The Unconscious Motivations in Ethnography and Market Research: Looking Inward in Observation​​

This is a beginning of a series on the discovery of the unconscious in research using ethnography and depth psychology. “Outside a fresh morning wind rises” (Jung, 2009, p. 278). Keep in mind these 12 areas:  Conscious motivations are more prevalent, louder, easier to understand, and offered first by consumers, but the conscious in decision making is not as significant as unconscious factors.Conscious factors are usually articulate and a-ha moments, while unconscious factors are inarticulate, bumbling, confusing, and contradictory. Obtain the conscious factors first, then assume that there is more to the story than what consumers believe or provide you.  There is much more to consumer behavior than what they do in front of you, insist on, or dramatically say. These are the unconscious factors.By definition, the unconscious cannot be seen. Therefore, we must do special activities to obtain it within qualitative consumer research.Go beyond online research. As thick as online data appears, it is what consumers want to offer you in selected images, text, and daily life. It is worthwhile as a small portion of the truth about their lives. If you only do online research, even good digital ethnography, you will be caught up in masses of conscious data that require days of analysis yet bear little relationship to actual unconscious motivations. Online may be slightly better than no research but it can be misleading. Doing online only gets you mostly conscious factors and represents about one quarter of the consumer reality.Do live phenomenological research, whether this is in-person ethnographic observation or depth interviews in context or in facilities. Do multiple layers of research with the same people. Get to know the same consumers. Trust allows unconscious factors to emerge. You need to care about your consumers to understand them, and the best way to experience this relationship is to experience consumers live, in front of you, living, breathing, and doing their lives. See them in multiple contexts and come back to visit them 2-3 times. You will be surprised at the differences between visits 1 and 2.In psychological depth interviews and within ethnography, look within the observation area for signs of the shadow. The shadow represents a part of motivations but cannot be easily understood or identified via the usual means of good research. The shadow is that part of the consumer’s life, psychology, behaviors, secrets, mind-set, or reality that consumers do not, themselves, want to see and definitely do not want you to witness. Clues to the unconscious may be found in outlying elements of consumer lives – packed away in old closets, piles of clutter, off brand labels, expiration dates long gone, elements in the garbage, items in the refrigerator that bear little relationship to their avowed shopping habits.  Don’t disregard these areas for the more glamorous aspects.Especially be on the alert for consumer narratives that begin with “I never do this” and then they do it. This could be a particular TV or Netflix show in the middle of the day, clutter in the car that they clean up quickly, kids protesting that mom or dad’s comments are different than what they hear, driving in the car faster than usual, taking a different route, buying something off the list, saying something irritable to the dog, or stopping at a fast food drive-through and eating something they say they never eat. Watch for suppressed irritation, anger, or distractions.  These may hide the unconscious.Look for moments of inarticulateness. Unlike what we were taught in doing interviews, don’t automatically indulge in research prompting.  Let the inarticulateness go on, trail off, move into new areas. To begin to discover unconscious factors, the research and marketing teams must go beyond what is articulate, brilliant, and idealistic in consumer behavioral and psychological research. “I was born into life from below, and I grew up as heroes do, in hours rather than years” (p. 278).  Today’s photo is an image created by Jung on the unconscious and archetypal (p. 78). Jung, C. G. (2009). The red book: Liber novus (S. Shamdasani, Ed.). New York, NY: Norton.    ​

​Checklist of 20 principles for the customer journey

When creating proposals and planning for big, multistaged, multiphased, mixed method style, authentic, and longitudinal market research customer journeys that involve in-context ethnographic observations that tap into in-the-moment decision making, I have a checklist to use as you work with fields, teams, and your process. Note on the image accompanying this post: The usual, developed customer journey map after the stages of market research will look quite different than the legendary Hero’s Journey diagram shown here. But, it’s important to acknowledge that, behind every customer journey and the research journey of the observing team, there is a deeper inner and outer journey that resembles the psychological monomyth in key ways.

