Observe, Understand, Disrupt - How to Reap the Strategic Rewards of Ethnography for Your Brand

Marketing, May 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Observe, Understand, Disrupt - How to Reap the Strategic Rewards of Ethnography for Your Brand


Attention young marketers. Here is a proposal to put in front of your chief marketing officer, aka the boss. You want a budget, a big one, to undertake some new consumer research. When asked what you wish to learn, your answer is simple: 'I don't know.'

In the ensuing awkward silence, it is important to hold your nerve, since reason is on your side. Research, by definition, seeks to illuminate some unknown. Yet much of what is conducted in the name of consumer understanding falls into the trap of proceeding from supposition to evidence.

Consumers are asked to navigate between communications ideas, supposing that any might be of interest to them; they are nudged into discussing your brand within 'the category' as though it had ever occurred to them to place it there; they are probed for 'insights' based on the assumption that their emotional connection with your offer runs that deep.

Consumer research is commissioned, in other words, by people who live and breathe the category. You, conversely, simply wish to become intimate with how people live and breathe. There is a seismic difference.

The methodology you propose is ethnography. Your boss has probably heard of this, but is unlikely to have either used it or grasped its true meaning.

Ethnography, you explain, stems from just one question: 'What's going on?' It is open to the discovery of deeper rhythms that connect the humdrum happenings of the day-to-day chaos, but makes no more suppositions than that.

It proceeds by quiet observation, in the real-life setting, for upwards of six weeks. Ethnography is the ultimate 'watching brief'.

What might it offer you? Again, the honest answer is 'Who knows?' Another possibility is 'Nothing much'. There is a third, though, and it really matters. …

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Observe, Understand, Disrupt - How to Reap the Strategic Rewards of Ethnography for Your Brand
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