Ethnographic research – a business case

Living in the shoes of your research participants is a good way to learn about them.

At least, that is the general thinking around the research methodology of ethnography.

In its roots in the social sciences, this was very much how ethnographic research was performed – by living with and observing a person or a group to get a deeper qualitative understanding of who they are and what they are all about.

Ethnography is performed a little differently in a market research context – though it can still involve a great deal of direct observation, as well as interviews and discussions, often through one-on-one interviews, video or written diaries and other forms of qualitative research. What makes this type of research ethnographic is that the research takes place in context with the research problem – such as where the participant buys or tries a product, or where an issue may arise for example.

Ethnographic research, in most cases, will produce research findings that cut to the core of the “why” or “how” of a thing, perception, process, etc. by providing deep and complex behavioral data based on participants’ actions and behaviours that can be used for all manner of applications in a business sense.

Ethnography research, Insightrix Research

Ultimately, there is a business case for ethnographic research any time an organization wants to know more about consumers in terms of lifestyle factors, attitudes, cultural trends and how context affects selection, usage, perceptions or attitudes.

How Could an Organization Use Ethnographic Research Effectively?

One case for ethnography is to learn how a person or group will respond to a new product or system and actually employ it in their real, daily lives.

Let’s say your organization is a large department store, for example, and you want to test a new system that would allow your customers to perform their own price checks without the assistance of store staff.

You could ask a great number of existing customers what they would like to get out of your price-check system and how they would like to use it. However, since very few if any will have given the question a great deal of thought in their daily lives, the answers they provide may not result in the best system being prototyped and released for mass distribution to your stores.

Rather, in this case, it may be better to develop a few prototypes and put them into your stores to observe how your customers are actually engaging with them.

Combined with short intercept interviews about their experiences, ethnography research on how your customers negotiate your new system can answer some very important questions: Can your customers use the system without any training? Where were they showing signs of frustration? When were they succeeding? How did the system work best or worst from the customers’ perspective?

Armed with this data, you can feel secure that the system your store ends up developing based on the behaviour of your actual customers will meet your customers’ needs best.

This is just one example of where an ethnographic study could successfully produce actionable data.

However, developing prototypes is only one application of ethnography in market research – it can also be used in almost any situation in which one wishes to know the “how” and “why” a person or a group of individuals does what they do.

If you have a great qualitative understanding of these things, the business applications for that data are almost limitless.

Ethnographic Research at Insightrix

In the summer of 2020, Insightrix wanted to provide select members of our SaskWatch Research® online market research community the opportunity to engage on how they were adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recruited residents to participate in a two-week diary using the FocusVision Revelation platform that included discussion boards, posting videos and images and more, using an ethnography methodology.

Participants were asked to engage in a number of activities relating to different subject areas of their daily lives in the study. These subjects included media consumption habits, adjusting to a new elements of daily life interaction like social distancing and experiences with homeschooling and more.

The results of this study can be found in our report, Adjusting to the New Normal: A Two-Week Ethnography Study of Saskatchewan Residents.

Would you like to know more?

Adjusting to the New Normal: A Two-Week Ethnography Study of Saskatchewan Residents answers questions around how residents of Saskatchewan were coping during the early months of the pandemic. It explores their fears and their hopes for the future, how they have worked to adapt and change in their new environment, why they have made the changes they have made and more.

Please contact us for more information if you would like to know more about this insightful ethnographic report.