Ethnography for storytelling

In live and digital authentic ethnography, we get to see consumers live their real-world lives as they show and describe their deepest dreams, needs, obstacles, and successes. Upcoming posts will how we link consumer stories to brand stories through observation, teamwork, intuition, personas, and archetypes.​

Running creative “focus” groups in 2017​

What’s the best way to run what used to be called focus groups when this methodology is the beginning to a hybrid, innovative, exploratory, qualitative research effort?  Once upon a time, the original style of focus groups was used for everything…from concept reaction, to behavioral and attitudinal focus, and to get high-level needs information at a broad, diverse level. Groups were sometimes the only methodology; their findings were then quantified.  Then, focus groups fell out of favor 10+ years ago, as online bulletin boards and mobile techniques emerged. There were complaints of bandwagoning and too much subjectivity with the old focus groups.  However, groups are back in fashion again.  We’ve discovered (as have clients) that we really want to—need to—understand the social and collective elements of a product, concept, or category.  The social and collective are just one of multiple perspectives on the persona of the consumer, and the social and collective are only possible through live groups.  Of course, groups aren’t a final word on a study because we want a 360 view of the consumer through more individualized online and personalized in-situ ethnographic methodologies.  But, groups remain the best beginning to a customer journey because they open the inquiry into multiple perspectives that can finetune the online and put it into an observational dimension once we’re at the ethnography stage.  Through the creative group, we get to know the real consumer in person. When running contemporary focus groups in 2017 that start an exploratory effort, let them be as spontaneous as possible. The new name of the game is to eliminate “focus” from the methodology of focus groups.  Run them for a little longer time, like 2.5 hours, and take a break in the middle, to get consumers really relaxed and friendly with you and the others.  Don’t worry too much about bandwagoning and competing opinions.  If it gets too much, you can always take out the disturbing consumer. Use a lot of projective exercises, keep crayons and archetype cards around for new insights, go deep emotionally, and ask a few off-the-wall questions about consumers’ lives, loves, and interests outside of the topic at hand.  Ask about weight loss or dating even if we’re in the middle of a technology project.  Ask if anyone had a dream or a fantasy that they can tell us about…on anything as long as it’s not TMI.  You’ll be surprised how revitalized a group can get when the subject is really relevant.  We can always go back to the real topic once a new wave of subjective vitality has inundated the group.  We like to double moderate our creative groups when it seems right.  If two anthropologists are going to do a phase of later observational ethnographic methodologies, the same two anthropologists or psychologists will run the group together, one sitting across from the one in the moderator’s seat.  Two moderators frame the group.  There are three benefits for double moderation: The consumers get to know that there are several research leadership styles, they get to know the other anthropologist by name and personality who might do their personal ethnography in another week or moderate their portion of the online, and the other anthropologist can take over while the first moderator leaves the room, checks with the client team in the back, or gets materials ready for showing and discussion. Things stay livelier with two.  The moderators can talk with each other and ask questions out loud, like, I wonder why the group went silent when we showed this concept?  Consumers dive back in to answer two of us.  New or deeper questions that one moderator didn’t think of can be asked by the second.  Sometimes, we have a client from the backroom sit in the groups to act as a second moderating force.   In 2017, the way we moderate our groups is to actively seek looseness and environmental subjectivity, creativity, and spontaneity.  We encourage emotions, adding in projective techniques early on. We go on and off topic.  We add in moderators.  We put in a wishing module that extends to consumers’ lives and families independent of the topic.  The topic remains important, sure, but it’s not necessary to run a strictly linear group with a totally democratic style.  No, we don’t want distressing or disturbing dominators—nor wallflowers—but people are people and we want to see them interact in a highly social experiential mode that portrays the collective spirit of the concept or category. In summary:  Wish a little.  Let the group dive into the collective unconscious.  Let creative—rather than focus—groups be the entry point into a hybrid qualitative effort that quickly moves into online and ethnographic dimensions to gain a 360 perspective for our consumers.​

