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January 07, 2010

The Emerging Importance of Ethnography

The Essential Insight:
As more companies refocus squarely on the consumer, ethnography and its proponents have become star players.
 
Fast Facts:

  • Businesses are re-orienting themselves to serve the consumers, and in response ethnography has entered prime time.
  • Markets are sliced into ever-thinner pieces, product cycles are measured not in years, but in months or weeks, and new ideas zip around the planet at the speed of light, getting up close and personal with the average consumer is increasingly important.
  • Many use ethnography to not only create new products, but to revitalize existing products or services.
Culture represents the baseline of our experience as human beings living in society. It is a broad concept encompassing the individual worldviews, social rules, and interpersonal dynamics characterizing a group of people set in a particular time and place. Culture is a way to define a group of people in their social surroundings by religious beliefs, language, social institutions, and other group dynamics.
 
Culture serves as the foundation for our beliefs and actions. It is important for describing and classifying our behaviors and for explaining how our behaviors influence the world around us.
 
Ethnography is a research discipline based on culture as an organizing concept and a mix of both observational and interviewing tactics to record behavioral dynamics. The advantage of ethnography over traditional research is that it provides a better understanding of consumers by closely observing them where they live, work, shop, and perform other daily activities. The ethnographer becomes a visitor in the world they are researching.
 
Businesses are now using ethnography to spark innovation and revitalize existing products and services. By observing prospective customers, businesses can discover the wants and needs of those customers to develop new products and services. Incorporation of ethnographic techniques in marketing research strategies has become increasingly common. Ethnography allows researchers to further their understanding of certain cultures and lifestyles.
 
Ethnographers perform in depth field studies including: diaries, product inventory, structural activities, audio, and video.