February 2018 | MDRG

Exploring Coffee Consumption Using Mobile Ethnography

Margaux Fisher

Ethnographer and Qualitative Analyst

Exploring Coffee Consumption Using Mobile Ethnography

A large, wholesale grocery business enlisted MDRG to explore the purchasing journey of coffee consumers. Within that journey, they wanted to know how branding impacts their decision process, and, ultimately, how purchase decisions are made.


  • Explore current habits and preferences around coffee purchases
  • Understand how brand loyalty develops and manifests in purchasing habits
  • Identify and explore gaps in current coffee brand experience


MDRG conducted a mobile ethnography study. This included 23 telephone in-depth interviews before and 23 telephone in-depth interviews after the mobile ethnography component. Half the respondents were from the New Orleans market, and the other half were from the other key markets in the South.
Initial interviews were conducted to draw out the initial findings and engage participants. The mobile ethnography then build upon those findings by allowing participants to share their coffee buying and drinking experiences in-the-moment. Through a mobile app, these respondents delivered videos, photos, and texts that provided intimate glimpses into their attitudes and behaviors. After the two-week mobile ethnography period, we conducted another set of interviews to follow-up on the behaviors and habits we had observed.


Our research indicated that coffee purchases are regular rituals that are difficult for brands to disrupt – and yet there were opportunities in the market for our client to cultivate brand loyalty.

  • We determined that our client could attract more customers by emphasizing the connection between being a local brand and delivering a higher quality product
  • Our research showed that preferences for local brands are tied to assumptions of quality and ethics.

  • Our research touched on the significant role of authenticity to locals, who could be quick to judge (and avoid) a brand they felt was too deliberate in showcasing markers of identity.
  • We suggested that our client would likely benefit from establishing a presence beyond the grocery store.
  • We discovered that consumers tend to be most loyal to brands they had been exposed to in social settings – work, school, etc.

  • Lastly, we also recommended that our client could better capitalize on shelf space by crafting a cohesive visual identity.
  • Though our client’s coffee packaging was appealing to consumers, they were more visually drawn to a primary competitor.



Public Health Institute Advertising Testing

Peter Schamp

Strategic Insights Manager

Louisiana Public Health Institute Advertising Testing

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A statewide tobacco control program came to MDRG seeking help in developing and evaluating an advertising campaign that promoted the dangers of secondhand smoke (SHS). MDRG recommended a combined approach leveraging both qualitative and quantitative research to understand the motivating factors that could be dialed up and impact the advertising.


The objectives of the qualitative research included:

  • Gauge awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke
  • Understand the relevance of proposed messages
  • Pre-test advertising concepts and campaigns in the form of storyboards

The objectives of the quantitative research included:

  • Measure awareness of the tobacco control program’s brand and other similar entities
  • Measure attitudes towards and perceptions of the program
  • Measure belief and/or support for key messages


First, MDRG conducted 8 focus group sessions with adults across Louisiana. Information from the focus groups informed the advertising campaign. One of the key findings derived from the focus groups was that non-smokers were not ready to “demand” their rights of smoke-free air, nor did they feel like a majority. Further, non-smokers did not realize the specific dangers and health impacts of SHS. The research indicated that the media campaign should focus on why consumers should care about SHS and empower non-smokers as the majority.

MDRG also conducted a telephone survey with the media campaign’s target (non-smokers across Louisiana) in 3 separate waves (1 pre-advertising wave and 2 post-advertising waves).


The research resulted in an effective advertising campaign for the client. MDRG was able to demonstrate the specific strengths of the campaign:

  • Awareness of the program’s brand increased from 27% in the pre-wave to 59% in Wave 2 and 60% in Wave 3
  • More than 3 out of 4 (77%) respondents recalled advertising about the dangers of SHS
  • Support for the program’s concept continued to be strong throughout the campaign and about 8 out of 10 respondents in each wave agreed that non-smokers have the right to speak up about the negative effects of SHS
  • The campaign was successful by providing a strong visual and facts to teach consumers about SHS and its dangers without encouraging them to be overtly confrontational



Creative Testing Using Facial Coding

Peter Schamp

Strategic Insights Manager

Creative Testing Using Facial Coding: Measuring Emotional Responses to Creative Executions

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A Fortune 200 company sought to understand if their planned advertising campaign would draw out the emotions and elicit purchase intent from two separate segments. The partnering agency developed two creative executions in animatic format for testing. These ads centered around the theme of “Simplicity”: “Simple Talent” and “Simple Tech.” MDRG’s task was to measure emotional responses to the creative executions and identify the most effective one.


