Someone recently asked me,”When working with a retailer or brand, how do you conduct your research?” It’s a simple but extremely important question. We do a mix of ethnographic field work, Proxemics studies, biological analysis and dramaturgical analysis, all of which sounds very technical and jargony. The point is to, well, make a point. Ethnography is simple one of a number of tools and good qualitative work that is rooted in an anthropological perspective should make that clear.
Over the past decade, ethnography has been embraced by the business community. But the term “ethnography” has been used fairly loosely and expectations about the work and final outcomes vary as much as the people calling themselves ethnographers. As I have written before, anthropology 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 anthropology provides a wide range of answers that, if analyzed properly, go well beyond the tactical, the sensational, and the superficial. The point is that we think about shopping in its totality. If you want to sell more beer, you have to look at how people understand social and private drinking, how they provision their homes, how they think about the “appropriate” place to buy a product. Once those cultural, behavioral and biological/cognitive elements are teased out, we build prototypes, test them, break them and build them again. Or at least, we should.