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The Most Promising New Market Research Tool Comes From The 19th Century

What's the Question? with Durk Bosma is back with a new approach to the old idea of ethnography for understanding people's basic beliefs and their real life behavior.

The question what ‘new’ market research methodology will provide the most meaningful insights according to insiders?’ has a surprising answer. It is not sexy new tools like neuro measurement or facial coding, but the answer is the ancient art of ethnography.

I wrote an earlier blog about the very interesting project ‘The future of Insights’. This project is an initiative of the WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) and was conducted by System1 (formerly Brainjuicer). The research describes the  gap between market researcher and  marketeer and what can be done to close this gap.

The research takes an interesting side step. Respondents (both market researchers and marketeers) were asked to tick the methodology that they thought in the future would bring the most ‘commercially advantageous’ insights. The assumption that probably lies behind this question is that market researchers tend to stick too long with their old tools.

The four most often mentioned methodologies are ethnography, behavioral science, analysis of behavioral data and storytelling. These are the only four of the 14 proposed methods, for which the expectations are higher than the old familiar focus group. The researchers say about the four winners:

“What’s interesting about these is that they are all about behavior. Behavioral data describes what people do. Behavioral science methods understand what people do by applying findings from disciplines that study it (like psychology and behavioral economics). Ethnography captures exactly how people do what they do. And storytelling makes sense of it by turning it into a memorable,  truthful, narrative.”

What was ethnography again?

The methodology dates back to the 19th century and was first applied in the field of anthropology. The first researcher who used participating observation was Frank Hamilton Cushing who lived with Native Americans in 1879. More influential was Bronislaw Malinowski who fell into captivity on the Trobriand Islands (New Guinea). At first, he was the traditional colonial anthropologist and avoided contact with the “savages”. However, driven by boredom and loneliness he made friendly contact with the local people. During his isolation, he developed ideas for participant observation and the importance of daily community experience to gain deeper insight into the daily life in the community.

Is it strange that market researchers expect a lot of this methodology? Absolutely not, because Ethnography is about understanding people’s basic beliefs and their real life behavior. Ethnography requires a participatory attitude and brings together multiple ways of collection data. The savages have been replaced by real consumers, the jungle is the supermarket.

Differences in opinion

Marketeers and market researchers, however, differ considerably when it comes the potential they see in (new) tools, as shown below. Marketers have much more faith in the shiny new tools than market researchers have.

 

 

Are market researchers really so traditional and clinging to their old familiar ways? I think this is only part of the story. One explanation is that market researchers have become wiser the hard way. In the past, promising new tools often turned out not to be better than the old ones. Or as Robert van Ossenbruggen from The Commercial Works sighed in a discussion on LinkedIn about new methodologies:

It’s been an exciting decade with lots of new tools in the researchers tool box. I can’t help wondering though: do we, because of all these new tools, deliver demonstrable better insights? Do today less innovations fail than 10 years ago? Do we realize more impact in our communications today because they are better aligned with consumers needs? Can we keep customers longer today because we have made our products and services substantially better? Throughout all the cutting edge stuff, this could be an interesting topic.

Sell​ing your methodologies

We, the market researchers have never been good at marketing our wonderful methodologies and techniques. We could spend more time selling our products. If we call ethnography “consumer safari” and name the results of any segmentation study not “segments” but “personas” and any analysis on customer data ‘Big Data’, marketeers will buy it. Ultimately, we are providing them with the right insights at the right time, so they can make better informed decisions. And whether we use old or new tools is not that important.

For more information and launch dates, see Whatsthequestion.online.

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