While being inspired by the observation of people on their own turf that is the hallmark of traditional ethnography, New Product Ethnography is specifically focused on New Product Development. The emphasis is on providing actionable insights into user needs and desires.
What is Ethnography?
The term ‘Ethnography’ seems to have achieved the dubious status of buzz-word. There are many definitions, depending on who is doing the defining. A good definition of traditional ethnography is—
No matter what definition you get, there are several signature attributes:
- Observation of people doing whatever it is they do on their own turf–Going out into the “real world” and observing is critical.
- Qualitative in approach–For instance, statistical analyses are not normally performed on the discoveries of studies deemed to be ‘ethnographic.’
- Inductive in nature–does not start with hypotheses
- Interaction with ‘Research Subjects’ is encouraged–Many, especially those with legitimate claim to the title of ‘Professional Ethnographer’, stress that ‘Participant-Observation’ is a necessary attribute of ‘true’ ethnography.
- Depth Interviewing (Long-Open-ended Interviews) is often used
- Hypothesis generation and prediction–There is not universal agreement about whether hypothesis generation, based on observations, should be part of ethnography or whether it should be purely descriptive.
Ethnography and Business Meet
Business decision makers are always seeking better ways to answer questions like:
- Who are the target customers?
- What are their days like?
- What are the real problems they wish they could solve with a product that your company might make?
- What are the opportunities for new products that these unmet needs present?
- Will people pay enough for these new products for the company to make money?
The New 'Ethnographic' Methods Arrive on the Business Scene
In the 1990s, various methods began to pop-up that resembled traditional Ethnography in that they were qualitative in style and emphasized:
- Observation of people on their own turf (e.g. their homes, offices, in stores, and so forth)
- Induction rather hypothesis-testing
- Interaction with people being observed
- Depth Interviewing
Some of the names by which the new methods are known:
- ‘Day-in-the-Life Studies’
- ‘Ethnography Lite’
- ‘Consumer Ethnography’
- ‘Field Observation’
- ‘New Product Ethnography’ (Cagan and Vogel)
- ‘Observational Research’ (Abrams)
'New Product Ethnography'
- A blend of traditional ethnographic methods with new technology and interdisciplinary research teams for observing, recording, and analyzing social situations.
- More than just applied anthropology
- Predictive as well as descriptive
- Emphasis on “actionable insights” into consumer behavior and lifestyle activities.
- Has emerged into a powerful new area for predicting–
- Consumer preferences for product features, form, material and color
- Patterns of use and purchase
Ethnography Helps Us with Our Other Research Methods
- Quantitative Market Research
- Helps us construct hypotheses
- Helps to identify the right questions on surveys
- Who to survey
- Focus Groups
- Choosing the right issues to discuss
- Who to include?
- Usability Testing
- Selecting the right types of participants
- Having them perform the most relevant tasks