t believe so, because I don’t act in any way for any certain people. I act the way I do because I want to.


I don’t really do anything weird when I am out in public. So my behavior probably wouldn’t change very much.


For me personally, I don’t really do much that would cause controversy, and I’m always trying to act my best at all times.

Matthew F

The unconcerned sentiment in these responses surfaced a connection that people make between their everyday behavior and its reflection of their moral compass, or how “good” of a person they are. In a full response to this question, respondents commonly articulated a whole thought process, making a connection between the two.

If I was being recorded all the time, I don’t think it would change my behavior because I don’t think that in public I’m doing anything wrong or something that needs to be in private. It would just make me kind of look over my shoulder more and feel like I’m constantly being watched, which I don’t think would be the greatest feeling. I think that would kind of give me anxiety. So, maybe in that regards, I would kind of act out my anxiety. Because no one likes to have someone just watching over your shoulder all the time. But if you’re not doing anything wrong, it shouldn’t change your behavior. So, unless if you’re doing something wrong, I don’t think it would change my behavior at all.


After thinking about this question and talking through their thoughts, the common perception was,


People reveal Anxiety & Insecurity

While people verbalized that they feel confident that their actions are nothing but ordinary, their body language expressed otherwise. Respondents were presented with this prompt, Without using any words or sounds, show us how you would feel emotionally knowing everything you did in public was videotaped at all times? (You can use your hands too!). Watch the video below for a highlight reel of the findings.

Their body language revealed in the responses show several patterns:

  • Looking over the shoulder
  • Shielding themselves with their arms and/or their hands
  • Eyes darting and/or squinting
  • They physically move away from their cameras

These patterns revealed a less logical, more emotional sentiment around the topic. Surprisingly, people did not express the nonchalant confidence that they verbalized in the other prompt. Instead, they expressed emotions that represent anxiety, insecurity, and fear around the thought of being video recorded at all times.


Words don’t match expression

What does the disconnect between what people said and what they expressed through body language tell us?

The language center of the brain, which serves for speech processing and production, exists in the left hemisphere of the brain, considered the analytical/logical side of the brain. Prompting the nonverbal response, eliminated respondents’ dependence on their language center. Instead, respondents activated more of their right brain in their nonverbal response, more deeply expressing their true emotions (the right is the more dominant emotional side).

People are used to communicating verbally and applying logical thought to their comments, which results in thorough, logical responses. However, for complex topics and situations, the application of logic can dilute the emotional response after the respondent has had time to sort through their thoughts. For this reason, activating the right brain can help us to capture both parts of the response – the raw emotion at the beginning, as well as the articulated, logical response.


Engage other forms of expression for deeper insight

While verbal communication is direct, standard, and our primary form of communication, verbal communication only scratches the surface. How else can we engage the right brain, or the more creative side of the brain to gain more insight around people’s emotions?

With mobile video, we’re able to leverage nonverbal communication and also prompt respondents to complete other “right brain” activities to express more organic, deep responses.

For example, we’ve instructed respondents to draw a picture to express their response to a question, or to tell a story, map out a journey, etc. Even the self-proclaimed “least artistic” respondents have expressed more personal, emotional responses when prompted to create a drawing first. Additionally, prompting respondents to find a memento, image, book, etc. that represents their response to a question can also tap into the right brain. By doing some respondents make creative connections between the item they show and their response to the question, which tends to be more layered than an explicit verbal response.


Getting the most out of mobile video

Outside of being creative in question design in order to facilitate eliciting insight, mobile video presents multiple advantages in terms of reaching the emotional, nonverbal, unspoken parts of the human psyche:

  • Nonverbal Cues: Every mindswarms video response (not limited to the strictly nonverbal prompts) captures nonverbal cues and makes them accessible, which text only or audio only formats lack. The facial expressions and body language are weaved into the respondent’s articulation are captured in each video response.
  • Participant Setting: By engaging respondents through mobile video, we allow them to respond where they are most comfortable (unless otherwise prompted), which returns a very genuine, unguarded response. Great for emotional topics!
  • Lack of Moderator: Without a moderator in person, mobile video allows us to leverage respondents’ comfort with their phone. Think of it as a confessional type setting – people have intimate relationships with their mobile devices, and you don’t have to put much effort into making them feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

Creative Use of Mobile Video Studies

Mobile video surveys helped us try an out-of-the-box study design, which opened up a window into what we can achieve depending on the setting of our research prompts; and how to optimize the in-context insight. With an easy way to quickly reach respondents from across the country, we were able to experiment with a simple two prompt approach and compare responses from two different types of environments. Click here for more on unorthodox and unconventional uses of mindswarms.

