What is Ethnography?

Ethnography in market research is a qualitative method of data collection that comes from the field of anthropology. The method involves researchers directly observing participants using a product or service in their natural environment such as at home or in a store.

This direct observation provides rich detail and a more complete picture than a traditional focus group setting. B2B International has moderators on staff who are trained in conducting ethnographic market research.


When would you use Ethnography?

While focus groups and in-depth interviews provide respondents with the opportunity to provide feedback, these methods are based on respondent recall of events and perceptions, rather than on actual insights during the experience in real time. What people say they will do is often not the same as seeing exactly what they do in the moment. Observation of an audience allows us to get closer to the truth.

Ethnography therefore enables us to get up close and personal with the target audience and better understand behaviors, attitudes and unmet needs in the right situational context. Insights are rich given that audio, video, and photography can all be collected.

Ethnographic research can take place in many different situations. Some examples include:

  • In-store observational interviews where respondents are given a series of tasks to accomplish and the moderator (and observers) come along and watch the respondent complete their tasks to understand ease or difficulty in accomplishment
  • On-site observations such as at a conference or convention in order to observe traffic flow and signage or brand recognition
  • In-home observational interviews allowing researchers to observe respondents directly interacting with products in their home

The benefits of conducting ethnographic research are as follows:

  • Capture customers’ reactions as they interact with products – when they smile or frown, if they sigh or express, other signs of delight or frustration;
  • For spaces outside of the home, identify what catches their eye and why (signage, etc.), and further understand how layout, product displays, or promotions influence the experience (positively or negatively);
  • Identify pain points respondents may or may not be aware of themselves: “I noticed you grunted there, can you tell me what you’re thinking?”;
  • Determine the path customers go through when interacting with products – it may be different than what they recall in the past



What is Mobile Ethnography?

mobile ethnography

While traditional ethnographic research has moderators observing participants live and in-the-moment, mobile ethnography has respondents utilize their smart phones to record themselves live and in-the-moment. As such, moderators and additional observers (such as a camera crew) are no longer needed.

The advantage of mobile ethnography is it allows the research to be conducted in broad geographic locations – everywhere from the smallest town to a large city on the other side of the world. It can save cost and time given moderators and observers do not need to travel to multiple disperse locations. However, there are also strong advantages to having a trained moderator on site and able to ask situational questions in-the-moment, while the event is still happening. In addition, a trained video operator can capture details that a respondent cannot capture themselves using a small cell phone camera.

As such it is best to weigh the pros and cons of mobile versus traditional ethnographic research. B2B International would love to help you make the decision that’s right for your project.

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