Ethnographic Research Firms

October 1, 2008

The Question

An ANA member sought recommendations for ethnography firms, as well as insights into the frequency and uses of ethnographic research.

The following questions were posed to the ANA Research Committee:

  1. Can you recommend an ethnographic research firm(s)?
  2. How often do you use ethnographic research?
  3. What is the typical sample size you use (how many consumers are studied)?
  4. Within your department, what is the main use of ethnography research?
The Results

Twelve members offered their insights. Please note that some members did not answer all four questions.

Question #1: Members named a total of 13 ethnographic research firms.
Question #2: Frequency of ethnography usage varied.
Question #3: Ethnographic research sample size ranged, most often, from 10-15 study participants
Question #4: Ethnographic research was most often used to increase the depth of understanding of the consumer and adjust marketing strategies accordingly.

COST: One member volunteered that ethnographic research can cost between $55,000 and $90,000 (for a sample size range of 18-20 familes).

The following are ANA Research Committee member responses to the questions about ethnography:


Member Response #1

  • Recommended ethnographic research firm(s):
    • Context-Based Research Group
      Tel: 410-223-358
      Email: info@contextresearch.com
    • Phaedrus
      Contact: John Russell
      Tel: 561-302-7180
      Email: jncrussell@aol.com 
    • Onsite Research Associates
      Contact:Maren Elwood
      Tel: 831-238-5503
      Email: melwood@onsiteresearch.com
    • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
      • "We use ethnographic research on a needs basis, rather than on a set schedule of research."
  • Typical sample size (i.e., number of consumers studied):
    • "Depending on what we want to learn, and who we want to reach, we may use a sample as small as 20 or as large as 50+ to meet our goals.  I would strongly recommend conducting no fewer than 8 ethnographic interviews per individual segment you want to explore."
  • Marketers' main use of ethnographic research:
    • "We use ethnographic research to help us better understand various market segments or the impact certain products have on our various market segments.  Conducting ethnographic research allows us to intimately understand, from direct observation, what really makes different types of people or segments tick.  We can then use these learnings to hone our marketing strategies."

Member Response #2

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:
    • Synovate (Qualitative Division)
      Contact: Robert Skolnik, CEO
      Tel: 212-293-6100
      Email: via Synovate Website
    • Innovation Focus
      Tel: 717-394-2500
      Email: innovation@innovationfocus.com  
    • Psyma International
      Tel: 610-992-0900
      Email: info@psyma-usa.com 
    • Insight Research
      Tel: 212-343-9894
      Email: insight@insightresearch.biz
  • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
  • (Not answered)
  • Typical sample size (i.e., number of consumers studied):
    •  "Sample sizes are usually modest, ranging from 10-30 respondents."
       
  • Marketers' main use of ethnographic research:
    • "I would suggest using it for "discovery" purposes.  That is, to uncover insights into customer needs/ product uses."

Member Response #3

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:
  • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
    • "In the past 3 years we did 3 ethnographies on 3 different initiatives (2 were brand initiatives where we were trying to understand the consumption culture - the third was a business growth initiative).
  • Typical sample size (i.e., number of consumers studied):
    • "18-20 families. Ethnographies get expensive though - in my experience you are looking at a cost of somewhere between $55,000 and $90,000."
       
  • Marketers' main use of ethnographic research:
    • "For one business we used it to reposition the brand, on the other two we were just really trying to understand the consumers in a deeper way. All 3 times it was very useful."

Member Response #4

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:
  • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
    • "In current company- never." (Information on previous employer's usage not supplied)
  • Typical sample size (i.e., number of consumers studied):
    • "In previous experience-10."
  • Marketers' main use of ethnographic research:
    • Not answered.

Member Response #5

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:

(Member did not answer the other questions)


Member Response #6

  • "We've only done ethnographic research a couple times with mixed results.  One recent project went quite well.  We worked with a company called:

"Our sample size was around 15.  We used this information to identify deeper consumer insights that we believe couldn't be obtained through traditional qualitative methods.  I don't believe it's something that needs to be conducted very frequently unless there are significant product advancements that require the consumer/customer to behave in a significantly different way."


Member Response #7

(Member did not answer the other questions)


Member Response #8

  • "Ethnography" is used so generally, and practiced by such a diverse number of people, the term, in business is virtually useless.  I've found that "ethnographic" in a business context, usually refers to going through a day or two with consumers to observe their actions, maybe as about their "motives."  Well, that's fine, but if management isn't doing this routinely ( I mean spending an hour in a grocery store, two hours in a mall, an hour in a bar or restaurant, or washing clothes in a laundromat) they won't understand the implications of the research findings.  It will still be too abstract.

I used an "anthropology" firm, 6 - 8 years ago, the results were insightful, and no one in senior management could figure out how the results.  Can't remember the name.

Sample size is, obviously, dependent on the population group you're studying and the research question.  If I need to understand "pain points" in the health insurance arena, say, I need to listen in 10 or 12 customer service calls and then spend a morning in a doctor's office with a lot of traffic, talk to 1/2 dozen patients as they leave.  But then I have to quantify it.  If I want to understand the language dirt bike racers use, I need to spend a day riding with 4 or 5 of them, and a few hours in the bar afterwards; that's all I need; quantification isn't necessary.

In my job, I go out and spend time with consumers and doctors and employers and our customer service reps and brokers, etc., but I don't pretend it's ethnography.  It's participant observation, a good qualitative technique.  I've found that bringing back simple, human insights (and keeping the academic pretensions minimal, as much as I enjoy academic pretension) often leads to very effective action at our company.

I guess I don't know why I'd hire a firm to spend time with customers if I really want to understand them.  Isn't that my job, and management's job?  Aren't we capable?  Shouldn't we be responsible for gathering in-depth insights?


Member Response #9

  • "Ethnographic Research is only a tool.  The question that needs to be answered is "What is the objective?"  I have used Ethnographic Research to better understand consumer usage and have used outside services as well as  paying users to video tape themselves doing the requested behavior while providing a running commentary.  Generally I find that you need to conduct 12 - 15 Ethnographic Sessions of a single target, after which the behavior observed may become repetitive.

In the last project I used Ethnographic Sessions because we needed to uncover areas of potential weakness for one of our brands.  To address this we first used Ethnographic Research to observe how people use the product in their own homes.  We followed this up with an internal session to list all the problems/issues we observed.  This list was then put through a broad scale quantitative study to understand the size of the problem/issue.  For this particular project we used Innovation Focus because their method best fit our objective of uncovering problems/issues users have."


Member Response #10

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:
    • None.
  • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
    •  "Not too often."
  • Typical sample size (i.e., number of consumers studied):
    • "Depends on your purpose.  It can range from a few people to about 50."
  • Marketers' main use of ethnographic research:
    • "To understand people's behavior and find out any thing that typically doesn't come up in discussion or face to face interviews. For example, disease like HIV would be a great use of the technique if you want to uncover hidden emotions, or how patient and physician interact, etc."

Member Response #11

  • Recommended ethnographic research firms:
    • Performance Research
      Contact: Jed Pearsall
      Tel: 401-848-0111
      Email: jed@performanceresearch.com
    • Frank Magid Associates
      Tel: 212-515-4520
      Email: mailNY@magid.com
    • Frequency of use of ethnographic research:
      • "We don't do it extensively anymore."
Source

"Ethnographic Research Firms" ANA Research Committee, August 2008.