  • “Simple Talent” received higher scores across metrics in the new service area
  • The ads were received more evenly in the client’s legacy service area
  • R”Simple Talent” fared better on rational metrics (respondents felt it was more relevant and believeable), but was also found to be less engaging than “Simple Tech.”
  • Facial Coding helped MDRG understand why

    • The legacy service area, which is mostly urbanized, began to have less positive emotional responses to the ad at the 8-second mark, the point at which rural imagery appears
    • The new service area, which is mostly rural, continued to have positive emotional responses through the duration of the ad
    • The more urbanized, established market did not shift back to positive emotional responses until the end of the ad, which switches away from the rural scenery to an emotional payoff featuring the commercial’s main character

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    The final campaign ran in both traditional and new service areas and needed to be effective in both markets.


    Considering the overwhelmingly more positive response for “Simple Talent” in the new service area, MDRG recommended “Simple Talent” be put into full production. However, there was some concern that “Simple Talent” was not as engaging as “Simple Tech” in the more urban legacy service Area. The results of the facial coding exercise uncovered that use of rural scenery in “Simple Talent” was less engaging to those in the urban legacy service area and did not create a strong emotional response until the last ten seconds when it transitioned from rural scenery to the ad’s main character. Considering the final ad had to run both in the new and legacy service areas, MDRG recommended that the full production of “Simple Talent” keep the rural scenery to appeal to the new service area, but that it should make a quicker transition to the main character at the end to appeal to both service areas.



Leveraging Emojis to Increase Engagement and Uncover Meaning in Qualitative Research

Margaux Fisher

Ethnographer and Qualitative Analyst

emoji in qualitative research

These are just a few of the answers we collected in a qualitative research study leveraging mobile ethnography to explore coffee purchasing journeys.

The wide variety of different emojis is telling – coffee means very different things to different people, and so they buy it with different purposes in mind.

The answers to the second question (on the left) tell us a little more about what those purposes are. From those, we see that coffee is a way to start the day, to relax, to connect with others, to feel healthy and strong, or just to push through the work week.

We could simply have asked respondents to answer through text. However, the emojis we collect are not the point of the exercise. The point of the exercise is to engage respondents and encourage them to draw on a broad lexicon of culturally significant signs and symbols to express themselves. Or, in other words, emojis serve as a way of encouraging respondents to be creative in their responses and convey deeper meaning without overthinking it.

emoji and qualitative research

Brandwatch did a deep dive into how emojis are creeping into our lexicon in this interesting report.

Some respondents have been more receptive to the use of emojis than others. Discomfort or lack of familiarity with emojis tends to arise most commonly from older respondents.

However, age does not automatically determine whether someone is familiar or unfamiliar with the lexicon of popular culture. Many older respondents are quite comfortable using emojis, or at least find themselves capable of adopting emojis for the purposes of a study. Some – old or young – might not be familiar with the meaning popularly attached to certain emojis, but text answers allow us to understand what respondents think those symbols mean.

Popular interpretations of emojis are useful to know, but usually not enough to accurately interpret emojis. People use emojis to construct and convey personal meaning. Thus, contextualizing emojis is crucial, both when using them and interpreting them.*

For instance, in a mobile ethnography study exploring employee experiences in a large organization, MDRG asked consumers to use emojis to represent how they felt about their experiences in the workplace. One respondent offered the following answer:

emoji and qualitative research

When first asked about their experiences in preliminary interviews, respondents were hesitant to say anything critical or negative about their work environment. After the initial interviews, they were asked to use more creative forms of expression like emojis or drawings and began sharing more about their negative experiences and challenges than they had in the interviews.

These respondents undoubtedly became more comfortable sharing their opinions as they became habituated to the researchers and the study. However, emojis were part of what engendered greater comfort and familiarity. They also provided respondents with a tool to think creatively about their experiences and to better express their feelings and thoughts.

The vampire emoji serves as a representation of feelings respondents found hard to convey, but managed, ultimately through a combination of emojis, drawings, and images. Through that material, we understood that employees were feeling alienated from their work environments and from their employer. MDRG recommended improving employee engagement by improving communication at targeted pain points and providing employees with opportunities to feel a greater sense of agency and empowerment.

Some respondents will doubtlessly feel more comfortable than others using emojis. Regardless, for researchers, emojis can improve engagement with respondents and can provoke thoughtful and creative answers to provide deeper insights.

*To ensure respondents understand instructions and questions, emojis should always be used carefully by the researcher and given enough contextualization to ensure that all respondents understand the meaning.



Why Use Interviews for Creative Testing?

