Sleeping With Truckers and Building Mutant Bikes

I once spent a day with a 29 year old man who made about $600K a year running all things web-related for a major clothing designer.  He lived on the Upper West Side and ate out nearly every night.  He kept a 20 year old bottle of Oban on the bar for his end-of-day cocktail. But on the weekends, he headed to Brooklyn to drink the cheapest malt liquor he could find and build mutant bikes with his friends.  Turns out he did it to keep “true to his punk-rock roots.”

Most independent trucks buy hard candy to bump up their metabolisms when the nights get too cold in the cab.  It helps save on the costs for heating the cab.

Fishermen love Pringles and similar chips because the packaging can be readily converted to a mini-trash can when on the water. It’s the central decision for about 25% of them.

On the surface these silly insights. But if you’re in the business of selling beer and spirits, candy, or snacks they are extremely important.  They are the places that lead to real insight and real innovation.  And you don’t get these sorts of insights from traditional methods.

When was the last time you spent time in the homes of the people who buy your products?  Real time, not a one hour interview, but really digging in and having dinner, helping with the laundry, going to a movie.  We know the demographic make up by neighborhood, but we don’t often know the subtleties of behavior and meaning that shape the lives of our consumers.

Thinking about insights gather in this way has two major implications.  The first is that sampling includes contexts as well as people – the place, the time, etc. all have meaning. The second is that the amount of time spent with an individual or group is dependent on the nature of the problem. An ethnographic field session, for example, may only last a couple of hours, or it may span multiple days, weeks or months. The bottom line is that ethnographers try to plan their fieldwork to include observation of all relevant behaviors and events.  Because of this, timelines are generally longer for this sort project than they are for traditional qualitative research.

Getting to this level of depth provides a real-world way of looking at a problem or opportunity, applying social and cultural understanding to the topic.  What this means is that devoting yourself to this kind of deep understanding of your consumer or shopper provides a wide range of answers that, if analyzed properly, go well beyond the tactical, the sensational, and the superficial.  They can redefine your business.



Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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