Guardian Life Insurance: Bringing Ethnography Into Your Organization

April 25, 2006


Guardian Life Insurance conducted its first ethnography project in April 2005, with the assistance of Innovation Focus.

They used ethnography to understand "World Class Customer Service" through the perspective of the Group Insurance Broker.

Rather than bringing the Group Insurance Brokers into focus groups, Guardian used ethnographic interviewing techniques with the brokers and their administrative professionals. Subjects were informed that the research was being conducted for a "major insurance company" but were not informed that it was for Guardian.

In total, the ethnography project involved 8 hours of field work and 11 or 12 days worth of work time.

Research included:

  • Two four-hour site visits which consisted of:
    • Observation in the respondents office area
    • Conversing with the respondents
    • Observing respondents at work
    • Touring the environment
    • Talking to the assistants
  • Guardian explored:
    • The background and experience of Group Insurance Brokers and their administrative professionals
    • The daily activities and challenges/opportunities they faced
    • How they managed their portfolio and (sales/service) processes
    • Their relationships with providers and clients
    • Their understanding of "excellence in customer service"


  • It took time to get the Guardian Ad Director on board with the ethnography project.
  • Guardian was accustomed to using focus groups and surveys.
  • In the past, Guardian tended to survey the same brokers.
  • Guardian has only been doing Market Research for 8 years.
  • Lack of client ownership.


The ethnographic research showed Guardian:

  • It is important to "humanize" the face of Guardian to brokers.
  • It is important for to communicate their understanding that Brokers are "the constant" in the industry.
  • A lot of the information that is provided to Brokers by their carriers is not tied to their specific needs and actually cause inefficiencies (too much "nice to know" information when "need to know" would be most helpful).
  • Much of the business conducted by Brokers is still rooted in the essence of human/tangible experiences.
  • Communications with brokers should be customized.
  • It is important to publicly recognize the success of brokers.

  • Results
  • The research findings helped Guardian to develop and direct marketing communications between Guardian and Group Insurance Brokers.
  • The research has impacted Guardian's ad messages.
  • The research helped Guardian to lay groundwork for more informed New Product Development.
  • The project opened new doors within Guardian.
Did You Know?
Excluding incentives a project like this cost $26,000 - $28,000

"Bringing Ethnography Into Your Organization." Mark Wolf, Manager, Corporate Market Research, Guardian Life Insurance Company. ANA Market Research Committee Meeting, 04/25/06.