Editor’s note: Edan Portaro is the executive vice president of global business development and mobile innovation at uSamp, Los Angeles. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared here under the title, “How media-rich research is expanding our knowledge-base.”
Our smartphones are always with us. We cook dinner, watch TV and work with our tablets by our sides. The proliferation of mobile devices is changing the way that we conduct market research. One major benefit of this shift is the ability to ask respondents to take videos of themselves using a product, to illustrate their answers with a photo or give an audio response to specific questions. Yet many researchers aren’t integrating media-rich feedback into their market studies and frankly, they’re missing out. Here’s a closer look at some best practices that can help you capture the benefits of this approach.
Words vs. images
Marcel Just is the director of the center for cognitive brain imaging at Carnegie Mellon University. In a recent interview, he discussed differences in the way that the human brain interprets written and visual data: “Processing print isn’t something the human brain was built for. The printed word is a human artifact. It’s very convenient and it’s worked very well for us for 5,000 years, but it’s an invention of human beings. By contrast Mother Nature has built into our brain our ability to see the visual world and interpret it.”
While that mindset is permeating other aspects of the marketing world (just look at the proliferation of visual social media platforms like Instagram), market research is a fairly late adopter. Our ability to gather important insights from visual data as researchers is immense. But it’s far less straightforward and automated than text-based analysis. The realities of the challenges that we face in accurately and objectively analyzing visual content can’t be overlooked. But developing a research design that takes advantage of the unique insights of visual content and creating a solid analysis plan quickly overcomes these concerns and allows researchers to access deeper levels of knowledge about survey respondents.
Taking a cue from visual anthropology
One discipline that offers helpful insights into how to use and analyze media-rich data is visual anthropology. As a discipline, anthropology has long searched for strategies to increase the immediacy of the lives of the people they’re studying. “How can we participate in daily life along with our subjects?” these researchers ask. By integrating visual data into their research design, anthropologists have better been able to measure consumption behaviors in real terms as well as see these activities through participant’s eyes. The benefits to market researchers are very similar and they’re amplified by how natural the mobile device (with a great, high-resolution camera and video recorder) has become to our daily context.
Diary studies are one area of market research that has begun to use photos and video to good effect. With diary studies, subjects are monitored over a longer period of time to understand the intricacies of how they interact with a product or how they manage a specific aspect of their lives. The addition of video and photographs to traditional ongoing written surveys has added depth to the information that we can extract from this type of research. It both increases our ability to verify respondent answers and gives people an additional medium to share their feedback and perceptions.
Making the most of visual data
Whether you’re conducting a modern diary study or looking for a way to add texture to your mobile research initiatives, taking advantage of media-rich features can improve your findings in a number of ways.
- Get confirmation and validation: Photos and videos are a great way to get outside validation on self-reported verbal and text data when your researchers can’t be on-site. From looking for anomalies to comparing for data accuracy, visual evidence provides another layer of security that your survey information has integrity.
- Understanding context: Use video, audio and photos from respondents to get a sense of the research context. By observing the visual evidence, you can determine where they are, what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing. This enables you to recreate the sensory experience, increasing your understanding of the context where buying behaviors occur and even identifying specific factors that might influence research outcomes.
- Delving into respondent perceptions: Media-rich inputs are more than just tools that verify a verbal or text response. When used correctly, images and video can actually help you better understand a respondent’s perceptions of their consumption behavior. If a panel member is providing you with photos or videos of her experience, she’s choosing the details that she feels are significant which provides you with a rare look at your product and the buying process through her eyes.