So What About You?

What sorts of other nonverbal cues have you noticed when interacting with people? What other ways can we encourage the use of the right brain to gain deeper responses from respondents that reflect their true emotions?

How else can we leverage consumers’ intimacy with mobile video to reveal their deeper connections to cultural phenomena, personal topics, brand and product connections, etc.?

Learn More About Mobile Video Study Design

If you’re interested in learning more about using mobile video for consumer insights, visit the mindswarms resource hub for free resources on mobile video ethnography, use cases, methodologies and study design.

Special thanks to the people who shared their personal stories and insights with us as part of this mindswarms study.

Panopticon: The inspiration for the article

The idea for a Panopticon was coined by Englishman Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700’s. Bentham had an idea to create a prison where all of the prisoners’ activities could be seen at all times by guards, but the guards couldn’t necessarily be seen by the prisoners. Beyond the practical side being that the system required fewer guards, his end goal was to normalize behavior by having the watched watch themselves, and police their own behavior as a result.

This is analogous to what’s happening with video right now.

It seems like every day, there is a new viral video clip of something out of the ordinary going on in the world: people getting dragged off planes by police officers, a man riding down the highway clinging to the hood of a car during a road rage incident, high school kids and an elder Native American appearing to be in conflict, or thieves returning to steal more, and getting apprehended.

So the question arose: when will the fact that people know they are being videotaped at all times impact their behavior? And if so, how? Or if not, why not?


Testing Police Interview Techniques on mindswarms

In Making a Murderer Season 2, Kathleen Zellner observed that the detective who interviewed Brendan Dassey used the Reid Technique – an industry standard training methodology for law enforcement.

Out of curiosity, we purchased and watched the Reid Technique training series, and wondered how aspects of this methodology might apply to a mobile video interview.

Admittedly, our goals are different from law enforcement; the Reid Technique aims to gather the most truthful response from witnesses and suspects in relation to a crime. At mindswarms we aim to uncover emotional insights from consumers related to products, brands, services or advertising.

However, there are similarities between the strategies used to achieve these respective goals.

We wanted to understand how these strategies might align with best practices for collecting in-context insights for market research. And further, we wanted to identify what researchers should consider when prompting participants to give us in-context insight.

One of the Reid Techniqueʼs strategies for gathering successful responses is setting up what they define as “a proper interview environment.”

Poor vs Proper Interview Environment

According to the Reid Technique, interview environments are defined as follows:

  • Poor Environment: A poor environment is characterized by multiple distractions, such as noise and interruptions. Questioning a suspect in a public place with other people around makes it difficult to develop quality information (editorʼs note: some might argue that focus groups are a “poor environment” by this definition)
  • Proper Environment: A proper environment for questioning a suspect is controlled by the investigator, private, and free of distractions.

This inspired our mindswarms experiment, where we outlined two analogous prompts:

  • Public Environment: One set of participants answered a personal question from a public space. This replicated the typical setting for in-context insight, and also replicated the Reid Techniqueʼs “poor environment.”
  • Private Environment: A different set of participants answered the same question from the comfort of their home. This replicated a typical video diary style research prompt, and also replicated the Reid Techniqueʼs “proper environment.”

Dialing up emotion

We wanted to dial up the emotion in this parallel study, because crime is often a highly emotional topic for witnesses and suspects.

In our experiment, we prompted a personal question to research participants: “Describe a recent event that scared you, frightened you, or made you nervous. What happened?”

Half of the participants responded in a public environment and half of the participants responded from a private environment. The differences were stark.


