How to (really) use Ethnographic research

Grant McCracken has written a good article on Ethnographic Research. He makes an excellent point about the misuse of “partial ethnography”, which “disintermediates the connection between the corporation and the consumer”, allowing for the discovery of how people actually interact with their environments, with products and with others. The “Everything-I-Touch” photo diary is an example of this.

However, this is mere observation and lacks analysis.

As Grant puts it, “In a mature methodological universe, the ethnographer returns not just with brute observations but with insights. And this is called for because many of the things the corporation needs to know are not evident on the surface of the consumer’s life. We have to see beneath the surface into the beliefs and assumptions, the patterns and the practices, that make this life practical and sensible. No mere “eyes and ears” ethnographer can supply these deeper insights.”

Grant also writes about Nokia, which seems to have understood the true potential of the tool. “Using ethnography, Nokia has drilled down into some of the real uses of the phone, and especially the way the phone interacts with the consumer’s life. The second ad shows us that this Nokia is not merely an “enhancement” of Jill’s life but something deeply personal, a way of marking the boundaries of her social life, a way of deciding whether someone is in or out. And in the first ad, we see that the Nokia is actually a way to remove people from her life, as when Jill “deletes” her boyfriend. “

Nokia’s “User Experience Group” continues to produce fascinating insights; the latest being their “Where’s-the-phone” study.

The lesson for marketeers is to use Ethnography to its maximum potential – not just to discover “what” people do or “how” they do it, but to go deeper and learn “why” they do it and then to design their offerings centred around these insights.

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