Every market research technique has its merits but if you want to gain valuable insight into how a consumer fits a particular product or service into their lifestyle and home environment, ethnographic market research is a powerful tool that is all about subtle first-hand observation.

The goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the interaction between the consumer and the participant and what effect societal, cultural and lifestyle influences have on the use of products as well as purchasing decisions. The idea is that the researcher observes and does not influence.

In the culturally diverse world we live in, it stands to reason that people also have diverse ways of interacting with brands. Uncovering these types of insights can help improve existing products and inform new product development. For instance, to know a teenager try looking at their bedroom – their lives, loves, hopes and dreams are probably on the walls – immersion is key.

As a qualitative research method, ethnographic insight is gained from real-world interactions rather than observations drawn from second-hand memory like those you might get in a focus group. Ethnographic market research companies produce results untainted by “group think” or the innate desire to say the right thing that is inbuilt into human nature.

Modern Technology and Ethnographic Research

Modern Technology and Ethnographic Research

At Spark, we love technology. The ability to bring ethnology online and into smartphone apps has vastly improved the scope and the quality of this type of market research.

For example, smartphones have integrated cameras and the ability to record video and audio or even Livestream a particular consumer experience. Technology allows us to increase the intensity of market research campaigns.

Virtual ethnographies might include:

  • ride-alongs (we’ve done these in supercars and tractors)
  • shop-alongs
  • usability studies
  • video diaries
  • in-vehicle and dashcam video
  • day in the life assignments
  • image uploads

Technology has the potential to allow researchers remote access to the everyday life of participants for days, weeks, or even months. It provides authentic as-it-happens insight in a way that does not interrupt or influence the natural environment of the participant. We have a brilliant online community that makes this a very enjoyable and easy to use process for everyone involved.

Observational Ethnographic Research

Observational research can be quite resource-intensive but because it produces some fantastic consumer insight, it is one that we often undertake at the request of our clients. 

Taking place in the home, out in the field, or perhaps in an office or retail environment, our researchers use subtle direct observation; sometimes accompanied by a team of carefully hidden cameras to uncover consumer insights. This allows the coding of non-verbal facial expressions, body language, and posture, to add depth and context to the observational exercise. 

The results of this work have been successfully used to create highly effective marketing campaigns in particular for FMCG brands.

Ethnographic Recruitment

Ethnographic market research is based on subtle but permitted observation. In most cases, this will involve participant recruitment. Recruiting relevant participants from a broad spectrum of consumers is a specialist task in itself. At Spark, we have built established recruitment systems and networks that help us find the right people to unlock market-ready insights.

We make sure that our project management support places the relevance, levels of cooperation, and comfort of the participants as a high priority. In some cases, there may be some participant training we will deliver to carry out the project successfully. If the project involves delivering test products, client packs, or homework assignments, we can manage the whole process for you. 

We also provide the complex post-research analysis that allows brand planners and marketers to turn observational market research into actionable marketplace strategies.


The Benefits of Ethnographic Market Research

As one of the most powerful qualitative research techniques, ethnography helps researchers discover the why as opposed to the how many. Used alongside other methods as part of a holistic approach, it contributes a level of real-world richness, value, and relevance that many other methods are unable to deliver.

The key advantages are:

unconscious bias

Differentiates between what people actually do and what they say they do.

unconscious bias

Avoids making assumptions or allowing unconscious bias to influence outcomes.

observational research

Allows observational research to be extended over longer time periods.

Captures behaviour where interactions are allowed to occur naturally

Captures behaviour where interactions are allowed to occur naturally rather than directed by the researcher.

qualitative research agency
differentiate between wants and needs

Allows brand designers and product developers to empathise with their target market and differentiate between wants and needs.

Finding out what consumers really need

Finding out what consumers really need leads to the type of innovation that produces relevant and successful products and services.

Can be much more personal with participants allowing researchers to observe their daily lives.

Develops a deeper understanding of how social and cultural influences affect purchasing decisions.

Putting Ethnographic Research to Work for Your Next Campaign

If you want to take a deep dive into why people make a certain purchasing decision then ethnographic research is the tool to turn to. Find out what motivates people to do what they do. Everything across the scale from fear to inspiration can be uncovered, examined, and dissected to produce successful marketing campaigns.

Researchers can observe complicated and unpredictable situations where interactions are so complex or so difficult, that other methods would not be able to derive meaning from them. Many inspired marketing decisions behind successful start-ups and revitalised established businesses have been sparked by observational market research.


Work that works

Research shouldn’t be boring. We believe that fun breeds creativity, which in turn, delivers better results. And that’s why collaboration is core to Spark projects. We work in partnership with our clients, creating the insight which turns customer understanding into strategy.