Finding a private space in public

Respondents who were prompted to record their answers from a public environment still sought out the most private space available to them. For example, finding an empty aisle at the pharmacy, a corner of a room, or a space apart from the rest of the crowd. Interestingly, people seem to intuitively seek out as comfortable of a space as possible – one free of distraction.

This may have been in part triggered by the personal nature of the question (which was by design, meant to test the extreme of a potentially emotional and deep response), but gives us insight into how participants themselves also seek out a “proper environment” to give themselves as much comfort as possible to answer thoughtfully.


Darting eyes

One of the most visible body language differences between the two experimental settings was eye movement.

In public settings, participantsʼ eyes would often dart from the camera to their surroundings, showing that they were distracted. These distractions seemed to impact participantsʼ responses — they seemed less focused on the depth of their storytelling and more focused on their surroundings.

For example, watch Deniseʼs response:

On the other hand, in private settings, participants had steadier gazes into the camera, similar to the comfortable and confident eye contact people make in one-on-one conversations. When people are instructed to respond from a private or “proper” environment, it makes it easier for them to dive deeper into the personal aspects of their stories.

See Crystalʼs response, from the comfort of her own home, where she maintains a steady gaze while telling us her story:


Hushed tones

Another behavioral difference between the two settings was voice volume. In public spaces, participants spoke in audibly hushed tones, another signal of their self-consciousness. For example, listen to De-Ambraʼs response — she has found a private pocket in her public setting, but speaks in a hushed tone throughout her entire answer:

By contrast, private space respondents appear comfortable and speak clearly and confidently throughout their responses. Despite the somewhat personal topic, people are quick to talk about their experiences openly when they are in a comfortable space. For example, listen to Jamesʼ tone of voice as he tells his story from a private space:


Factual versus Emotional storytelling

The private space respondents shared highly emotional, personal and sometimes moving stories. By contrast, the respondents who recorded in public spoke more objectively and factually about their experiences – almost as outside observers.

In the public setting, we found that even with a question that is explicitly meant to elicit an emotional response, people deferred to simply “listing the facts” and telling their stories objectively without diving into their feelings. For example:

“A time that recently scared me was when I was driving home one day, and I almost got hit by a car because I was trying to move to the right lane, and I didnʼt see another car was coming. And we almost collided, and that really would not have been good. It happened so fast. To be honest, I wasnʼt really paying attention, which is probably bad too. But because of that, I could have paid for more insurance, could have had to get a new car, couldʼve injured myself. And so that time really, really scared me.” -Annette C., Public Study

In the private setting, however, participants were more unguarded and quickly opened up to describe their stories as well as explain the emotional impact those experiences had on them. For example:

“This question is very hard today because itʼs a day after what made me extremely nervous and frightened. Just yesterday, there was a mass shooting in Gilroy, California. I live an hour away. I know plenty of people who were at the festival yesterday. It was very scary and I almost took my niece to the festival yesterday. Luckily, I had to work last minute and I didnʼt end up going. But it was really scary to see so many of my loved ones and friends posting about it and talking about how they were safe and luckily theyʼd left early or theyʼd gone the day before. But it was extremely terrifying and I was so anxious, having a panic attack, just making sure, contacting everyone I could, trying to gather information and make sure everybody was safe and okay and no longer there and in danger.”-Thamar L., Private Study

Private environments allowed research participants to focus on their storytelling and share on a deeper level.

Best Practices for Collecting In-Context Responses

In-context responses are a great way to measure top-of-mind reactions to stimuli in real-life settings. Mobile video is an enabler of capturing these in-context insights, but as weʼve learned in our experiment, researchers should consider the following in order to gain the most meaningful insights when sending participants on in-context missions in public settings:

  • In your question prompt, provide specific instructions for where people should answer the question, considering that people will naturally seek the most private area to respond from. If youʼd like people to respond in the middle of a crowded store aisle, tell them so!
  • Be mindful of what types of questions you ask in-context. While people are willing to answer questions in public spaces, it is difficult for them to dive deep into personal stories, opinions, or emotions in a public setting. In-context prompts work exceptionally well for in-the-moment responses, but personal questions are better left to a private setting in a proper environment.
  • The best way to ask the deeper questions are in private settings. In order to get to a more personal level, offer private moment prompts, instructing participants to respond from their bedroom, or anywhere else they are most comfortable.
  • Bookending an in-context prompt with private moments allows for a cause and effect insight. By asking a participant to describe their expectations before sending them on an in-context mission, you can set the stage and understand peopleʼs deep, existing perceptions.
  • Then, by following the in-context prompt with another private moment to reflect on their in-context experience, you can understand how the experience met (or didnʼt meet) those expectations.