Researching a significant but flat or declining SKU 

In some current qualitative work we are researching now, there are exciting challenges related to brands that once led the market but are now flat, losing SKUs, diminishing in shelf position, as well as declining emotionally when consumers discuss their feelings about them. This marketing problem should be deconstructed—thought through with care—at the research considerations and design stages of a proposal for qualitative research. Sometimes it’s powerful to just research the original loyalists if we have evidence that this consumer segment who loves your core brand is still on target and on trend. Other times it’s helpful to feature the core loyalty segment but also include new segments that represent behavioral and emotional shifts away from the original loyalty. The first segment (loyalty consumers only) could be a lower budget, easier effort, while the second effort (new segments that are shifting but on trend) brings out the need for multiple psychographics and demographics, multiple regions, multiple methodologies, more days of research, and potentially more expenditures. Still, it might be worth it for the overall product’s brand health to move beyond loyalists, especially if transformation is going on in the industry and category. Let’s take the example of trying to understand the deep persona of consumers who are your base, i.e., your most loyal and frequent users of a particular product, sub-brand, or category that once was high performing, leading the competitors, and supplying most of your company’s viability, income, and generative power. And now let’s say that this product’s market has been in decline for a few years as new strategies and solutions have been unable to stop the drain. Who or what are the best segment(s) to research especially on a limited research budget? Of course, it’s brilliant to research the loyalist’s core essence and deep persona who continues to purchase your big product/sub-brand with regularity, over time, within the past month, and who also upon screening feels a tangible emotional-psychological loyalty. We will always learn good things about loyalty through depth interviewing in creative groups and individual interviews followed by ethnography, whether live or digital. In fact, as researchers, we will emerge with a profound portrait of your core loyalist. But, suppose after we’ve conducted these productive methodologies and analysis, that the persona of this loyal brand user is counter to newer trends? Suppose we discover that she or he as a persona has old-fashioned behavioral patterns, doesn’t like change, is buying the brand only on sale, has shifted from emotional loyalty to pure habit, is stocking up on deal to be sure it’s always inside the home, shows traits averse to newer trends, is a luddite, seems out of sync with contemporary ways of doing things, is eating and drinking unhealthier products without awareness that makes them a “dinosaur,” or is radically or subtly opposed to how and where other notable segments in the market are changing and going. Then, it’s even more helpful to add in research that studies the emotional and behavioral perspectives of consumers who represent where the market is heading but still have fondness or some usage for your original brand. These newer segments we can contrast with core loyalists. This newer segment could be participants who may be feeling slight reluctance to purchase your core product, are lightening their personal usage even if still purchasing it for visitors and family, are being tempted by other solutions and ideas, seem wishful, and are beginning to honor different requests from family members. Perhaps these newer users are noticing how, around them in their community, their friends are using new brands and they emotionally want to fit in. Maybe core loyalists are dependents, empaths, people pleasers, place others’ desires ahead of their own, but in their heart space, would really enjoy the collegiality of shared experiences with friends using newer products. What if they’re beginning to wonder whether loyalty to their original brand is lacking something important? If any of these research suspicions resonate for you as the lead researcher, insight manager, or among team members of your marketing initiative, perhaps an exploratory, bigger, but even higher-efficiency design would be to include multiple segments in the study. Go beyond core loyalists. Of course, the loyalist of the brand/product will always be a desired baseline, but also consider the user who used to be a once-heavy user who still buys the product but is now experimenting with new items in the marketplace. In summary, an inexpensive, fast, and easier qualitative study researching just your core base of loyalists may get profound results that satisfy for the moment but may still be too limiting. Consider adding in a second or third component of lighter or lapsing segments who still purchase your core product but are changing their behaviors and feelings. Stepping up the segments as we continue to focus on the core loyalist could make your research more resonating, creative, and viable for successful new product generation and future strategies. We ultimately want to hold onto, expand, and meet the needs of the core loyalists as we go sailing and fishing on the bright blue ocean.​

Triangulating and mixed methods

A single research process may lead to partiality, bias, or one-sidedness even when compellingly executed with flawless recruiting, moderation, and analysis. This is the context of a new workshop to be held after Semiofest 2017 in Toronto, Canada, in July 2017. It’s called Triangulating Semiotics with Mixed Methods.

