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Digital diaries: Join your customer on their journey

In the large toolbox of feedback techniques, the diary study holds prime position. Why? Because it’s the one technique that really lets you see the world as your customers see it. In the moment, in the right context, at the right time. Most other techniques rely on some level of recall, but diary studies record customers’ opinions and feelings while they experience your product or service. That means diary studies give you a level of detail and accuracy that can’t be matched. 

In this blog, we’ll talk about what diary studies are, their pros and cons, as well as practical applications. We’ll also lay out the steps needed to set them up in the right way and get the results you want. So, let’s start the journey and find out how this innovative research method can help you understand your customers better and grow your business. 

What are diary studies? 

A diary study is a qualitative research method that lets customers record entries in a log or journal about their experience with a brand, over a specific period of time. This experience could be around using a product or a service, visiting a website, or even just living their lives. Participants are recruited based on certain demographic or behavioral criteria – where they live, how often they interact with your brand, their age range, etc. Diary studies do require more time and effort for the participant compared to a survey or a one-off interview. This means you need to figure out the right compensation, reward or payment, so you can keep your participants engaged throughout the study. 

When they first started, diary studies were all about the written word, asking customers to write about their experience in a paper journal. Although that’s still an option, digital diaries are now the norm, and participants are requested to submit rich media content, like photos, audio recordings or videos. Recent advances in open-text analytics means it’s easier than ever to produce transcripts of audio and video files, so the content can be analyzed alongside textual entries, or even survey responses. 

The advantages of diary studies 

  1. In the moment 

    And that’s the key for this method. Your customers can share their feelings with you during the experience, not after. That means more accuracy and less recall bias. A perspective that’s truly reactive, that comes “from the heart”. Not only do customers react in the moment, they do so in the right context and can take their time expressing their feelings in this environment. 
  2. Over time 

    Diary studies are usually set up over a defined period of time. This means you get your customers’ view at specific times along their journey. You can better understand how experiences link with one another, how they correlate. You can work out cause and effect connections you wouldn’t be able to see any other way. 
  3. Real observations 

    No matter what organizations say, how often do they actually put themselves in their customers’ shoes? With diary studies, you can “watch” people go through what it’s like to be a customer. Warts and all. You get to see the obstacles you put in their way – inadvertently of course. And they get to tell you how these obstacles make them feel. 

What are diary studies good for? 

If diary studies are so great, why don’t we use them all the time? Good question. There are specific applications and use cases where this method is particularly suited for: 

  • observing activities that participants engage in, or their habits 
  • recording detailed behavior around complex tasks or specific sequences  
  • studying situations where recall bias is a problem 
  • looking at the way customers go through different touchpoints in their journey, and how they feel about it. 

So, what does this mean in practice? Diary studies are great for observing things like: 

  • interactions on an ecommerce site over a month’s period 
  • information about usage information, e.g. for smartphones 
  • how people complete general or specific activities, e.g., shopping online or buying a car 

What are the limitations of diary studies? 

  1. Less control 

    Diary studies depend on participants’ ability to self-report. That comes with potential issues as there’s less or no control over whether they’re doing everything correctly, for instance if they’re actually recording their thoughts and emotions after the fact rather than in-the-moment. Let’s face it, customers are human, and they make mistakes. Compliance might just not be as important to them as it is to the validity of your study. 
  2. Bias 

    It can be hard to be honest when you know your responses will be scrutinized. Especially when you feel like you’re sharing a part of your life. In some cases, diary studies can lead to skewed opinions as we all want to be liked and not judged for our opinions, whether consciously or not. Another aspect of this is that some participants struggle to answer questions while going through a process or an experience, which can also affect responses. 
  3. Cost 

    Diary studies can be quite expensive, especially compared to more straightforward methods like surveys. The required expertise to design a diary study combined with the technology is one aspect of it, although solutions like Forsta can be very cost-efficient. Don’t forget to budget in incentives and rewards for participants, almost always a necessity considering the high-level of involvement you’re asking from them. You might want to split these incentives, monetary or otherwise, in installments, to keep your customers engaged throughout key diary milestones. 

5 steps to launching a diary study in Forsta 

Thinking of launching a digital diary study? Here are 5 steps that show you how you would be able to do it in the Forsta platform. 