QSR case history:  Salad and craving​

Here’s a new success story, aka qualitative case history, that I heard last week in Toronto from our fast food client. Our research team did two large culture-specific authentic ethnographies that were live, in context, at the right timing, and in-person—along with focus groups and digital ethnography—in consumer homes and in their favorite fast food restaurants.  It was for a QSR (quick serve restaurant) brand with almost 100% visibility internationally. We conducted the work in North America.  After hours of observation—but definitely from the very beginning to the end of our ethnographies—our anthropologists discovered the subtle emotional obstacle that was also the biggest core insight.  Craving.  What we saw and experienced:  When moms and dads went through the threshold of this QSR with their kids, they entered into a known atmosphere of craving and indulgence that they loved, desired, and that then took them over.  Even and especially if these consumers represented a typology who much preferred salads, natural and lighter meals, or eating healthy organic foods (we did an algorithm to be sure this conscious, healthy-eating typology was being studied), they invariably felt attracted and pushed as if against their wills to eat whatever they wanted (probably from childhood) inside the QSR.  Then they felt guilty, later.  Basically, as soon as they passed through the brand’s portal, they found themselves compelled to indulge with fries, multilayered burgers, and flurries of desserts even though the QSR’s salads were advertised, readily available, of several wonderful varieties, and deliciously, amazingly fresh. This QSR had been using a freshness positioning for their salad advertising—over 30 years of freshness ads—from 1987 into early 2017.  It wasn’t working.  Freshness is a given and of course it’s the category standard. Then the insight consumer research manager, when reviewing more fresh salad advertising storyboards, remembered the key insight and obstacle from our ethnography.  It was craving.  She convinced the agency to flip freshness and do a new campaign based upon archetypal craving for their salads.  The agency developed a new commercial based upon craving and indulgence, with a male-female couple kidding around about who goes to this QSR to eat salads anyhow, the trickster-like male character with gestures of stealing indulgent ingredients from her salad, and beauty appearance elements of craving in the salad visuals.  The ads moved from outmoded Innocent to new Transformer archetype. Result:  Salads are flying off the shelves. The commercial is differentiating, motivating, and recalled.  Healthy-eating consumers are coming to the QSR and eating salads with delight and indulgence. They experience no guilt and return for more. The advertising campaign for salads is no longer the category stereotype, which is taken for granted by consumers, but aligned with the brand’s core insight of craving based upon real-life, true, emotional, archetypal resonance.   Conquer your craving!​

Observational workshop at Orlando QRCA Conference

This session focuses on theoretical and practical issues of the dynamics, problems, and value of observation that we researchers face, are inspired by, may struggle with, and need to address during qualitative projects. The gaze is broader than just the kind of ethnographic process that relies on observations. It is the researcher’s state of mind, intuitive skill-set, freedom or restrictions, and actions that result from our awareness that we are being viewed and impacted by a client presence. The presenters – both cultural anthropologists – are collaborating on a researcher-on-researcher project that emphasizes the idea of clients as a key form of the research inquiry. They look at the effect of these expanded ideas on observation with other researchers through phone and in-person interviews. This presentation will focus on the implications of the practices we use in our research, our relationship with clients, and, finally, on the impact of these eyes on the research. This session includes examples from their own projects, those of other QRCs, and interactive exercises. Attendees can expect to experience how the gaze influences our view of the ethnographic experience, how it helps mediate collaborative strategies for successful business outcomes, as well as the gaze’s overall place within the “Whole New World of Research.” Target Audience: All ranges, from advanced to beginning qualitative researchers ava lindbergAva Lindberg is a cultural anthropologist and depth psychologist who applies the core principles of academic anthropology to contemporary market research to discover and explore penetrating insights for breakthrough brand and strategic initiatives. Passionate about observation as a portal into the conscious and archetypal levels of human behaviors, emotions, and motivations, Lindberg uses classic in-person authentic ethnography within a hybrid combination of creative groups, focused depth psychological interviews, digital/online ethnography, and ideation worksessions. Recent clients include Hilton Worldwide Insights, Unilever, International Data Corporation, McDonald’s, Kraft, and ConAgra. She is a frequent workshop leader at U.S., Canadian, and international research conferences. antonella fabriAntonella Fabri is a cultural anthropologist with an international background. A native Italian, she studied in Italy and Spain before receiving her PhD in the US. She worked as a college professor prior to becoming an independent market consultant. She is an expert in ethnographic research methods, branding, positioning, semiotics, and Latino culture. Her projects have ranged from health and pharmaceuticals, to finance, to organizational culture, as well as luxury goods, beauty products, food and beverages, and hospitality. She is fluent in Spanish and Italian. Dr. Fabri has authored numerous publications and spoken frequently at professional conferences.​

The gaze: Preview of Orlando workshop

We teach that the gaze of the ethnographer, the participating client team, and the consumers under observation will determine the relative power, specificity, actual findings, and analysis of the research results.

