What is
Ethnographic/
Observational Research?

Ethnographic research is a broad term used to describe market research that aims to observe consumers in their own environments, doing the things they normally do.

What is the purpose of an ethnographic study?

Ethnographic research has become much more popular of late due to an acknowledgement that there is often a disconnect between reported and actual behaviour. Shadowing consumers as part of an ethnographic study also has the advantage of allowing researchers to spot things of commercial interest that a respondent might not think to remark upon themselves. This method also chimes with an age when authenticity is particularly prized and companies are keen to adopt a customer-centric philosophy.

How is Ethnographic Research undertaken?

The actual nature of the ethnography to be employed needs to be carefully thought through in relation to the research objectives. For example, if it’s about cooking from scratch the moderators need to get into respondents’ homes; if it’s about Friday evenings out there’s no substitute for joining a group who are planning a big night!

Ideally, the interaction lasts for more than just a couple of hours ­– the longer they are, the more natural the behaviours observed will become. This is where technology such as community platforms, webcams and simple WhatsApp conversions can help – allowing moderators and respondents to keep in touch over an extended period.

Auto-ethnography involves respondents keeping records of their own behaviours and feelings about a particular topic over a period of time. Video, photographic and audio recordings make the process easy and the outputs equip the researcher with rich, valuable information.  

What is an example of Ethnographic Research?

At ABA Research, we've used ethnographic research to understand consumer eating habits in relation to health. Knowing that short studies would generate ‘best behaviour’ findings, we decided to track a small group of families for a 10-week period. The ‘healthy eating’ objectives were kept a secret for the first 8 weeks, with participants instead told the study was about family life. Our research revealed the many contradictions consumers exhibit with regards to health – aspiring to a balanced diet but all too easily giving into temptation!

Should you require an Ethnographic Research specialist, get in touch with ABA Research. We help brands grow by leveraging emotions and have identified 5 emotions brands can play to.

What is Ethnographic/Observational Research?

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