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Elevate Consumer Journeys by Integrating Behavioral Science With Cultural Anthropology

Integrate the traditionally siloed disciplines of cultural anthropology and behavioral science creates a strong strategy for understanding and influencing the customer journey.

At its core, the purpose of Marketing is to reach consumers in the moments where we can have the most influence on their decisions. When companies and brands turn to market researchers with this purpose in mind, they often think about identifying consumer touch points (the individual transactions through which consumers interact with a business and its offerings), with an ultimate goal of acting inside these moments to drive a desired decision or behavior.

Identifying touch points is certainly an important first step in understanding when and how to connect with consumers, but it’s not enough. While such an approach may generate a list of touch points to consider, these touch points and the way in which they’re often presented can be dry and divorced from context. Ultimately, they miss the bigger and more important picture of consumers’ complex experiences.

An experience-focused approach produces a better, richer, and more accurate picture of how and where consumers can be meaningfully influenced. What’s more, focusing on experiences gives companies and brands the opportunity to walk in their customer’s shoes in order to deeply understand your brand, product, or service through their eyes.

Enter the Consumer Journey: a powerful tool for empathy that challenges market researchers with representing all of the richness, messiness, and nuance of consumer experiences. Most journeys that aim to build a deep understanding of the consumer experience are approached through the lens of Cultural Anthropology and methods such as Ethnographies. This discipline provides a solid foundation of theory and methods to understand and map human experiences. Ethnography has become a staple of market research when we need to understand a particular slice of social life, and for good reason. It allows researchers to immerse themselves in a space or group of people as cultural detectives, understanding their particular social reality, norms, practices, and experiences, and ultimately making sense of this for outsiders.

Journeys are powerful tools for empathy, but how can they be powerful tools for behavior change? How can we use them to shift behaviors and shape decisions? This is what the integration of Behavioral Science provides.

Behavioral science is an exploration of the human decision-making process. It helps uncover key decision points and their underlying psychological motivations. Using a Behavioral Science approach, we can build on the deep experiential insights from Cultural Anthropology to identify how emotional and cultural factors trigger psychological biases and heuristics at key decision points. With a better understanding of the common mental shortcuts and quick-thinking processes that guide consumer behavior, we are better equipped to design communications, products, and environments that are able to change behavior.

So, to truly understand consumers’ end-to-end experiences, touch points, and decisions along the way, the best strategy is to integrate the traditionally siloed disciplines of Cultural Anthropology and Behavioral Science. It allows you to include the best of both worlds, allowing marketers and researchers to understand the multiple layers of influence that impact those living the journey.

To put this in context and provide a bit of a Case Study, a large home development company asked: how can we influence the purchase journey to get potential home buyers to choose our properties? Using ethnography, we developed a deep understanding of who their consumers were, what was important to them, and what home ownership meant in their world. We then mapped out the home buying journey and overlaid the social norms and cultural forces impacting consumers throughout. We used behavior audits and in-store intercepts to explore in-the-moment emotions, the choice environments faced by this company’s actual consumers, and other decision factors at play. This approach allowed us to identify areas of opportunity where consumer experiences could be redefined, and purchase decisions could be influenced.  

Integrating Cultural Anthropology and Behavioral Science provides the full picture, and allows marketers and researchers to access, understand, and map the complexity of human experiences. Ultimately, this elevated consumer journey facilitates the development of solutions tailored to these experiences, generating the maximum Marketing impact in moments of influence.

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Dearbhail Bracken-Roche

Dearbhail Bracken-Roche

Strategist, Fresh Squeezed Ideas