Marketers often use ethnography research to observe behaviours and get to the truth of what really happens in a consumer’s life, rather than relying on the respondent’s memory or their perception of the right answers.
An ethnographic approach is anything that observes and allows consumers to behave naturally and capture real-time activity, thoughts, opinions and reactions. An ethnography study can often last several days, not hours.
Ethnography can be applied to most categories and situations. In healthcare, for example, video trackers are used with intercept interviews to understand a patient’s day and behaviours. We shadow and observe specialist doctors to understand treatment pathways (how and why they chose a particular treatment), and then follow the patient through diary activity to understand their issue with drug compliance and dosage adherence.
One of the newest applications of ethnography is autography – the use of a special lapsed camera by the participant often for an entire day, where thousands of candid pictures are collected.
Autography enhances the ethnographic toolbox
Key for many marketers is to understand how shoppers interact and relate to brands on the shelf. It is not a straight path, there is no lineal decision hierarchy. Through an ethnographic approach, we can identify the real drivers and routes to a purchase decision. Recent shopper marketing philosophy suggests that 70 per cent of decisions are made in-store. We know that is not entirely true as people come preloaded with top of mind brand preferences and recent advertising share of mind.
They may not go straight to store to purchase, but research online, gather opinions from friends and family and may use the store to review the physical product, before buying online. That is why a more ethnographic, holistic approach, including the use of autography, is better at understanding where the brand fits into their lives. Consider this example of how a marketer could actually ‘view’ the decision process.
A young lady decided she needed to buy clothes for an upcoming holiday. She started looking at summer dresses in a myriad of stores. We saw what she looked at, browsed and considered along her journey. At one point she looked at bikinis and it occurred to her, that her legs would be exposed. This drove her to decide to visit Boots drugstore for hair removal creams or waxes.
In Boots, she first saw the razors for women and seeing the options, she decided this would be a better option, especially for her bikini line. After picking up several products, reading the instructions on the packs and making comparisons, she finally settled on the Wilkinson Quattro as this had a razor and a trimmer for her bikini line (the pack actually states ‘bikini line’).
Whilst she was at the fixture, she took a look at the hair removal creams and waxes. One product she picked up from Nair had added moisturising oil, which triggered the thought, ‘my skin might be sore’ and so I better buy a shaving gel. She chose a Gillette product that was endorsed by Oil of Olay. Her next thought was ‘my legs are quite pale’, perhaps I should get a self-tan for my legs. She found one, especially for legs, but not being sure which to buy, she messaged a friend on Facebook to ask for advice.
As you can see, a typical ‘purchase decision hierarchy’ would not apply in this behaviour, and autography helped show how her thoughts jumped from one item and need to another. Autography can deliver powerful insights for marketers wanting to understand how and what to communicate and how to switch consumers to their brand and products.
Visualizing the relationship between products
In a recent study, we used autography to look at the relationship between razors and shower gels along with in-field observation, home visits, self-ethnography and diary and online community activities using the Dub system.
A range of females who used shower gels and razors to shave their legs were recruited by geo-demography with the guidance of Weldricks Pharmacy Group. The respondents were given a budget to visit a local store such as Boots or a supermarket, and purchase one of five moisturising shower gels (the white bottles) and a razor. The razors could be any brand, but we were particularly interested in the Wilkinson razors. The respondents had to buy products that they had not purchased before.
During their shopping trip, the respondents recorded video and pictures and noted their self-talk at shelf. They uploaded their material and answered questions on the online community either directly from their phone at the shelf or on return.
Then each day for a week, they completed an online diary – how and when and why they used their products, what they did differently and any other products they used on those specific occasions.
By ‘accompanying’ them to the shops through autography, we were able to observe the complete journey including what drove their choice of store, what else they would typically buy at the same time, was it part of a grocery shop or a weekend high street shop.
Why use ethnography and autography?
The problem with many research initiatives is they take a snapshot of specific focused areas and aspects. The advantage of ethnography is that it encompasses the product brand or service in the whole picture of a person’s life. Shopper research alone is not the full story of the purchase and in isolation would miss the influence and importance of the before and after brand or product experience.
Ethnography is best when it is candid and captures those moments that reveal white space, deep insights and the reality of a brand or products actual use and consumer opinion or attitude. Autography is a useful candid approach capturing actual behaviours of consumers, shoppers, patients, healthcare professionals and other key stakeholders.
At Radius, we have found with our clients that ethnography, including life-logging tools such as autography, brings a deep insight qualitative method worthy of being used prior to any quantitative research or prior to sets of focus groups as it is capable of exploring and revealing truer insights and scoping for better research results.
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