Diary studies – valuable insights for marketing

Diary studies

According to an old saying, you can only find real truths in diaries. Modern market research makes use of this wisdom. A diary that relates to the use of a device, app or software can provide valuable insights for marketing. How do diary studies work and what makes them so successful?

Reaping the benefits of authentic experiences

When it comes to determining the functionality of a tool, the handling of an app, or the effectiveness of a service, diary studies are ideal for documenting actual use. The term “diary” can be taken quite literally: Study participants are asked to keep a small personal diary.

  • The participants are encouraged to record seemingly unimportant details related to the object of investigation. Lucrative new insight can often be gained from minor details in particular.
  • The recordings provide an unbiased glimpse into the routines and habits of the users.
  • These insights can be used to make lasting improvements to the product.

With regard to devices, programs and websites, diary studies provide the basis for an UX-based design — a design that, in addition to aesthetic considerations, is primarily oriented towards the user’s experience.


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Product analysis using diary entries

Diary studies are a specific form of market analysis that provide particularly detailed and insightful results due to their long-term approach. They can be used for a number of different purposes. The main feature of a diary study is the personal approach. The subjects are asked to share their highly personal experiences over a predetermined period of time.

How can the subjects record their results? There are a number of options available. For example:

  • They can write down their notes with pen and paper
  • They can enter their experiences in an online form
  • They can use a voice app

In many cases, users simply have to upload a photo to document the specific usage option of a product.

The classic diary method, i.e., the largely unspecified noting down of experiences, is only structured to a limited extent. However, the candor achieved with a diary study is precisely what makes it possible to hit upon new, groundbreaking perceptions of the product that one had not thought of before. Questionnaires or online forms may provide answers to important questions, but groundbreaking inspiration usually comes from unforeseen information.

When are diary studies useful?

Diary studies are essentially a special form of usability testing. The aim is to identify shoppers’ actual experiences with products. But diary studies also clarify other marketing-relevant questions. These include, for example, the analysis of the market environment or typical processes of a customer journey: Where are the customer’s touch points and pain points on his journey to conversion? Personal notes often provide more valuable information than machine tracking tools.

The advantages of diary studies are obvious: They cover longer periods of time and are therefore more than mere snapshots. With diary studies, the users are in their familiar environment. The results are not influenced by a moderator. Diaries capture more details than conventional methods. They also make complex user decisions easier to understand.

There are a variety of other test methods besides diary studies that can be used during planning and development, as well as after products have been released. These can of course be combined with diary studies:

  • Usability tests: Studies on the actual usability of products and digital applications.
  • Eye-tracking: Detailed analyses of the user’s gaze behavior, especially for apps and websites.
  • Prototyping: Development of visualizations and applications in the testing phase before the final release of the software.

Who to choose for a diary study?

A professional diary study usually involves six steps:

  1. Defining the goal of the study.
  2. Selecting the duration of the study and formulating questions.
  3. Determining the target group and defining it according to specific characteristics.
  4. Preparing a briefing for the participants.
  5. Clarifying any follow-up questions.
  6. Analysing the results.

The identification of the target group results from the objective of the study. In many cases, the potential participants are often customers of the company. But the narrower the target group is defined, the more difficult the selection of study participants becomes.

Results for new approaches

After the completion of a diary study, there is a lot of room for new projects to implement the company’s goals. What are the next steps? The results of diary studies can be used for many purposes.

  • They provide the basis for hypotheses for A/B testing.
  • They can optimize touchpoints on a customer journey and eliminate pain points.
  • They lay the groundwork for a fundamental renewal of the product.

Documented user experiences can be used for many applications and contexts.

  • Hardware: To ensure the best possible usability of a device, it is necessary to analyze typical areas of use and problems. Tangible experiences in everyday life provide this information.
  • Software: How does the user handle an app and what purposes does he or she use it for? How can the benefits be optimized?
  • Websites: What does a typical customer journey look like? What approaches can be adopted to improve the ordering process right through to returns handling?

Diary studies reveal aspects that have not been taken into account in the previous development of the product. They are very useful precisely because of the openness of their results.


The final analysis of a diary study often provides starting points for new studies. Follow-up diary studies can find out whether optimization has really been achieved. This is particularly true for long-term campaigns and product lines. Continuous diary studies in combination with other analysis methods are effective and contribute to the sustainable success of marketing campaigns.



Ridhi Sharma