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An Introduction to Ethnographic Research February 26, 2010

Posted by Megha Narayan in Uncategorized.
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[Posted on behalf of Ceinwyn Karne]

We were lucky to have Leah Hunter, Strategic Director at Cheskin, join our first class to talk about the process and products of ethnographic research. Leah led us through the basics of in-home ethnographic interviews, where she usually spends time with individual consumers learning about their habits and attitudes regarding different types of products. The job seems like a terrific fit for anyone with natural curiosity about others — probing into thoughts and homes (behind refrigerators, even!) comes with the territory.

Her top two recommendations for ethnographic research were: 1) to be as open as possible, and 2) to tell a good story. Leah stressed that the only way to get to the heart of consumer’s attitudes, behaviors, and needs is to keep asking probing questions. As an interviewer, you can’t assume that you know where an interviewee is going with a vague statement. Don’t let them stop with a general “It makes me happy.” Ask “Can you tell me more about that” or “How does that make you feel” to get at the ideas and feelings that aren’t top-of-mind. Only stop asking questions when the interviewee can’t think of another way to phrase what they meant or how they felt.

Just as openness is essential to understanding consumer behavior, telling a good story is key to persuading the ultimate consumer of your research (whether it’s a client or your boss). Relevant, attention-grabbing quotes and photos will increase viewers’ interest in your research and enhance the stickiness of your basic messages. If your end-result is a market segmentation, include a representative photo and summarize each segment in four words or less. The extra paragraphs of information are useful, but the photo and keywords ensure that the viewer “gets it” right away.

Fantastic advice from a seasoned pro — thanks to Leah for such a fascinating introduction to the world of user-centric research!

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