Ethnographic research is a most interesting form of research – one which supports innovation completely. This is because Ethnographic research can actually give you insights in your customers mindset and in your customers lifestyle. Thus, when you notice even a small problem that the customer is having, that problem can become a completely new product for your firm. The word “Ethnography” literally means the study of people and cultures. Thus, Ethnographic research helps you study people in their natural surroundings and thereby find out the actual application of your own product, or the improvements / innovation that can be brought in a product for people.
The data collection method of Ethnographic research is pretty different from others. The primary research method might avoid contact with the research subjects altogether. In fact, to facilitate normal conditions for the subject groups, recording might be done in the form of diaries by the customers themselves or there might be video recording. On the other hand, a researcher might accompany the subject at all times. This all depends on the type of Ethnographic research being carried out and the data which needs to be collected by the researcher.
The key point here is that Ethnographic research gives you a deep understanding of the consumer lifestyle. It might uncover uses or products which even the customer is not consciously aware of. Due to continous observation of the customer in an unchanged environment, when the customer is behaving naturally, there might be several ideas which might crop up to make the customers life easier. These ideas can later on become strong products for the company. Ethnographic research can be best explained by the following example.
Bank of America had carried out an ethnographic research of their customers. They wanted to launch a new financial product which made shopping for women easier. When they observed a large number of women in their natural way of life, they observed two things.
1 – Women felt comfortable rounding up the transaction for ease of calculations. So 146 was rounded up to 150 and 150 dollars were paid. For this, the Bank of america launched a debit card wherein the card was swiped at 150, but the difference amount of 4 dollars was automatically transferred to the savings account. Thus, the transaction was easily done and money was saved easily as well.
2- They also found that pregnant women found it difficult to save money. The above debit card was introduced to this group as well. Thus, pregnant women while swiping cards, could take the option of saving the change in their savings account. Thereby slowly but surely increasing their own savings.
Thus, Ethnographic research can lead to very small, but genuine products which make the customers lifestyle more comfortable while using the product. There are many top companies which use Ethnographic research regularly. Companies like Intel, Pepsi, IBM regulaly study the natural lifestyle of their customers to get insights for the next product or to improve their existing products. In fact, Pepsi used Ethnographic research to improve the packaging of Gatorage, another one of Pepsi products. Ethnographic research might not be for start up companies, nor will they be used by medium enterprises, but large enterprises, who have the capital to invest in this form of research, should use the research intermitently to improve their products.