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According to the Dictionary of Social Sciences, ethnographic research is “The study of the culture and social organization of a particular group or community… Ethnography refers to both the data gathering of anthropology and the development of analysis of specific peoples, settings, or ways of life (“Research Methodologies for the Creative Arts & Humanities: Ethnographic Research”).” It focuses on the ways people interact with each other and aims to understand why it is that people do what they choose to do.
This research utilizes many different research methods, including interviews, surveys and naturalistic observation. Naturalistic observation refers to research that is based on observation of subjects in their natural environment.
In marketing, businesses primarily use ethnographic research to better understand how one’s social situation influences the products they use and their perceptions of other products (Shear, Jessica). While this approach mainly involves naturalistic observation, it can also involve interactions with people.
Even though we associate ethnographic research with marketing and sociology, we could also connect it with politics.
In a 2013 article by USNews.com, we notice that effective ethnographic research played a significant role in Barack Obama’s win in the 2012 presidential election. This research, known as the “Ethnography Project,” was started and administered by a NY pollster named Joel Benenson. According to Benenson, this project was designed “as a deep dive into the world of everyday Americans not only to clarify their views on politics but to find insights into their ‘daily lives’ (Walsh, Kenneth).” The following explains how the Ethnography Project was done:
Benenson started his research by selecting 100 undecided voters in Colorado, Florida and Ohio.
These states were chosen because both Democrats and Republicans have similar levels of support among voters, which makes them important in determining the outcome of a presidential election. These voters were asked to do a short questionnaire about their everyday activities over a 16 day period. This questionnaire’s topics ranged from explaining the communities the participants lived in to treatment at work to how they were handling the recent economic crisis (Walsh, Kenneth).
Afterwards, nine voters were selected from the original 100 and were divided into groups of three. Each group was given a detailed interview to help learn more about them as individuals. These questions were a bit more personal, asking about their routines, family, concerns for the present and hopes/fears for the future and whether or not Obama deserved to be re-elected. These results were compiled into journals (Walsh, Kenneth).
The results from this was that people thought the current economic crisis was a harsh one that would pose a lot of problems in the future. Obama used this as well as other concepts from the focus groups and interviews into his campaign messages. This helped him seem more connected to Americans than Romney (Walsh, Kenneth).
Overall, I think that ethnographic research is a very effective method for understanding the client. While the research can take a long time, it successfully fulfills its purpose of providing up-to-date insights about consumer habits and trends. However, these insights could be biased relatively easily. If people are, or become aware that they are being used as research subjects, they are more likely to act differently or lie to the researcher. According to spotless.com, “It is vital that the subject is honest and open to the researcher (Ethnography: When and How to Use It). ” This is important because doing things differently, hiding certain details, or even lying to the researcher could create inaccurate results and cause the business to follow a path that might ruin its marketing efforts.
I believe that ethnographic research has been a way of research for a very long time and it has already had many ups and downs associated with it, not necessarily making it the “wave of the future.” However, I believe that technological advances have made it possible for ethnographic research to be administered more effectively and efficiently, and allow more businesses to use this method. According to Charlie Gower, head of consumer research at an insurance firm called Hiscox,“With mobile technology and people more willing to share their thoughts, you don’t have to traipse around after someone all day – they can send you an email, photos or a video diary (Burrows, David).” People tend to post information about themselves online. On Facebook or Instagram, users post about themselves in life events, pictures to show their appearances, political thoughts or even reviews of products. Some people tend to write blogs or tweets that present their political views and beliefs to others. Businesses have equal access to this information so that they could view it, observe trends and use it for research to improve their products or appeal to buyers.
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