Ethnography vs. Contextual Interviews: Methods Matter

Methods matter. It’s often assumed that an open-ended interview is ethnography and the reasons for the confusion are understandable, but an ethnographically-informed approach, which a contextual interview can certainly be, is not the same thing as a true ethnographic project.  Contextual interviews, which rely on self-report data, and ethnography, which focuses on observed data through […]

The Importance of Learning Participant Observation

Teaching and learning is interactive. Despite the fact that learning is all-pervasive in our life, there is no single, universal theory of how people learn. There are two major schools of thought concerning the learning process: one consists of behavior theories, the other of cognitive theories. Cognitive theorists view learning as a function of purely […]

Why REAL Ethnography Still Matters

Fieldwork takes us to strange places. It allows us to come face to face with unexpected moments of both clarity and confusion, which can, in fact, spark innovation. 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 […]

A Different Approach to Focus Groups

When something becomes a running joke on every sitcom since the 80s, you know it’s been overdone. The traditional focus groups is overdone. But I don’t think the focus group, or something akin to it more precisely, is dead. It’s an imperfect methodology but it has its place and it can be done well – if […]

Moderating vs. Learning

Let me state that I am not a moderator. At least, not a traditional one. I am an ethnographer, an anthropologist, and a strategist. And while both moderators and ethnographers speak to people, they are not the same thing. This isn’t just a matter of semantic difference, it is at the heart of how practitioners execute their […]

Triangulation: Validating Research and Strategy

One of the central problems we run into when discussing research finds, particularly when we’re using those finding to give strategic direction, is having the research’s validity called into question. I’ve talked over the years a fair amount about the idea of triangulation, but I’ve rarely summed up what it means. Here’s my take in […]

Why Methodology and Theory Matter for Marketing

Some years ago I had someone interject into a conversation that the work we had done was “just a theory.”  I decided to ask just what the word “theory” meant to him and the response was hardly a surprise – a theory is an idea, plain and simple. It is subjective, a novel thought based on […]

Obsessing Over Bias

Recognizing and understanding research bias is crucial for determining the utility of study results and an essential aspect of decision making in marketing. Research plans that lack clear mechanisms to minimize bias are unlikely to be viewed favorably and the end results dismissed. But what are the rules for qualitative research studies? Whenever I am […]

Art as a Research Method

Research is not as objective as many of us would like to believe. We construct complex statistical models, fret over leading questions, and sometimes cloak ourselves in the complexities of science mystery. But in doing so we sometimes miss the bigger point – we’re here to discover, innovate, and find insights that inspire people.  Good […]

Ethnography, Training, and the Perils of Ethno-Lite

We have a vast spectrum of methodologies at our disposal these days, from attitudinal approaches through to behavioral. From big data to semiotics to ethnography. We also have a wide interpretation of what these terms mean. So let’s talk about ethnography briefly. What ethnography does, or should do, is uncover meaning and complexity through a […]