By Jon Burton & Peter Mc Leod.
Market research, in its simplest form, can be considered to be the process where companies gather facts to ensure they are delivering what their consumers need and want. This is usually achieved by using tools such as questionnaire surveys, focus groups, perceptual maps and a number of other analytical and empirical techniques. However, today’s marketers face many difficult questions. These include: How do our customers really use our products? Will they tell us? Can they tell us? [i] Often enough we find that consumers are not given the time or the ability to engage emotionally in the decisions they make when purchasing. This can result in consumer’s regretting such choices and hence not providing the accurate data that companies would like to collect to better inform them of their chosen market segment/s [ii].
For example, Best Western international hotel chain discovered that men are often the decision makers on where and when to stop for the night on a long journey, as evidenced through focus group analysis. However, upon analysis of video footage of couples who were cross-country travelling, it was often the women who made this decision and this fact was not identified by the focus group analysis [iii].
To get an insight into what consumers really do, many companies use ethnographic research, as identified in the example above, to observe and interact with consumers in their “natural environment”. Techniques are drawn from anthropology, sociology and documentary filmmaking and generally involve watching and recording people [iv]. This kind of research gives marketers an opportunity to enter the customers’ world to observe a subject’s unconscious and scrutinize how they think and feel in relation to a companies’ product/s. According to a research expert, ethnography allows companies to “zero in on their customers’ unarticulated desires” [v].
Gillette targeted the Indian market in 2011 with their marketing campaign, Gillette Guard. They used Indian students studying in America to drive product development. The students loved the product on offer. Nevertheless, Gillette initially failed to impress the Indian market when they launched the product there. By filming their subjects, Gillette found out that in India, men shave with just a cup of water (or hardly any water at all) instead of shaving cream and hot running water as is common practice in the western world and this often resulted in hair clogging in their razors which made shaving a far more difficult task.
Ethnographic research often provides intimate details that traditional forms of market research would not be able to [vi]. Not only that, this method can reveal problems that customers do not even know they have. For instance, Moen is claimed as one of the biggest plumbing supplier manufacturers in North America. By filming people in the shower (in a purely scientific and private sense of course), the company uncovered particular attributes of product usage as well as safety concerns that many customers (or designers) were not aware of. For example, women were found to hold on to and manipulate the temperature control while shaving their legs. Without this method, it would be almost impossible to detect such a particular form of application and certainly difficult to gauge with the use of techniques such as questionnaires or surveys, for the reasons mentioned above.
Gogglebox is a British observational documentary which showcases British couples and families communicating in their living room while watching TV (a straightforward yet peculiar concept). There are two mini HD remote control cameras installed in the viewers’ living rooms which record their personal experience. The concept allows for the examination of consumers in an unrestricted environment and discloses their reactions and ensuing discussions resulting from their television experience. For the program’s developers, the public audience and prospective marketers, a smorgasbord or brands, attitudes and insights are on show. This may include the Pringles packet on the table, the particular lounge chain in use, the method in which the lounge chair is being used and the reaction or even impersonation of particular TV personalities to name a few. This smorgasbord of advertising allows a vast number of stakeholders to gather data or insight into product placement, its use and its positioning within the market group/s (couples, families of various ages and ethnicities, etc.). The obvious disadvantage for the participants (whether it is reality or not, likely not) is that they are on show for all to see. This begs the question, from a customers’ perspective, is their privacy being compromised in a similar way in their everyday shopping experience? As they say, “Big Brother” is always watching.
Beyond conducting ethnography in physical consumer environments, “webnography” – observing online users in a natural context on the Internet, is routinely conducted by marketers [vii]. This observational methodology involves the use of forums, blogs and social networking services in which customers are spontaneously talking and sharing their experiences and vital data. Given the personalized nature of blogs and other online subscriptions, these mediums tend to promote more “real” or “heart-felt” discussion. This is partly due to the anonymity associated with online communication and also the speed and nature of data usage that takes place. e.g. A consumers’ ability to instantly compare a brand’s price, customer satisfaction and features with other brands in order to formulate or be persuaded towards an opinion.
However effective ethnographic market research is, questions must be asked:
Is a consumer that is being observed in a multitude of ways (i.e. physically or online), going a step too far and does this represent an invasion of security in going beyond the safety net of our own self-image and extent of reveal?
Should there be limits imposed on marketers in the never-ending pursuit of human behavioral studies?
How can marketers obtain such intimate data but remain objective in the eye of the consumer?
[i] Kolter, P., Burton, S., Deans, K., Brown, L. & Armstrong, G. 2013, Marketing, 9edn, Pearson Australia, NSW, Chapter 6, pp. 148-170.
[ii] Connolly, T., Zeelenberg, M. & Rieters, R. 2007, “A Theory of Regret Regulation 1.0”, Journal of Consumer psychology, Vol. 17, Iss. 1, pp. 3-18.
[iii] Parasuraman, A., Grewal, D. & Kishnan, R. 2007, Market Research, 2edn, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
[iv] Elliott, R. & Jankel-Elliott, N. 2003, “Using ethnography in strategic consumer research”, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Vol. 6, Iss. 4, pp. 215-223.
[v] Ante, SE. 2006, “The science of desire”, Business Week, 5 June, pp. 100.
[vi] Blakely, R. 2007, “You know when it feels like somebody’s watching you”, New Times, 14 May, pp. 46.
[vii] Tyagi, PK. 2010, “Webnography: A new tool to conduct marketing research”, Journal of American Academy of Business, March, pp. 116-123.
[viii] Profoundry, 2014. “What Can Gogglebox Teach Marketers?”. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.profoundry.co/what-can-gogglebox-teach-marketers/. [Accessed 14 April 15].