AMS' Approach to Ethnography
Applied Marketing Science has been applying observational techniques in new-product-development market research for over a decade. Our highly-skilled researchers have conducted ethnographic studies in a wide array of settings, including surgical centers, construction sites, auto-body shops, and consumers’ kitchens. Our team knows what to look for, how to collect the right data, and how to weave the results into a compelling and actionable story. Moreover, we understand the practical considerations and limitations inherent in conducting ethnographic research in complex settings.
During an ethnographic study, AMS market researchers conduct customer visits to observe an existing product or service in use, or the environment in which a potential new product or service may be used. During the visit, the team focuses on specific areas of interest, but also takes stock of the general environment. The team may use a variety of observational techniques, including:
- Passive observation, where the researcher says nothing and aims to be as “invisible” as
- “Time-slicing” studies, where the researcher documents the subject’s activities during
predetermined intervals throughout the study period
- Periodic observation interspersed with intervals of in-depth interviews
- Detailed, respondent-narrated walk-throughs of tasks and activities
Ethnography can supplement your Voice of the Customer study through the addition of still photographs, movies, and respondent diaries of tasks performed. The result is a more complete picture of the customers’ environment and additional vantage points from which the team can discern the answer to the underlying business questions behind the research.
Where does ethnography make sense?
An ethnographic study is most often included as part of a Voice of the Customer engagement during the front end of new product development. Yet ethnographic techniques also have a place later on in new product development, where they are often applied to judge the functional utility and usability of new product concepts.
Ethnography is most helpful for:
- Achieving a high-level overview of your customers’ environment and the ongoing “pain points”
- Identifying important customer “jobs” to be done, and devising an initial product development
- Developing a detailed understanding of how customers perform certain tasks or use specific
products, in an effort to identify gaps in product performance and areas for potential
improvement and innovation
- Establishing a comprehensive set of customer needs (as part of a Voice of the Customer study), by ensuring
that what customers do, as well as what they say, is reflected in the final affinity diagram
of customer needs
- Validating that a new product concept or prototype meets customer needs by placing it with customers and observing their usage in a real-life setting
Despite its widespread appeal, ethnography is not the “silver bullet” in all market research, and that there are some cases where conventional techniques may be more effective or economical. AMS will work with your team to determine what, if any, value ethnography may bring to your research efforts. For more on this topic, download "The Truth About Ethnography."
The AMS Difference
Unlike other firms, Applied Marketing Science is not solely in the ethnography business, which yields additional benefits to our clients. We often follow ethnographic studies with traditional qualitative and quantitative market research to identify and measure customer opinions in a more structured manner. As a full-service research firm with particular expertise in new product development, AMS can continue to work as your partner throughout the development process. We can help you tackle questions other firms are ill-equipped to answer, leading to deeper customer insights and ultimately, more successful products.
For more information on how ethnography can help your team, please contact us.