5 Advantages of Mobile Video Over In-Person Ethnography

Leslie Stone, director of strategic services for Ogilvy NYC, cites 5 advantages of mobile video over in person ethnography (watch her video interview here): liberating respondents to speak freely, saving time and money, seeing contextfirst-hand, hearing first person accounts, and getting teams up to speed quickly on a topic.

Following a recent mindswarms project with Leslie Stone, director of strategic services for Ogilvy NYC, mindswarms sat down with her in Brooklyn to talk about her perspective on using mobile video ethnography. You can watch that video here.

In our conversation, she raised a number of great points about the advantages of mobile video ethnography over in-person ethnography, and I’d like to take a closer look at a couple of them:

1. Liberating participants to speak freely

In no other methodology are people so self-directed.

Leslie Stone

Moderator bias and group-think are two common factors in live interview sessions. Mobile video surveys invoke the online disinhibition effect, whereby people communicate more openly and honestly without another person present because they feel less afraid of conflict or disappointing the interviewer. You can read more about this in my LinkedIn article, 5 lessons in Mobile Video Study Design for Emotional Results, about our study of Millennials & Home Cleaning.

In the study we did with Leslie and the Ogilvy team, we were asking people about their homes. Therefore, we had people answer questions from inside their homes and even give us a narrated Show + Tell tour of their favorite room. From a study design standpoint, because people are typically very comfortable at home, they’re more relaxed and natural in their responses than they would be in another setting. Additionally, getting people moving and doing something unscripted helps people speak more freely because they’re not the focus of attention.

2. Saving time and money finding customer truth

Leslie says she used to travel all the time, conducting in-depth interviews (IDIs) and ethnographic studies. Today, her responsibilities at Ogilvy mean she has less time for field research. Nevertheless, for the world-class, award-winning work that Ogilvy does, she still needs to achieve a deep understanding of consumers—and there’s no substitute for hearing from and observing people directly.

One huge benefit [of mindswarms] is that I don’t have the time or resource to go do this myself. It’s amazing to go home, come back in the next day and just watch videos. It saves a gigantic amount of operational time

Leslie Stone

Despite the fast turnarounds made possible by online research tools, you don’t want to sacrifice quality for speed. (People want good sushi, fast; not just fast sushi.) That’s where totally DIY video survey platforms sometimes fall short.

With mobile video ethnography, it’s especially important to ask the right questions in the right ways. For that reason, at mindswarms we collaborate with researchers to design studies, closely screen participants, and curate the resulting video responses to keep quality high. We view our platform as an effective technology enabler of the fundamentally human-to-human act of ethnography.

3. Seeing context first-hand

One of the great strengths of mobile video ethnography is being able to see what’s in the periphery as people answer questions and to peer into people’s lives and environments.

Some of the richest insights came back from what we saw. And sometimes, that’s the richest and the biggest point.

Leslie Stone

That’s why mobile video is a great fit for in-home qualitative research. As Leslie said, “It’s a no-brainer for anything in the home. And ‘anything in the home’ could be any consumer goods or any food or anything in your closet or shopping.

4. Hearing first-person accounts

There’s tremendous power in hearing directly from consumers in their own words. Mobile video ethnography is a great tool for collecting first-person stories rich in detail and emotion. It helps you understand the language actual customers use to talk about a brand, product or experience. It also helps you confirm you’re not making assumptions based on false familiarity.

Brand decks can be beautifully written and clearly articulated, but seeing and hearing how those ideas, platforms or concepts are manifested in the lives of real consumers helps bring teams closer to the people they are trying to reach.

5. Getting colleagues up to speed quickly in an engaging way

I think it’s fair to say a lot of business presentations are…anesthetic. Uninspired and unengaging. Video, however, has become the new language of the world, as you’ve seen in the explosive growth and volume of online video. Bringing that rich, vivid cultural element into the world of business is a highly effective way to get a point across in an compelling way.

For the ad campaign Ogilvy was developing, Leslie needed to bring a broad array of stakeholders up to speed, quickly. So she selected clips from our mobile video study to share with the client, her creative team, PR and others involved in the ad campaign.

Even if you had already had your brief but you just wanted to pump it up with extra insight or give people thoughts to react to, [mindswarms] would be great. Or in the middle of a pitch to show clients people talking about your strategy, it helps to engage them. mindswarms can also be helpful when you’re stuck.

Leslie Stone

The richly visual content and first-person stories were powerful for validating ad campaign strategy and building empathy for the campaign audience. This helped the Ogilvy team develop a unique and compelling ad campaign that connected with people in a genuine way.

You have to find a human connection to your audience if you want to elicit a human response.

Leslie Stone

You can watch watch our video interview with Leslie here.

On our website, you can also download several case studies showcasing the effective use of mobile video surveys for ad campaign testing and business pitches.


Special thanks to Leslie Stone for sharing her insights about the experience of using mobile video for qualitative research

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