The 3 C’s Framework for Successful Consumer Anthropology Projects

When most people think about Consumer Anthropology, I imagine their brains go straight to the ethnographic research space. And yes, this is a core differentiating methodology when comparing this practice area to more traditional qualitative or quantitative research. However, whenever I talk about consumer anthropology to my team at Northstar Research Partners and any other colleagues or clients, I always refer to the “Three C’s”.

In a nutshell, when designing the ideal Consumer Anthropology-based strategic research methodology, there are 3 core areas that are important to a successful project

1. Client Context: considering the audience is the first critical step of any research project design. When coming from a Consumer Anthropology perspective, however, it is especially important. The operating and cultural parameters of the client organization can have a significant impact on project design. This includes everything from accurate assessment of the problem and the project objectives, shaping the core team’s involvement in the research to understanding barriers to socialization of results and designing appropriate deliverables that will generate empathy, facilitate buy-in and speed to application of results.

2. Cultural Context: Understanding what macro forces and trends are at play in the world and how those affect your client’s category, consumer culture in general, and your client’s target consumer will also have an impact on the success of the project. Understanding sociological constraints and cultural responses to those can not only help identify knowledge gaps and potential added-value project objectives, but can also impact HOW the research is conducted. The nature of culture may open up some possibilities with regard to the research methodology itself.

3. Consumer Context: this is where the consumer research piece, and ethnographic methodologies in particular, come in to play. The best results come from a robust set of data that considers diversity in data collection as a best practice. In anthropological research with regard to the study of consumption, data doesn’t just come from what consumer’s say, but from the context that shapes their points of view and behaviors. This means that your data set is only limited by the researcher’s “vision”. What can be observed to identify cultural patterns that help shape insights? In the next couple of blogs i will likely talk about some data collection approaches that I find particularly insightful. The goal is: depth and breadth. Allow both consumers and researchers to generate data from many different perspectives in any project and you will find that those perspectives complement one another in ways that unearth insights you might not find if you were only looking at one thing.

I always try to include the “three Cs” in any strategic endeavor with clients. I find that the most impactful projects come out of this framework. I would be interested in hearing from fellow practitioners regarding how they see / apply similar perspectives.

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