New with classic components make a great research design​

Issue: Everyone wants the newest research techniques. They’re exciting, innovative, and productive. Issue: Are they right? Is newest automatically better, faster, deeper? Sometimes yes…sometimes no. Issue: Classic processes like live focus groups, in-depth interviews, live ethnography, and live vision sessions are being downplayed yet continue to have superb benefits for insight. Issue: Online and social media can be amazingly fast and powerful. But, a counterbalance between online methods with in-person processes allows us to interact with real and virtual people, target a specific demographic, recruit psychographic segments for certain initiatives and see the differences in front of us, and allow the feelings of the observing team to expand as they listen to live participants speaking and engaging. Solution: Let’s design when, how, and where the newest research techniques can be incorporated into the classic so valuable processes are not abandoned for only online platforms. Solution: Add live and online team debriefs during the research for iterative effects. Solution: Make a live presentation of findings a working session to give food for thought for next-steps, quantification, and new concept development, not be an etched-in- stone monolith. Solution: Send the draft qualitative report to the marketing team in advance so they can add their recommendations to present simultaneously online and live with qualitative results.​

A primer on archetypes​

We conduct workshops in brand archetypes to train and facilitate teams on how to discover and utilize archetypes in brand development and messaging. Here are some basics: Archetypes are core narratives with deep universal meaning.Archetypes exist in the psyche and in the world as compelling images of a collective nature that occur everywhere.Their existence comes from myths, legends, first imprints, ritual, historical experiences of life stages, initiations. They are the tangible products of unconscious origin (C.J. Jung)Archetypes are recurring patterns of deep significance found in our universal stories whose themes, symbols, and imagery are an inherent part of the human psyche.Brands that are based upon archetypes are more meaningful, memorable, and expansive, attracting consumers at key moments in their need and life stages.The right archetype creates a brand that is psycho-culturally alive.“An irresistible attraction happens when a brand is consistent with an archetype that is dominant or emerging in consumers’ consciousness” (Mark & Pearson, 2002).To know that an archetype is in effect, some evidence of emotional affect, such as yearning, longing, a tightening of the throat, palpable feelings, watering of the eyes, or involuntary response must be present.Archetypes are shortcuts to resonance and meaning.The optimum archetype is the soul of the brand connected to the DNA of consumers.Following the Mark-Pearson- Marr system based upon Jungian archetypes, we use 12 core archetypes: Caregiver, Ruler, Creator, Everyman, Lover, Jester, Innocent, Explorer, Sage, Magician-Transformer, Hero, and Outlaw.  Each of the 12 archetypes for transformation and branding will be described in future posts.​

Collaborating in bicultural and bilingual projects​

When there’s a Spanish, French, or Italian component to a qualitative project, or initially even when seems as if it’s a solo Spanish-speaking project, consider whether a collaboration between a native speaker and an English-speaking moderator who knows a language well enough to converse, listen in, and analyze (but not do the groups herself) might be more powerful than a single native-language moderator. In this case, it might be optimum to have a collaboration between two like minds who know the language at diverse levels coming in as dual researchers, especially if they’re both expert qualitative researchers, anthropologists, depth psychologists, and creative facilitators. One researcher-anthropologist can lead with the native language sessions or observationals and the other expert sits in with translation equipment as a group member to pick up nuances, themes, help debrief, do analysis, create a relaxed atmosphere for participants, and develop a dual report-presentation. We’ve done this bilingual collaboration for big customer path-to- purchase journeys and simpler ethnographies for major American, international, and Canadian CPG clients. We find that when two ethnographers of like mind work in focus groups and observationals together, they, the respondents, and client teams enjoy the process more and we get better results. It’s the maxim of two heads are better than one. Collaboration enhances exponentially what could have been a lonely solo project. Dual collaborators on focus groups make the groups an exciting experience, bring in multiple perspectives, add in two researchers’ intuition about body language and emotional nuances, add in questions at breaks in the sessions, cause debriefs with clients to penetrate into new understanding, see paradoxes and emotional dilemmas, and allow analysis and writing to occur quicker and with more skill. Consider Spanish- and English-speaking collaboration for your next bilingual project with groups, ethnography, creative ideation, or even digital ethnography. Especially when doing qualitative research with millennials, most “dominants” in a native non-English language arena are usually partially or fully bilingual.​