The gaze: A new workshop in planning​

There is a similar paper with an anthropological tonality for the EPIC Conference in Sao Paulo, in September 2015, but we are awaiting word on this business anthropological organization’s acceptance. I would welcome comments, additions, or suggestions from fellow researchers and clients alike. Description of session content This session will communicate the provocative dynamics, results, and implications of an exciting researcher-on-researcher qualitative project conducted by cultural anthropologists who are specialists in observation and who have long been fascinated by the subject of the gaze, worked for years with (and occasionally without) client teams, and enjoy speculating on what being observed by client teams means for research, researcher, and participant. Our definition of the gaze starts very simply, i.e., as the researcher’s state of mind, emotions, internal and external sense of value, sense of power and freedom, and specific actions that result from an awareness that one is being viewed and impacted by an authoritative client presence. Our dual collaboration as anthropologically oriented ethnographers and moderators will identify how other researchers feel about the gaze and how their reporting of experiences related to the gaze can benefit others in improving and expanding client relationships, clarifying modes of observation, better negotiating methodologies, scope, process, findings, and techniques with clients, and achieving more positive outcomes in research…generating a win-win experience for both researcher and client. The gaze project is based upon findings from dual anthropologist-moderated in-depth interviews with researchers using Skype or in-person depth psychological processes. Representative qualitative researchers are interviewed from inside and out of the QRCA, from the U.S., Canada, and Europe, drawing from the interactions and feelings of highly experienced moderators of live groups, IDIs, and ethnographies, specialists in online research, as well as trained academic cultural anthropologists and psychologists. We include interviews that are a mix of ages, genders, and specialties in qualitative researchers, cultural anthropology, business anthropologists, cognitive and depth psychology, representing a blend of expertise and clients. The research has a longitudinal aspect: Each researcher-participant is being interviewed twice, with the second interview a few weeks from the first to gain deeper insight into the gaze topic once introduced and speculated upon previously. Case histories and narratives will describe how the gaze differs by type of client, when the client gaze is welcome and when it’s not, how the course of a project changes when there is a deep gaze vs. lack of involvement, the delights and challenges of being observed by clients, how knowledge is produced during the gaze, and thoughts on the alternation of researcher roles as both subject of the gaze and as the one who is observing the subject-participant. Outline of session This researcher-on-researcher project is thought to include brief theoretical foundations of the subject of the gaze, then report key insights and findings from researchers to define how the power, motivation, and expertise of the client gaze influences qualitative research positively and negatively. This is especially relevant within the ever-intensifying atmosphere and potentially changing client observation and relationships within hybrid, digital methodologies, big data, online communities, and social media research with which qualitative research like groups, IDIs, and ethnographies now compete and interact. Interactive gaze exercises and a section of best practices for client relationships, gleaned from our participating researchers, will add closure to the workshop’s powerful communication of what being a researcher in relationship with clients means in contemporary life. It’s 60 minutes in length, and I want to leave time for audience participation and interactivity. However, potential sections could include the following: How the client gaze impacts contemporary qualitative researcher feelings, performance, choice of methodologies, and perceived strength of outcomes Learn which client interactions on your research seem productive, empowering, and beneficial; which are difficult, distracting, and counterproductive; and how to make them better Differences between the client gaze in live research vs. the gaze of observers of online boards, chats, and communities How researchers are affected, enhanced, changed, and shifted by the gaze and physical presence of client teams related to personal performance, creativity, thinking quality, risk taking and question style with participants, development of meaningful insights, and output How researchers define the better, more powerful and productive client team vs. the team that needs researcher problem solving, forbearance, and negotiation with some illustrative videos from real-life ethnography Implications for best practices with ways to improve client relationships and working experiences Surprising outcomes from a key question: If they could do it all over, which researcher would choose the client gaze again and which would choose a research life without clients Differences between American, UK, and European researchers with regard to the client gaze There will be opportunity for interactive learning and trying out of observational exercises to intensify knowledge of and negotiation of the client gaze This is a totally new study, still in process, with groundbreaking implications. The timing of this workshop/study – with its integration of some academic theory, an intense qualitative research methodological basis, deep results from actual researchers, development and execution by two cultural anthropologists who are skilled in observation, and its inclusion of interactivity and practical results – seems relevant now that the Qualitative Research Consultants Association is openly admitting new styles of qualitative researchers like academic researchers and special qualitative consultants who specialize in qualitative methodologies.​


Ethnography, Cultural, and anthropology