An earlier blog post highlighted my belief that market research is experiencing a paradigm shift; a simple matrix was created to summarize the trend. This month I’m focusing on “anthropologic” research, which falls in the lower left, “non-verbal/natural environment” quadrant.
One could argue that everything on the left side of this diagram is anthropologic. However, I contend that “discourse analysis” is so reliant on words that we must acknowledge techniques that rely equally much or more on physical observation.
The three types of approaches utilized in anthropologic market research which most immediately come to mind are:
Ethnography. From the Greek “ethos” (the character of a people and their distinctive culture) and writing. In short, to observe and document.
Semiotics. The original Greek meant “interpreter of signs.” Today, in business applications, it involves studying communication processes, signs and symbols. A British colleague pointed out the two main influencers of this discipline: Peirce and Saussure. (For a quick read, see Wiki). To me, semiotics is about cues and norms. For example, we tend to think of banks as “institutions” with strong edifices or tall buildings; we want them strong. “The friendly bank” sounds slightly oxymoronic. Clearly, it’s more complicated than this – and I hope others will weigh in!
Ergonomics. For the sake of brevity, this is about how people interact with things, either physically, mentally, or organizationally. Human factors and usability testing fall into this category.
The second thing to keep in mind about this quadrant, as with “sociologic” research, is that we can study people individually or in groups – a major consideration in study design.
This quadrant has been “trending” for the past decade or more. With the aid of technology, we’ve been pushing into the lower left of this area. There are dozens of new innovations and techniques, but the two that have stuck with me are the following:
Wireless cameras for individual ethnography and usability studies. People can create, with limited direction from the moderator/facilitator, mini-documentaries. Want to go along with a man when he€™s trying to pick out a gift for his wife? You can do that. Want to see and hear how a woman works with a new appliance she just bought? You can do that too. I really don’t believe this is a gimmick or fad. While some might think a “con” of this method is that people will only show or discuss what they want, the clear upside is the natural setting. My experience: I’ve never done an in-home study where the bed wasn’t made, but I have done online sessions and seen unmade beds and messy rooms. So, like any other method, the pros and cons need to be assessed. Overall, this is a terrific advancement.
CCTV for merchandising. Several years ago I did interviews with executives in the corporate security business. One of the men I interviewed told me that his closed-circuit TVs were attracting the interest of major retailers; the software they had developed, for use at airports, looked for things that weren’t moving (e.g., bags with bombs). What the retailers wanted to know is if the software could be modified to assess what I call “merchandising wear-out.” That is, a display is put at the front of the store. Could the camera/software tell 1) if the display had “stopping power” (to get people to enter the store and/or look at the display) and 2) if the traffic flow patterns indicated it was time to change/modify the display? A bit creepy, perhaps – but realistically we know there are security cameras in stores. Net, net: this is a clear example of when the absence of behavior can represent critical learning.
What are your favorite new methods or tools in this area?