Pros and cons of self-reported data when doing mobile/digital ethnography​​​

As a market researcher who is a cultural anthropologist and psychologist specializing in qualitative studies, I conduct single projects as well as journey work that involve a multiplicity of research events with the same set of respondents and ideally at the opportune time and place of authentic context. If the team has inclination and budget, a combination of other- and self-reported processes such as focus groups or IDIs, live if possible, then the choice of one or more ethnographic approaches, can be optimum. In our observer teams, we conduct authentic ethnography live at the time of the behavior where possible, but also employ digital ethnography to get at longer periods of time like weeks or months of ongoing moments in a day, evening, and weekend when our team is not there. Mobile and digital ethnography gives us a 360 view of a subject, their household, and life, or at least a close approximation. But mobile and digital are self-reported. I wonder about all that self-reported data when the study is conducted completely online or with mobile, when there is no live trained observer there to observe what else may be happening? I just came from a compelling qualitative research conference last week. It was sponsored by my qualitative org, the metro-New York chapter of the QRCA. There was a well-organized, innovative set of workshops on a Friday afternoon in a great facility at Columbus Circle, New York City, in which new processes of mobile ethnography were being explored. I received good ideas and references for new mobile platforms. Still, I have to ask my readers: How do we feel about only self-reported data in which there is no trained observer on hand at the time of the behavior or in-situ situation, and where we as anthropologists are left analyzing weeks of intense data that has been handed to us by the respondent? Even if our subjects’ textual accounts are said to be at the perfect time of the behavior happening, with accompanying video or photos, I’m left with a bit of puzzlement. When a study only uses mobile or digital ethnography, could there be something major lost without even knowing or having the ability to find out what that missing piece is? I think I want to do a paper on it for a research conference. For now, I’ll examine the pros and cons of self-reported data through online approaches reported by the participant on mobile, laptop, and tablet. Pros. On the plus side, there are major benefits. We can collect good, sometimes deep, sometimes surface data quickly, without having to be in that location, and because we see their accompanying video or photos, it looks as if it is collected in the optimum context. This saves on time, effort, and travel expense even though the research team needs to pay for the mobile ethnographic platform and the time for us to monitor, analyze, moderate, and log on continually should be factored in. Digital-mobile is relatively easy especially with new and exciting mobile platforms. I took a look at dscout ( at that QRCA conference, listened to the invited speaker demonstrate its power, and want to consider it the next time we design a new study involving retrieval of mobile ethnographic data. On sensitive topics, subjects may feel more comfortable answering anonymously with mobile than if I were there with a team. (Or, they may not, since silence and anonymity affect inner subjectivities, projections, and assumptions as biasing.) With mobile, there could be less of a certain type of bias coming from me and the team, who—even if we dress down and stay relaxed and research-y in our attitudes—still look, communicate, dress, and interact with our participants in a particular way that can be unfamiliar to them. No matter how likable and expert we are, we remain outsiders in a new family; outsider bias is inevitable; we can counter it but not totally eliminate it. This is one reason why classic anthropological research is often done with an anthropologist in the field living with subjects for a year or more; over lengthy time, the village, segment, or culture gets used to her. When mobile respondents are compensated well and motivated to keep going with daily answers, and especially are not given overwhelming, time-consuming tasks—we try to consciously keep the experience intriguing, easy, quick, and fun to do for them—we find much authenticity, spontaneity of behavior, and often good video and photos that can be analyzed and positioned in report. So, in most journey work for qualitative projects, it makes sense to work with mobile; mobile is a perfect fit in the contemporary mobile environment that has pervaded every culture and every demographic- psychographic segment. Cons. On the down side, some things I can’t help but keep in mind are what might form a paper or talk at a research conference with a little more thought and research. In mobile, the data can be biased by the respondent him or herself, particularly since consciously and usually unconsciously, most people respond and report their data in a way that is either socially acceptable or is unconsciously communicated to make a particular point (to the self or outside world), which could be positive, negative, or put the subject in a particular light. The world of psychological motivations is infinite; some people want to look good to others, while others might want to look victimized or different than they are. When a trained anthropologist and psychologist who does observational work is present, the observer will notice other elements as outliers happening around that household, in-situ situation, or behavior that are unconscious within the landscape experienced by the subject; the subject is completely unaware of these dynamics because they experience them all the time. It’s like interviewing a fish about how he feels about the water…there’s no extraordinary insight when this is all the fish knows. The subject simply won’t mention something that may be completely familiar, even though it might be new and important to us. The ethnographer’s perspective on even the most ordinary experiences, if there live, could make all the difference in the findings. There are peaks and valleys in a continuum of participants’ interest in a mobile study period. Subjects are usually enthusiastic about participating in digital ethnography in the beginning but a wearout effect occurs as time goes on, especially if the same or similar task is being asked to be reported on daily or multiple times a day. For personal care topics, snacking, measurement of blood sugar, taking meds, making dinner on a regular evening, child care, and many other actions that repeat for weeks on end, the subject may run out of things to report or have little of interest to describe. Without an outside observer skilled at intervening based upon observed body language and subtle emotions, subjects may simply repeat surface or already-reported motivations because they have nothing new to say. Subjects may experience demand characteristics such as memory burden, confusion, fatigue, or distraction by life, family members…or get involved in other tasks that they find more important and skimp on their mobile involvement with the journey. If the question on that day’s task for mobile is not relevant or asked correctly, the participant might answer in emotionless one-liners, drop out, or find the topic boring and inconsequential even if it’s of evolving relevance to the research. Of course, when designing and executing a qualitative ethnographic study in which multiple approaches are possible, it’s optimum to conduct both, i.e., both live observation and digital/mobile ethnography. This gives us the best of all possible worlds. But, when the research is designed as only mobile-digital and only self-reported, we may need to keep our eyes open, to factor in respondent bias, have more client conversations about what’s coming across, and look carefully at the data for subtexts to figure out where we can analyze differently and more openly. The analysis may need to take greater leaps of faith in terms of psychological, archetypal, or behavioral implications even if not reported as such by subjects. Finally, I wonder about safe mobile, i.e., whether incentivizing subjects to use mobile causes them to report a behavior when they shouldn’t text or photograph their activity, even if it’s within the right context.​​

