Mobile Ethnography

What 16 Dinners In One Night Taught Us

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of ‘joining’ 16 different families for dinner on the same night. I did not know any of them ahead of time. There wasn’t any need for crazy scheduling involved and I didn’t have to clone myself. It was easy. They shared their family dinner time with me and my team at Upwords via a mobile ‘ethnography’ session. We became a collective ‘fly on the wall’ throughout their ‘dinnertime’ experience.

We could have had them join a traditional focus group, in-person and talk to us about dinner time and the food we wanted them to share together. Or, they could have completed a survey about the taste of the food and areas for improvement.

Instead, we literally had dinner with them. They shared personal intimate moments with us that are typically reserved exclusively for those in the inner circle through video, audio and images.

The human side of your ‘target’

As a result, these families shared stories about preparing, enjoying and cleaning up after their meal, and a marketing and product development team is now inspired in a completely new way. They feel like they ‘know’ the real people for whom they are developing their products. As they are working through a recipe, they won’t be thinking of the segment of the population that this meal is targeting, they will think more personally about Dave, and how his kids are picky eaters, and hard to get to sit at the table. And they will remember that hearing the way Irene talked about their brand and what it meant to her almost brought them to tears.


In the moment feedback

When we get qualitative feedback from participants in-the-moment – as events and experiences are unfolding, we always end up seeing something with more depth, truth, and in a new light. Instead of having them tell us about a moment after it happened or when they think it might happen in the future, we are able to see it for ourselves literally as it happens.


At the centre of this is the fact that observing people in their natural environment, seeing what they DO can be so powerful for the teams involved, and shed more light on their truths than simply listening to what they ‘say’.  We’re excited to share more on this theme at the Quirk’s Event in LA next week and in NYC later this month on the topic of ‘The Road to Ruin is Paved with Stated Intentions’.


We hope to see you there!