Tag Archives: ethnography

Ethnography and its uses in business

As we are becoming more of a mass customization and transformation-based economy, more and more business are looking to use ethnography in designing better customer experiences. In this article, Procter and Gamble, Google, and others are doing it.

For Google, it involves observing and videotaping how people search online.  A success story was when they observed how difficult it was to search for keywords for Chinese consumers.  A tool called “Google Suggest” was created, when a user types a few characters, the search engine suggests alternate or possible completed key terms.

For Procter & Gamble, Managers and even Senior Managers engage in “immersion research,” in order to spend time with consumers in their natural habitat – their home.  They try to understand what their customers’ aspirations, desires and needs are, as well as what the role of their products are in the consumers’ daily lives.  An example was when P&G launched a laundry detergent and it failed because of a lack of empathy for its Mexican consumers.  Using ethnography, a key insight was derived when they discovered the importance of seeing the laundry detergent’s foam to Mexican consumers, which their product lacked.

The case for developing empathy for customers is clear.  What are some methods of developing empathy for them?  According to this article, using ethnography to better understand the consumer is key.

In conducting an ethnography, watch their behavior around their natural habitat. What artifacts do they use?  How do they go about their daily chores? Why would the customers engage with a particular experience? How they go about engaging in this?

Pay close attention to the language they use.  People speak in metaphors.  Metaphors reveal much about the person’s attitudes and mood.  For example, some customers may view retirement as the beginning of a journey, and viewing everyday is living life to the fullest versus viewing retirement as the ending of a journey.  When conducting ethnography, try to videotape, voice record or even take photos.

When conducting these studies, there will be multiple personas that can be classified demographically and psychographically.  These can be utilized by two purposes.  One is to present these to the client or marketing department, so that the client and the marketing department understand who their target consumers are.  The other is to humanize the customers.  Give these personas names, behaviors and motivations, demographic information, identification of what keeps the consumer up at night, and statement about the person’s personality in their voice (e.g. “I’m a detail-oriented person, who appreciates and loves intricate designs”)

Currently, I’m involved in an ethnographic study.  Because of the economic downturn, many people are being laid-off.  My study is about what motivates and inspires people that are unemployed or under-employed while job searching.

Mobile Phones in people’s lives

Noted researcher for design for Nokia Phones, Jan Chipchase, has traveled around the world using various research methods such as focus groups and ethnography to observe how people use their mobile phones.  I had posted in earlier posts here and here regarding the demographics, psychographics and some design issues of the mobile phone as well as its prominence as the next big media, and in so displacing the internet.  However, all my earlier postings related to mobile phone use in North America. 

In one of Mr. Chipchase’s trips, he visited Uganda, and the usage of the mobile phones is quite different than in North America.  As Uganda can be considered as a third-world country, its banking infrastructure is quite rudimentary compared to North America.  Since banks and ATMs are sparsely scattered, obtaining money is a cumbersome process.  Through grassroots innovation, a connection between the exchange of telephone cards with cash was forged.  Suppose one wanted to send some money from a major center like Kampala to a someone living in a village.  That person would buy a telephone card, call a person in the village that has a mobile phone (who acts as both a phone operator and a bank in some instances), and exchanges the telephone card number.  Of course, by obtaining the telephone card number, the person with the mobile phone can make more telephone calls.  This person would take 10-20% commission as an intermediary, and give the remaining cash (from bartering the telephone card number) to the intended person.  

It is certainly interesting how the mobile phone can be used differently than here in North America.  In the end, universally, the mobile phone transcends space and time.  It transcends space by the ability for the user to make a telephone call, and it transcends time by the ability of the user to receive/send text/voice messages at their convenience.  

In my opinion, with the emergence of the mobile phone as the next medium,  as well as the emergence of grassroots innovation, the possibilities to bring about positive change in people and their communities is endless.

Convergence and its applications

I have written about convergence of technologies in an earlier post, this article discusses the application of this technology in people’s homes, and how they utilize this technology to communicate with their family, friends and acquaintances.  This Swiss study was conducted by eleven researchers (5 anthropologists, 4 psychologists, and 2 sociologists)  who engaged in a longitudinal ethnographic study.  They observed the research subjects in their homes and noted how the subjects communicated with people, to who they communicated with, when they used a certain communication medium, and what was the content of the communication and  why they chose a certain medium to communicate with certain people.

It was interesting to observe that the closer (in the inner sphere of the social network) the friend or family member to the research subject,  the more diverse the communication tools (SMS, cell phone, IM, etc.) that were employed, whereas those on the outer sphere (acquaintances) had one or two methods of communications.  With more diverse forms of communications, it allowed for greater possibilities for different situations.

The different communication tools were used for different purposes even amongst different people.  For example, the home telephone was primarily used to communicate with family friends or relatives.  This was so that everyone in the family could communicate to these people.  Mobile phones were more personal, and were used for close friends and family.  Further discussion about this was discussed in this earlier post.  SMS text messaging and IM were popular among the younger demographics to communicate with their group of friends at anytime during the day.  This topic was also discussed in this earlier post.  Email was used to exchange electronic files among family and friends, and if the research subject belonged to a club or an association, email was used to coordinate activities with these groups.  For acquaintances, tools such as Facebook and MySpace were used, where acquaintances were kept as contacts with minimal effort and yet easily accessible anytime.  With all these communication mediums, researchers have found that none of the emerging mediums cannibalized existing ones, users found different methods to use the medium with different purposes.

From an advertising perspective, this could be useful.  I think by understanding the communication patterns of various people, and how they communicate as well as use the various tools in the age of convergence where an ever-increasing number of tools are available is very important.  Now, the question is how to make the advertisers message resonate and relevant to the intended audience.