What Is Ethnographic Research in Marketing? - Definition, Methods & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Ethnography?
  • 0:44 Application to Marketing
  • 1:28 Marketing Methods
  • 3:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Ethnographic research is usually something conducted by anthropologists and social scientists, but now marketing executives are taking notice. In this lesson, you'll learn what ethnography is and how it's used to understand consumers.

What Is Ethnography?

Ethnography is the study of human behavior in its most natural and typical context. Research that uses ethnographic methods has long been used in anthropology by scientists that want to understand other cultures. It really isn't possible to ask people details about their culture because culture is such an ingrained construct. So, sometimes the best way to understand a new culture is to experience it by living it. When a researcher leaves behind all his or her modern conveniences and moves in with a tribe in the Amazon, living their customs and taking part in their daily lives and ceremonial rites, he or she is conducting ethnographic research.

Application to Marketing

At the core of everything they do, marketing professionals seek to understand their potential consumers. Successful marketing is based on a solid understanding of why consumers make the decisions they do: how they identify a need or a want, how they gather information about their options, and how they decide what, or what not, to buy.

In the past, surveys have been the primary tool marketing people use to attempt to gather this information. The argument is simply, 'if we want to know what people want, let's ask.' The weakness in that argument is that sometimes people don't know what they want or why they make the decisions they do. To understand the real-life context of potential consumers, marketing professionals figured out that they needed to live the life of their target customers.

Marketing Methods

To conduct a quality ethnographic study, the researcher needs to be in the same role as the consumer. That means there are two options: take a consumer and teach them how to be an ethnographer, or take an ethnographer and make them a consumer. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks, but both are completely legitimate and used frequently.

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