Ethnographic Research.

Ethnographic Research.


What is ethnographic research?

It’s as real as it gets…

Ethnographic research is about getting an understanding your customer base and their experiences as they perceive them, not as you observe them. When you know why people purchase, you can cater to their interests. 

And when you hit their sweet spot – you sell more.

Here’s the thing: all brands have a common purpose. To make money. Ethnographic research is therefore an essential means to an end. It allows us to collect data by carefully observing and participating in the lives of the consumers we’re studying.

The goal is to see people’s behavior, on their terms. 

With smartphones, ethnographic research becomes simple. Your consumers spend an average of 3 to 4 hours of every day on their phones, and more for younger millennial and generation z groups who are dramatically changing market landscapes. Observation is baked right into their device. It will tell you exactly where they are, what they’ve bought, where they’ve shopped, and more.

It’s why MFour created Surveys on the Go®, a 4.5-star rated app with nearly 28,000 reviews, and the nation’s largest group of consumers. This panel is paid to share their behavior. You select who to speak with, we give access, then they record their data or we observe it right on the smartphone device every consumer keeps constantly within arm’s reach.

Ethnographic research has never been simpler.

Who does it impact?

Companies who want to learn more about their consumers use ethnography to do just that – craft an incredible customer experience.

In fact, ethnographic research has been called “the new core competence,” because the insights you gain can help you beat out competitors. Specifically, it can help you to:

  • Create new products.
  • Break into new markets.
  • Uncover emerging trends.
  • Position your brand effectively in the marketplace.

Let’s illustrate with an example.

Say you want to understand soda consumption. How does ethnographic research come in? Well, ask a group of soft drink buyers to record the number of drinks they consume, over a period of time, and see what you get. You gain their feedback, and now you know exactly how you stack up to the competition in the process, as well – pun intended.

Ethnography is an immersion in understanding – and selling to – your target market. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of ethnographic research then, is this time series data observed in the example above, where we really dive into buying behavior. Diary studies, like this one, are a unique way to bring together current and future behavior. 

After all, the past tends to repeat itself. Consumers are no different. By studying their behavior now, you can see how to market to them later. Want to take a look at an example of the kind of Ethnographic Research you can pull from in our panel?

Take a look

When should I use Ethnography?

At the beginning of a project: to understand the audience, process, and context of use. 

Here’s an example for those of you who like retail stores.

Let’s say you have several store locations and want to see how you compare to the competition. You have a good idea of who’s coming into your store. After all, you have frequent shopper/loyalty card data, and you’re likely to be pulling in people up to 10 miles from your location.

But what about your competition, who are they targeting?

That’s where Ethnography comes in, to observe users’ behaviors and attitudes. Instead of being limited to your location, you can now see what consumers are doing inside and outside of your competitor’s stores as well. It opens up an entire part of the picture you hadn’t seen before – now that interesting.

A smartphone streamlines the process. It gives you the ability to observe, interview and survey behavior, all in one platform. You can ask consumers exactly what they bought from any location – in real-time. Think about your competitors’ locations. 

Wouldn’t it be cool to survey people walking in and out of their stores in real-time? That’s what our app can do. We know they went there because we can see if on their GPS. The app knows exactly when they enter, or exit a store. It’s easy to observe exactly what each consumer is doing, the data is fast, and it’s validated.

How do we collect data in Ethnography?

Well, we do it with a smartphone, but there are other ways as well.

Here’s why we chose an app, in case you’re curious. See, there are three modes of data collection in ethnographic research: observation, interviewing and archival research (Angrosino, 2007). They are:

  • Observation: Studying the activities of people in the field.
  • Interviewing: Directing a conversation to collect information.
  • Archival research: Analyzing the materials for research.

With an app, you get all three – at one time. It’s fast, it’s validated, and it’s representative.

Surveys on the Go® is the only app that observes, interviews and analyzes data in a single platform. Now, you can send surveys at the appropriate time, to the right group of consumers, and find the answers to all of your questions. It’s that simple.

Where do I start?

“At the very beginning,” at least if we ask Julie Andrews.

After all, it’s” a very good place to start”. Mary Poppins jokes aside, in ethnographic research you want to begin with a very strong goal in mind.

When we peel it back, the true purpose of ethnography is to get close to your consumer. Remember, we’re looking to understand (and impact) the customer experience. You do that by using observed behavioral data coupled with surveys to illicit real, honest responses as close to the purchase as possible. This allows the customer’s experience to be raw, fresh, and top of mind.

Questioning is paramount. So, when you’re ready to write the survey questions, think through these five steps. They help to keep the consumer in mind, from the start:

Step 1: Frame the Problem.

Think about the problem from the consumer’s perspective. 

Here, we’re not so much focused on what your business thinks the issue is, but what your consumer would say. A good way to frame the question then, would be: 

“How do my customers experience my business?”

Great. Now that we have the center issue identified, we can move onto the next step, getting the information we need. For that, we turn to the consumer directly.

Step 2: Collect the Data.

Building on what we just identified, it’s time to dig a little deeper. The next set of questions are going to be centered on finding out “why” consumers feel the way they do.

Here are a few questions you may consider asking:

  • How does our product/experience make consumers feel?
  • What do they enjoy about it?
  • Are there any pain points in their experience?
  • Where are they when they engage, and what else are they doing?

With each question, we’re building on the framework we started with, and keeping the consumer in mind. From there, we will look to observe and interview to uncover more information and to find patterns as they start to emerge. 

Step 3: Find the Patterns.

Let’s start to piece together the puzzle.

At the pattern stage, we’re looking to identify the root causes of consumer behavior. This will reveal any common themes and allow us to interlock similar ideas and input. Layer by layer, we’re looking to peel back factual observations to create a complete picture. 

First, we identify who they are, as a person: what they like and how they interact, etc. Then we pull out their specific behaviors to understand what they’re doing. Finally, our last layer is to uncover hidden motivations: learning why they are taking certain actions.

Ethnographic research can generate a ton of photos, video, audio, and interview transcripts. With MFour, you get details on every participant, but you also can receive high-level, strategic research reports on the overall concepts. This way you have both. Get the nuanced details and a summary of their key responses.

Step 4: Build the Report.

This is the fun part!

Look through the data, or enlist the help of a research provider, to sort through the findings. Pull out the major takeaways and discover what your product or service means to consumers. 

As you’re digging, keep an eye out for any opportunities to improve the customer experience. What is the data telling you? If you look closely enough, you can reveal any false assumptions, unmet needs, and quick wins for improvement. Armed with your ethnographic research, you can bring the findings to your team and make decisions.

Get an expert’s advice

Step 5: Build the Business Case.

This your chance to tie research to revenue.

Make your report meaningful. We use data to make better business decisions. Once you’ve uncovered all the nuggets of consumer input, you’ll need to answer the “so what?” and “now what?” questions. These are the questions your stakeholders will have, and you’ll want to come prepared to answer them. 

Think through the opportunities to expand the value of the product or experience in the minds of consumers, based on what they’re telling you. How can you tap into these business ideas, or meet the needs that you have identified?

When you have your answers, make sure you detail them completely. Suggest the revenue opportunities for the company and bring the final report to stakeholders so they can provide input as well. Now you’re ready to really make a difference in the minds of consumers, as well as in the sales numbers for your organization.

After all when you hit consumers’ sweet spot – you will sell more.

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