By using mobile video to collect responses in private settings AND public settings, researchers can effectively design studies that allow for multiple layers of insight — balancing between real time in context insights and the depth of a reflective response.

Watch a highlight reel of our experiment here:

Creative Use of Mobile Video Studies

Mobile video surveys helped us try an out-of-the-box study design, which opened up a window into what we can achieve depending on the setting of our research prompts; and how to optimize the in-context insight. With an easy way to quickly reach respondents from across the country, we were able to experiment with a simple two prompt approach and compare responses from two different types of environments. Click here for more on unorthodox and unconventional uses of mindswarms.

Have any ideas to test?

We are always looking for out-of-the-box tests to inspire our next experiment. Let us know if you have any approaches/methodologies you would like to test, and maybe weʼll make yours the topic of our next newsletter!

If youʼre interested in learning more about using mobile video for consumer insights, visit the mindswarms resource hub for free resources on mobile video ethnography, use cases, methodologies and study design.

Special thanks to the people who shared their personal stories and insights with us as part of this mindswarms study.


Learn how consumers are escaping stress by being active outdoors.

A Behavior Change During COVID-19 That’s Helping Consumers Recharge

Get Me Out. Consumers Agree On How To Recharge Right Now

The Big Question

Through our latest mobile video survey, we learned that people are attempting to recharge and escape the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 by putting their bodies in motion. And more often than not, they’re doing it outside.

Consumers told us that after being inside, stressed out, and worried so much, being outside helps them feel like they’re finding their life before the pandemic.

The Big Story

People are spending so much time in their home that it has become the place where they’re constantly reminded about COVID-19. Getting outside gives them a chance to escape that place of bad news and makes them feel like they’re moving back to their life before the pandemic.

Being confined to one place has taken away the random opportunities to be in motion outside, like walking to work or going to lunch with coworkers. As the old saying goes, a body in motion stays in motion.

People crave to put their bodies in motion to feel a greater sense of well being and health.


They’re discovering new trails near home to walk or run on, playing sports with people in their social bubble at the beach, and getting even deeper into the outdoors by camping.

How Should Brands Respond?

Consumers are looking for brands to help them get out of the negative news spiral. Brands should look for opportunities to help people escape the feeling of being cooped up and help them find the freedom that being outside brings them.

Want more insights like this? mindswarms helps you get deeper consumer insights fast using the power of AI + mobile video on our powerful Fabric platform.Request access to start a study today.


Consumer Researchers Get Insights Faster With AI-Driven Mobile Video Survey Platform

Consumer Researchers Get Insights Faster With AI-Driven Mobile Video Survey Platform

Mindswarms has announced Fabric, its AI-driven mobile video survey platform, to help brands quickly get the insights they need to continue to innovate –– especially when in-person research is not an option.

Built-in AI and sentiment analysis accelerate the identification of valuable insights by highlighting responses and relevant quotes. Fabric eliminates hours of wading through video by narrowing the focus and showing you where to dive deeper.

With Fabric, consumer insights researchers can invite consumers to share their perceptions of brands, advertising, messaging, products, packaging, culture, and more from their smartphone. Results come in minutes instead of days or weeks.

Fabric allows brands to conduct research with their own audience or recruit from a robust database of more than 250,000 consumers.

Being in the dark and not knowing what consumers are thinking is something all great brands avoid. But COVID has thrown a wrench in the research process.

Fabric gives researchers the tool they need to get the candid, authentic, and emotionally unguarded insights required to deliver their most innovative work.