The best offerings are solutions to problems, but companies don’t always define the problems and needs of consumers correctly. One way to pinpoint a consumer’s need is through ethnography. Ethnography is a discipline of anthropology; it answers the “why” of consumer behavior through insights in behavior and culture.
Ethnography isn’t about creating a list of questions and getting a straight answer; it’s about working with participants to follow how they come to a conclusion. These insights can be gleaned through observations, journaling, and interviews. Ethnography is different from other qualitative research methods like focus groups – instead of transplanting participants to a new environment, researchers observe them in their element, often at their homes.
Insights are found in observing attitudes, moods, body language, actions, words, and even lack of words. Unexpected answers can lead a researcher to follow another path he didn’t anticipate, often arriving at conclusions a company would never have known had they not conducted qualitative research.
Ethnographic research allows a company to explore their customers’ needs and desires, something quantitative data doesn’t provide. As long as the behaviors of a few aren’t generalized to the whole population in the segment, ethnography can lead you down the path of improving your offerings.
For example, Procter & Gamble has used ethnography to gain insights on how to market to Mexican women. With new developments to make Ariel Ultra detergent more concentrated, P&G wanted to provide low-income people one container that lasted longer and took up less space on the shelf. This seemed like a win-win for low-income Mexican women, who take pride in the cleanliness of their clothes, especially since they can’t often afford to buy new ones.
Also, having your family wear clean clothes meant you were a good mother. And since the Ariel Ultra brand didn’t foam, the women thought the clothes weren’t getting clean – and in mere months Ariel Ultra had to be discontinued in the Mexican market. If P&G had researched what aesthetics women look for in laundry detergent, it would not have made this mistake.
But P&G also has a process called “Living It,” in which researchers live with consumers for a time to decipher how they use products. Since P&G’s Ariel Ultra was not what Mexican women wanted, P&G started “Living It” and discovered just how precious water is in rural Mexico – water has to be bought in bottles or lugged on their shoulders from wells. This insight led to Downy Single Rinse, which cut the washing and rinsing process in half, saving the women time and using less water. And it was a hit.
So start observing your customers. See how they interact with your offerings. See what sacrifices they encounter. Discover needs they would not or could not verbally express. Use ethnography to “Live It.”
Posted by Lizzie Pine
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