Branco-Illodo I, Heath T & Gallage S (2022) "Dear Diary": advancing diaries' potential in consumer research. In: Roper S & McCamley C (eds.) Proceedings of Academy of Marketing 2022 Annual Conference and Doctoral Colloquium: Marketing: The Fabric of Life. 2022 Academy of Marketing Conference, University of Huddersfield, 05.07.2022-07.07.2022. Helensburgh: Academy of Marketing. https://academyofmarketing.org/am2022-conference/
Abstract Diaries are employed in social research as "self-report instruments used repeatedly to examine ongoing experiences" as they are lived (Bolger et al., 2003:580). They allow sensations, thoughts and emotions to be recorded (Green et al., 2006) with relatively little intrusion (Alaszewski, 2006), and in the context where they occur (Bolger et al., 2003; Ohly et al., 2010). Because they capture "participants' own near real-time reports" (Burton and Nesbit, 2015:310), diaries minimise distortions common in other self-reporting methods (Tidwell et al., 1996). In spite of being a rich source of qualitative data, this technique is relatively rarely employed in marketing (Burton and Nesbit, 2015; Patterson, 2005).
One of the difficulties in using diaries, which limits its application is the difficulty in maintaining diarists’ engagement (Bolger et al., 2003). This paper focuses on event-based, online diaries to identify key issues in diaries’ potential to generate rich consumer data. Drawing on the authors’ accumulated experience on QDR, we identify three areas of attention focused on participants’: 1) convenience; 2) feelings of being valued/supported and; 3) reflexivity.
Convenience. Recent studies employed alternative ways of collecting diary data, including voice-recorded (Burton and Nesbit, 2015), online (Branco-Illodo et al., 2020; Gallage et al., 2020), or a combination of online and paper diaries (Heath and Nixon, 2021). Our experience emphasises the importance of making the completion as convenient as possible for participants by making online diary forms available from any of the participant devices (e.g. phone, tablet, PC), compatible with different operating systems (e.g. Android, Mac), having readily available information (e.g. website with the research information, link to their diary form), or providing a pocket-size paper diary, so that informants can complete their diary with little retrospection.
Feelings of being valued and supported. Keeping diarists interested is another major challenge (Bolger et al., 2003; Patterson, 2005). Most studies recommend giving participant incentives (Alaszewski, 2006), including charity donations on their behalf (Wenemark et al., 2010) to increase motivation. While this helps with recruitment and process completion, sustained commitment, capable of generating rich insights, requires the development of trust and rapport with researchers through continuous interaction. For example, the study in Branco-Illodo et al., (2020) involved 200 personalised emails with participants over a month where diarists and researchers developed trust and rapport. This collaborative engagement motivates participants (Tennen et al., 2006), minimises forgetfulness (Bolger et al., 2003), and allows for adjustments to fit circumstances. In our experience, this produces richer data, higher completion rates and availability for future data collection.
Developing participants’ reflexivity. As reported by several of our diarists in different studies, diaries facilitated a reflective understanding of their feelings, reasoning and behaviour in ways several found illuminating or therapeutic. This further enhanced informants’ commitment to the process. Diaries can also be completed by researchers themselves to enhance their understanding of the phenomenon at hand and nurture reflexivity in ways that we have found quite revealing. This piece will discuss in detail the key benefits and challenges of diaries in advancing consumer research.