So what’s the difference between a focus group, an-in home, a shop-along and an Ethnography? Well, nothing if you are using the same approaches and techniques in all of them. I have found that much of these consumer research practices, whether done in a focus group room or in someone’s “natural habitat” are much the same in that researchers tend to still rely on response-based data collection to get at meaningful insights…a fatal flaw.
In Consumer Anthropology, an umbrella term I use to describe a robust and custom set of insight gathering tools based on culture, behavior, attitudes and values…the world is your data set, not just what comes out of consumers mouths.
I have spent years revisiting and tweaking and customizing approaches to try and get deeper, bigger implications out of consumer research and found that the more diverse the data set is, the better. When i speak of diversity in this sense i am specifically referring to the types of data collected, and from whom.
To give some examples of what i feel separates consumer anthropology (as I and many other trained social scientists practice it) from traditional qualitative and to spur further discussion, here are some thoughts:
The Sample: (can include any or all of the following, depending on project scope):
- Passionate / Leading Edge consumers: those who exist in the “influencer” realm
- Mainstream consumers: to understand how culture gets communicated and adopted from the “influencer” realm as well as from media
- Tangential Experts: thinkers and doers with a right to a point of view on the client-focused objectives: from the clients category or those that operate in spaces that may influence that category
- Professional marketers: YES…marketing and advertising professionals are humans and consumers too! And they can offer a unique consumer-culture based perspective when seeking innovative solutions. Oftentimes market research dismisses these types flat out, assuming their bias will hinder the research. this isn’t always the case.
Data Collection methods:
- Response-based group discussions (among complete strangers, groups of friendship pairs, or peer groups). This type of data collection should be used to gain consensus on pre-explored topics / hypotheses and FOCUS on specific topics at a surface level
- Response-based one on one discussions: to get at deeper look at attitudes, values, motivations and behaviors. Should be reserved for discussion with influencer or those most passionate, articulate and iconic of a consumer target group
- Ethnographic immersion: one on one or among a family / subculture group. Data collected here includes observational data of behavior and context as well as discussion probes. Spend at least half a day. An hour in someone’s kitchen will only get you bits and pieces of information (unless this tool is combined with other types of data collection)
- Metaphor elicitation: asking participants to create collages of words and imagery around a specific topic gives you a whole new data set and allows the research participant to be able to think more critically and abstractly about a topic. usually assigned as homework
- Ethnographic Photo Essays: directed, consumer generated photography of their lives. Often related to the client objective (i.e. a week in the life of their car, beverage consumption in context)
- Semiotic analysis: of packaging, media, retail environments. Pattern recognition in visual stimulus can add an entirely new layer of information and help innovation teams understand residual, dominant and emerging codes of communication in a cultural space.
I would love to hear some other perspectives from the insight community on where they see as the distinctions between qualitative and consumer anthropology….and where they see value in each.