How well do you know your customers and partners? If your organization is like most, you probably have a good numeric understanding of them. You know how many there are, what they are buying from you, how often they interact with customer service and so on. But you may struggle to articulate clearly what motivates them to do these things. You may have a mental model of how you think they feel about your product or service—but do you know whether it’s true? And how would you do things differently if you had a more detailed understanding of your stakeholders, about how they think and feel about your product or service as they use it in their day-to-day lives?
I offer small-scale, custom qualitative research to help organizations develop a deeper, more complete understanding of those they are trying to serve with products or services (customers, partners, users, constituents, stakeholders). Typically, this is done to support a larger innovation or organizational change initiative, such as creating a new product or changing a core business process. The methods I use are based on ethnographic fieldwork, anthropology’s primary method of engaging research participants and gathering data.
Ethnography’s two main research methods are interviews (semi-structured or open-ended interviews using a slightly longer time frame) and participant observation (shadowing study participants for longer periods of time as they go about their typical daily activities, and asking questions about them).
My aim with qualitative research is to help answer important questions an organization might have using anthropological analysis frameworks. However, unlike academic researchers in anthropology (who are focused on knowledge production), I am ultimately hoping to provide practical advice based on the research data. In my graduate research, I wrote about the frequent ethical challenges that business anthropology poses to academic anthropology.
My focus in my ethnographic work is primarily on business-to-business (B2B) research with customers, partners, and sometimes employees and managers. While I offer research design and analysis for ethnographic consumer research, too, I work with business partners or subcontractors for the actual fieldwork — I know my limitations and what I’m best at!
More often than not, ethnographic research results in a re-orientation of how we understand a market or other business dynamic. Importantly, ethnographic research often reveals an array of possible “problems” to be solved — suggesting that there can also be no such thing as a single solution. Businesses tend to apply heuristics aimed at simplifying complex problems in order to decisively act on them. While ethnography may at first seem contrary to this instinct, it can help fundamentally re-frame problems and design solutions. After all, you aren’t hiring me to tell you what you already know.
I have successfully conducted small-scale, business-to-business ethnographic studies for a number of different clients, either for the purpose of product or market research, or to help shed light on complex external business or market problems.