Truth in Consumer Anthropology

The art of storytelling is at the core of the inherent skill set for any brand or individual that wants to connect in a meaningful, enduring way with consumers.

A compelling story, among other things, requires the telling of relevant truths, which is dependent on context. Watt’s Wacker and Ryan Matthew’s book, What’s Your Story: Storytelling to Move Markets, Audiences, People and Brands (  is one of a few timely texts that discusses this art in a branding context, using social sciences as well examples from industry to tell their tale to professional marketers.

I often get asked to explain the relative significance of consumer anthropology in the marketing research space.  Specifically, what sets it apart from traditional qualitative and quantitative research techniques.  I explain it as an exercise in understanding context through the use of observation and other participant and researcher-generated data collection methods.

It is an exploration in the culture that surrounds and shapes consumer lifestyles and their relationships with brands.  It is also, in my definition, an exercise in defining the context and culture of the client organization for which a consumer study is being conducted in order to most efficiently develop approaches and deliver results so that they are socialized and activated efficiently.  The objective in mind is l speed to and sustainability of innovation.

I have a post-it note on my wall above my desk that hangs next to several  others as reminders of skills i need to work on.  The one in question says “brevity”.  I will try and exercise that here.   😉

My point is that I believe consumer anthropology to be the merging of science (anthropology, sociology, semiotics) and art (storytelling) toward helping those who create products and culture understand and connect with those who consume it.  Story is what communicates culture. It is the delivery of those universal truths that have stood the test of time by way of repetitive patterns of action, reaction and belief.

I like to think that Consumer Anthropology and those innovative corporations, brands, research agencies and rogue “sherpas” who practice it are paving the way for a different kind of journey to meaning.  I look forward to hearing from my peers on their vision of the future of Consumer Anthropology.  What do you think the story will look like?  How would you like to see it told? What is your ideal happy ending?


4 responses to “Truth in Consumer Anthropology

  1. Consumer anthropology is one of the key tools in a brand’s marketing research toolbox…and it must be used at the right time, in the right way. Talking to consumers in the context of product usage is critical to understanding all of the why’s of product development…the things that are done out of the unconscious mind. The most powerful nuggets you can get from consumers are found by forcing them into their conscious mind…why you do things a certain way, and why one brand fills YOUR needs better than another. And it is critical that more than one person have the discussion with the consumer…we all hear different things in the same words…and we therefore generate different follow-up questions…all of which makes for a richer interaction!

  2. Great stuff. Now I know what marketing is, it is the art of storytelling. Thank you. This is useful to me in toy invention and in selling our concepts,as well as marketing our company. Tell our story, or stories. And make them compelling stories.
    thanks again

  3. The narrative shapes, the belief, the belief creates the behaviour.

    anthropology is a way of identifying and then potentially hacking the narrative.

    Augmented reality may play a role in this as well as more and more people decide to live in “deep context”:

  4. Pingback: Truth in Consumer Anthropology «

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