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Ethnographic market research of behaviour

To develop an innovation that strikes a chord with customers is either pure luck or based on painstakingly thorough research of people.

Ethnography is a science used to record and analyse how people are living and behaving in certain geographical areas, within cultures, or in certain situations. Historically, ethnography has been used to map out different people and their cultures. Ethnographic market research studies are more compressed and usually delve into how people are reacting to products or shopping situations.

Understanding how people behave helps us understand their needs, wants and desires. By observing and experiencing, designers will innovate a product or service that is a better fit for users. Traditional market research is done through focus groups, or online marketing studies. These studies produce useful information, as they provide us with insights into the customers’ thinking.

However, there are instances when what people say doesn’t give us enough data. At this point, we need to see how people use a product, shop, or act in an environment. In these circumstances, an ethnographic market study works best. Marketing ethnography comprises observing people in their homes or offices and collecting observations, videotapes and interviews of people in their environments.

“Research is about people.”

– Emmanuel Bellity

Corporate ethnography isn’t just for innovation anymore. It’s central to gaining a full understanding of the market and the business itself. Professionals who have worked with a prototype need to learn more about how people react to the new experience.

Digital technology has made the user’s journey more integrated and producers need to experience the use in all the different environments. Customers, participants and users have become more sophisticated so that any new offering needs to be much better, disruptive (easier/cheaper in a saturated market), or a revolutionary idea.

Ethnography comprises the observants, the participants and the context and timeframe in which a certain situation plays out. With a plethora of touch points on digital media, brand strategies are now being created with the consumer in mind. Agencies now use similar research methods as product and service designers.


Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg is a visual communicator and branding consultant. He specialises in building brand strategies and brand identities. Christian has worked with several specializations within visual communication as well as teaching and being an author. Christian now works on his third stint as an entrepreneur.