Margaux Fisher

Ethnographer and Qualitative Analyst

When clients request proposals for copy testing, they typically are looking for quantitative data that will tell them how their ad ranks against specific brand attributes or statistically how likely it is to drive purchase intent. And while that’s often enough, sometimes the quantitative survey brings up more questions. In those instances, a qualitative solution is often in order. When it’s time to consider a qualitative approach to creative testing, we almost always prefer an In-Depth Interview. One specific study we completed is a great example of why.

In a recent set of interviews for qualitative creative testing, many respondents laughed in response to an ad about cancer they thought was funny.

A few, however, did not see the humor.

Would either set of respondents have expressed themselves so frankly in a focus group?

Maybe they would not have made their lack of humor so apparent, to avoid being seen as missing the joke. Conversely, some might have felt self-conscious laughing at an ad about a topic as serious as cancer.

Even without the presence of others, some respondents were hesitant in expressing themselves. They needed reassurance that their interpretations were valid and legitimate.

These reassurances are harder to make in a group setting (such as a focus group), and some respondents might assume their interpretations are not valid if they contrast with those of more vocal participants.

These interviews were conducted to test an ad campaign for a new cancer treatment facility for women. This project serves as an example of the unique combination of advantages that interviews can provide for creative testing.

1. Respondents reply with candor in interviews

2. Respondents are not influenced by others

3. Respondents are more open about themselves

4. Interviews allow the moderator to detect the nuances of tone and word use

5. Interviews also provide an opportunity for follow up questions.

6. Interviews are better for testing material with geographically dispersed respondents.

creative testing

Our interviews in the qualitative creative testing portion for copy testing an ad campaign for a new treatment facility revealed the primary themes of the ads resonated strongly with respondents, but the use of certain key images and words were off-putting, depending on their context.

For instance, respondents were more receptive to the use of the word ‘girl’ when it was used humorously — the joke referenced above — but some tended to be less receptive to ads that did not have specific reasons for using ‘girl’ over ‘women.’

MDRG recommends adding greater emphasis on the primary themes but minimizing the use of specific images and words (like ‘girl’) in certain contexts to refine the campaign.

Ultimately, the contextualized and detailed information produced by interviews can powerfully inform strategy. It allows us to not only identify the strengths and weaknesses of a campaign but also inform our clients how those strengths can be maximized and how weaknesses can be minimized.



Beyond the Brand Tracker

Stephanie McGehee

Marketing and Operations Manager

Your brand is the personification of your company. Its purpose is to create an identity for your company that people can relate to. In the best of times, it is your biggest asset. In the worst of times, your biggest liability. The health of your brand, like people, is vitally important and is susceptible to neglect. To maintain a strong and powerful brand, it’s important to conduct regular brand research. Not just a one-and-done brand tracker, but an ongoing commitment to measurement and tracking the health of your brand.

To obtain and maintain a good pulse on your brand, your strategic brand tracking should include the following 3 health metrics:

1. Brand Awareness and Perception

Above all, brand research should uncover the current awareness levels of your brand. Tracking aided and un-aided awareness will determine an initial baseline that you will leverage for all future brand research studies. In addition, it’s critical you get a pulse on how you measure as it compares to your competition. Beyond awareness, how is your brand perceived? How are your competitors perceived?

Exploring consumer perceptions of your competitors as well as identifying unique positive associations with your brand will uncover white space from which your brand can create a stronghold in the market.

2. Emotional Engagement

In this day and age, with advances in behavioral economics and technology, we can uncover deep, emotional underpinnings of associations with your brand and category. We can understand how your brand makes a customer feel – and not just how they say they feel.

With methodologies like metaphor elicitation, facial coding, and biometrics becoming less expensive and more accessible – market researchers can tease out implicit feelings and attitudes for analysis, alongside the articulated emotions of a consumer. With this new metric, we can uncover even deeper associations and attitudes that a consumer may not be able to verbalize on their own–adding depth and richness to our findings.

3. Customer Experience

Brand research should also provide intelligence around the role your brand plays in consumers’ lives. Traditionally, consumer journey mapping has been commissioned separately from brand trackers. It’s often viewed as a stand-alone study that to deliver insights into the products and processes a customer interacts with throughout their relationship with a brand. However, what is a brand if not the products themselves and individual interactions with its customers?

To deep dive into the health of your brand, you must also dive into your customer’s experience. Staying in touch with your customer’s real-world experience with your brand will allow you to innovate rather than react. You will uncover unmet needs faster and identify moments of truth in the customer’s journey that are true opportunities to connect.

Brand research is a standard and critical component of market research. Whether you want to understand the impact of your marketing strategies, uncover new insights, or develop product innovations around unmet needs, it all starts with a fundamental understanding of your brand’s role in its customer’s life.

Staying in touch with your customers’ perceptions and experiences will allow your company to focus energy on the future and creating proactive growth strategies that align with your customers’ needs.

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