Ethnographic studies have gained popularity over the past few years in the market research industry. Why? Probably because people became disenchanted with the misuse of the focus group. And because market research has its trends. I don’t dispute that the focus group has seen its share of misuse. But I’m noticing that ethnography is often poorly understood. There is something almost sexy about voyeuristically walking inside someone else’s shoes. Seeing the world through their eyes.
Here’s the thing: there are research contexts for which ethnography is absolutely the best method. For example, ethnography is ideal when you need to understand the whole of people’s experience as it relates to your product, brand, service or design. But there are also situations where choosing ethnography as the method is a bad idea. For example, ethnography would be inappropriate if researching a very specific thing such as marketing communications, or concept testing.
The trend to ditch focus groups and adopt ethnography is absurd because these are tools not styles. And they are not the only two tools in the kit. Imagine if carpenters were fickle about their tools. What if suddenly hammers were out of fashion and saws were all the rage? You would see some poorly built houses.
This movie, “Kitchen Stories” is based on a true story about a large-scale ethnography conducted in the 1950’s in Sweden. It illustrates with adorable humor what happens when ethnography is used in the wrong way, even if for the right reason. And it’s about humans. You can rent it on Amazon for less than the cost of a latte at your local caffeinery.
You can also contact us if you have questions about which method is best for what you need to learn. We have deep expertise in matching the method to the question.