Online Diary and Qual Insight Community: ethnographic insight research with digital media

Dirk Ziems

Consumption has become more complex and multi-faceted in the age of digitalisation. Everyday procedures are structured more flexibly. The trend towards multitasking leads consumers to be more distracted, and consumption is frequently more casual. At the same time consumers have more and more examples and suggestions for how they can cook, snack or do housework in daily life. The range of products and brands is accordingly growing drastically. Shopping is also become more complex and multi-faceted. Providers in e-commerce are multiplying, and more and more new formats are emerging, even in static retail.

In this situation, ethnographic research is becoming more and more important for marketing. This type of research takes a particularly detailed look at product and brand use in everyday consumption, and the moods and attitudes which are relevant. Through direct observation it also documents the exact consumer experience with shopping and service.

Important starting points for ethnographic research are the consumer diary, pre-tasks (upstream chores) and photo documentation. This documents what happens in the consumer world, day by day and hour by hour. In-depth interviews building on the diary and photo material from the consumer’s daily life produce particularly deep insights.

New digital devices and platforms make it possible to significantly expand the process of gathering material. We focus on the following procedures:


Online Diary

The Online Diary gives the test subjects access to their personal digital diary or log. There, they can post photos (in line with the tasks coordinated with our clients) or short comments, or otherwise document anything relevant to the subject of the research.

Entries can be called up at regular intervals, for example if respondents are messaged every three hours to ask them to log their beverage consumption during the previous three hours. Online Pre-tasks give respondents more scope to document something whenever the context seems relevant to them. The procedure can also be expanded to use geotagging and/or logging local movement data, for example in research into shopping behaviour or store designs.

Thanks to responsive design, respondents can share their experience from any device (smartphone, tablet, laptop). At the end of the survey period, access is blocked, data is backed up and made available to the project team.

Benefits at a glance

+ Effective loss-free capture of diary data
+ Greater acceptance of the procedure by simplifying entries
+ Increased everyday relevance through direct log entries (smartphone messaging)
+ Possibility of control and interaction with respondents during creation of diaries and pre-tasks
+ Possible inclusion of movement data (geotagging)


Online Insight Communities

The possibilities for research are further significantly expanded with Online Insight Communities. Here, a group of (usually) 30-40 consumers is carefully assembled following specific screening criteria and motivated to participate in an online panel forum. Various areas of the forum, which is set up for a period of around 2-4 weeks, are available to participants. In a “private” area they can post their contributions in the same way as with an Online Diary. They can also post their contributions in a discussion forum in order to share experience with other participants. For example, car buyers can share their experience with buying generally, or specifically at dealers.

Our moderators structure the discussion in the Insight Community, approaching individual participants (often non-publicly) and asking more penetrating questions. They give the whole community tasks, e.g. mystery shopping tasks or seeking information for a new smartphone contract, including subsequent sharing of experience.

Other very interesting media available to Insight Communities are whiteboards, mappings, visual drag-and-drop tasks and picture sorts which help go beyond pure ethnographic research.

The wealth of material created by Insight Communities greatly enriches the entire holistic research process. Frequently we use Insight Communities as a supplementary resonance zone for classic qualitative research, rather than as a substitute for it. The Insight Community is then initiated to generate hypotheses before classic depth interviews or focus groups are held. If there are solid findings subsequently from face-to-face exploration, these are explored in the Insight Community with the help of tasks derived from them.

We assign moderators for our Insight Communities who have years of experience in morphological market research. This ensures that the Communities do not merely reflect an inflated collection of qualitative data but lead to particularly informative insights into the deeper meaning of the consumer experience.

Benefits at a glance

+ Integrative group effects motivate participants to be committed
+ Discussion and comments lead to greater depth in psychological insights
+ Relatively long duration makes possible high output of authentic research material close to daily life
+  Community steering by tasks set by moderators
+ Moderators can also talk individually to community participants and boost their motivation
+ Use of varied tools such as whiteboard, mapping, picture sorting
+ Assignment of researchers specially trained in market psychology as moderators
+ Comprehensive linking possible with F2F exploration in research process


Use case

A tour operator wants a comprehensive understanding of customer experience on all aspects of package tours, and what measures are better for addressing customers and winning their loyalty.

Various research modules are integrated into morphological customer journey research. Morphological individual interviews are held with respondents after their package tour who have kept an Online Diary during the trip. A two-week Insight Community focuses particularly on how package tour customers pick their package and tour operator, and what information and sales services they use in advance (online websites of tour operators, comparison portals, occasionally travel agencies).

The link in timing between the different qualitative tools gives the overall research process a particularly richly-faceted depth of results on the customer journey, and encourages central new insights offering decisive stimulus for the tour operator’s product and service design.


Further posts on Qual Online Tools

Qual Online Toolbox by concept m

Morphological market research for digital daily life

Qual Online Tools (1):
Social Media Scan and Qual Social Listening:
tracking subconscious market trends

Qual Online Tools (3):
Webcam Interview and Online Focus Group:
a digital renewal for classic depth exploration

Qual Online Tools (4):
Morphological Web UX Research
psychologically optimise surfing processes

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

Kontaktieren Sie uns!

envelopephone-handsetConsent Management Platform von Real Cookie Banner