“People are People, so, Why Should it Be?*”


In our marketing ‘world’ all too often the concept of “understanding consumers” has been reduced to just identifying their needs. And market research has become a dreaded hurdle that must be cleared before you go on to the next phase of development.

The technology of today offers new and interesting ways to mine for consumer insights and explore a deeper level of consumer behavior and motivation. Much of which comes under the title of “ethnography.”

It’s typically used as a core qualitative methodology in the world of anthropology, yet it’s oh-so-valuable on the quest to change perceptions and drive behaviors. Essentially, it means the study of societies and cultures. It’s about people, places, and things.

In the marketing world, the areas where ethnography assists your efforts can include:

• Environment – understand how to build your digital environments, stores, displays, etc., in a way that flow best with how consumers want to experience your brand.

Utility – make it easier for consumers to interact with your brand, or for your brand to help a consumer.

Products – learn how people want to use products and explore new possibilities that assist them through their daily lives.

Communications – test how to best connect with people – do they prefer to interact with you through social media, mobile apps, in person? What are the social and cultural influences on these behaviors?

The results of gathering valuable insights through ethnography can be pretty exciting. One large bank we worked with needed to find out how to use customer experience as a key differentiator in their mortgage business. We turned that challenge into a full court press exploration to find out if an improved online mortgage customer experience could actually lead to commensurate measureable business results, and if so, what would it take to get there?

We deployed a variety of efforts, with interim workshops to synthesize client data and knowledge. That resulted in a detailed, multi-phase strategy and execution roadmap; a prioritized audience ecosystem map, and a new business model and tool that tied user experience improvements to measurable business results.

These strategies inspired a new exploration, “How do we use the online channel to become a trusted partner to our customers?” We rapidly developed two robust, clickable prototypes that could be tested with customers and prospects. The cross-functional design team leveraged existing research from ethnography, design hypothesis and best-practices to guide their development. The result produced a winning design concept that consumers overwhelmingly articulated as a tool they would adopt when launched, and a dramatic improvement over the current system—which is exactly what this client implemented.

When considering ethnography, the aim is to find meaning in behavior through analysis of small slices of everyday life.

Ethnography helps to:

Establish a relationship between attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and the material world.

Inspire a new kind of questioning that leads to stories of possibility, rather than just trying to reduce risk and uncertainty, or simply validate paths that have already been taken.

Identify interconnection between the realms of the symbolic: self-identity, culture, brand value, and brand purpose.

Plot out what happens at the intersection of behavior and emotion, or, what consumers did and how they felt.

Relieve the pressures of working from assumptions.

Serve up pertinent information for building an environment, tools, products and the content that all make up your brand’s ‘world’.

Dive into ethnography to understand perceptions and interactions on a deeper level, then use the data to shape participatory experiences where people connect with your brand. If you want some ideas on how to do that, check out chapter eight of Storyscaping—Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds.

* Song lyrics by Depeche Mode
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