  1. Create your project 

    Starting your project is extremely straightforward. Access all current and earlier projects or start a new one from one dashboard. Once a new project is started, you can easily define the project settings, create segments, add and manage research team members and add T&C’s for participants to accept. You can also provide settings for daily reminders to participants. 
  2. Build your activities 

    Forsta’s activity library is home to a multitude of activity templates which you can preview, edit and add to your project. If you wish to create your activities from scratch, you can easily drag and drop activity elements in the Activity Settings section of the platform. Some of the most commonly used activities are diaries, group discussions and Concept Canvas
  3. Schedule activities 

    In the Activities and Scheduling section, simply drag and drop an activity onto the calendar, on the date that you’d like the activity to launch. Then complete the settings in the pop-up window. 
  4. Add your participants 

    Before you can launch your project, you’ll need to add your participants. This is easily done by uploading a CSV file of all participants. They can also be added individually. 
  5. Invite your participants 

    The last step is to begin your project by inviting participants. They can be invited individually or in bulk within the participant grid in the platform. Invitations are sent via email and these emails are customizable to match your brand. 

Now your project is launched, you can easily track data in real time, moderate your project and probe deeper into particular subjects to gather insights. 

Box out 

Top tips 

  • Define the right time period 

    Not too long so you keep participants engaged. But long enough to gather meaningful data. 
  • Recruit well 

    Select customers who are particularly involved with your brand and make sure they understand the brief and are available for the whole period. 
  • Start small 

    A pilot is a great idea for most feedback methods but especially for diary studies. Pick a shorter period and a smaller set of participants to start with, so you can test your brief, material, reporting, etc. 

How can Forsta help? 

Our Digital Diaries app helps researchers and marketers capture deeper, in-the-moment insights through a user-friendly and engaging platform. Available on iOS and Android devices, the mobile ethnography app is designed to obtain actionable, qualitative insights at scale. Complementary to Forsta’s existing desktop customer journey and ethnography solution, Digital Diaries is available to users of the Forsta HX (Human Experience) platform, which gathers and analyzes data, and helps insights professionals translate the findings into shareable actions to inform decision-making and drive growth. 

The Digital Diaries app is available in a Forsta-branded or white-labeled environment. With our Professional Services, you also get the benefit of our dedicated team to help set up your project and manage your participants. 

Companies can utilize Forsta’s Digital Diaries app to follow along on an individual customer’s journey—for instance, an in-store shopping experience—and gain insights into their choices each step of the way. Insights professionals can recreate in-person focus groups on-the-go, gathering even greater detail via enhanced capabilities such as real-time group discussions, digital polls and photo and video uploading. Brands can concept-test new developments, such as a package redesign or in-store displays, inclusive of important context unattainable by other means. 

Have we piqued your interest

Time to see for yourself! 

So now you have it! All the pros and cons of diary studies. When to use them and what their limitations are. Hopefully this will help you decide if you might be able to use this method for your own Voice of the Customer program. Maybe you have a project in mind already? 

Diary studies have the power to give you deep and rich insights into your customers’ behaviors, attitudes, feelings. Real-time, real-life insights that reflect in-the-moment experiences. Diary studies can really make you see your customers’ point of view through their eyes, with a high degree of detail and accuracy. And when combined with other feedback methods like surveys and interviews, and advanced analytics to extract insights, diaries can give you the means to boost your customer experience, and your bottom line. 

“Forsta Digital Diaries provides us with the most user-friendly software on the market that enables us to conduct qualitative, digital research via participants’ smartphones, with emphasis on uncovering behavior and needs from a distance.” 

Emil Buch Jacobsen 
Consultant at strategic innovation agency IS IT A BIRD 

“Forsta Digital Diaries provides us with the most user-friendly software on the market that enables us to conduct qualitative, digital research via participants’ smartphones, with emphasis on uncovering behavior and needs from a distance.” 

For more information, check out our: 

  • Data sheet: Digital diaries and online communities 
  • Case study: Getting Netpop into developers’ brains 
  • Tech demo: Forsta digital diaries tech demo 

Want to know how you can really understand customer behavior? 

It’s the key to making the right decisions, at the right times. Especially when those times are turbulent. Check out our eBook Gather: From Feedback to Feelings

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