The reemergence of qualitative research​

I liked the article below about how big data is necessitating the reemergence of qualitative research. It’s from today’s 7-14-2016 blog from ThinkNow, an Hispanic panel group who write some great articles on miscellaneous research topics. It mirrors a situation at the recent IIex 2016 conference in Atlanta, a 3-day conference filled with insight innovation from all over the world, in which a key presenter said (about qualitative work I had conducted for their recent multiphase project for International Data Corporation and Rackspace): “I’m falling in love again with focus groups. It was wonderful to listen to high level decision makers sit around and intensely talk about their perceptions, misperceptions, confusion, and knowledge, back and forth, right in front of us in a facility. I understood so much that I couldn’t have learned with online or mobile. This jump-started the remainder of the project.” Here is Roy Kokoyachuk’s article from ThinkNow in its entirety:  As Big Data Rises So Does the Need to Talk Directly to ConsumersWhen big data came on the scene a few years ago there was a lot of hand wringing in the market research industry about what the future was going to look like if all online consumer data was going to be available for marketers to analyze and exploit. In-person qualitative research, with its old-school approach and methodology, seemed to be a good candidate for extinction in an age of pixels and clicks. Why would marketers want to talk to consumers if they could see their every purchase and eavesdrop on their online conversations? Wouldn’t consumers reveal their likes, dislikes and motivations for all to see and marketers to exploit? Now, in mid-2016, we have a pretty good sense of how things are shaking out. While it’s true that we share quite a lot about ourselves online, it’s not always the type of information that marketers can use. While Amazon, Google, and Spotify do indeed know a lot about our purchase behaviors, browsing habits and music preferences they don’t know why we bought something, looked something up or chose a certain song to listen to. All the information Amazon, Google and Spotify work with was created after we’ve searched for or clicked on something. They have a limited view, however, as to why we went to their sites in the first place. Without the ‘why’ marketers are left guessing as to how to incite future purchases or gauge interest in future products. The ProblemThe ‘why’ was supposed to come from the social listening side of the equation. Facebook, Twitter, et al were going to tell us what motivated people to do what they do. While they do uncover interesting insights there’s something coloring many of those findings – social acceptance and vanity. A significant predictor of whether an online conversation approving of or disproving of a product or service is often-times the content of the first comment in the string. Subsequent respondents then echo the initial sentiment to gain social acceptance. Additionally, the comments and images we post online for all to see are not necessarily reflective of our real selves. If they were, a large proportion of us would be walking around staring into mirrors, making duck lips and tilting our heads just so. Our ‘better’ online selves are happier, enjoy life more and have more ‘friends’ than our offline selves. The problem for marketers is that in 2016 it’s still the offline self that spends money on products and services. Amazon can set their algorithms in motion once we’ve clicked on something or made a purchase but until we do they’re clueless as to what to say to us. The SolutionWhile everyone was distracted by their glowing screens something interesting has been happening in market research – old school qualitative research has been making a comeback. After a lull in qualitative research which occurred while consumer insights teams absorbed the new tools they had at their disposal and figured out what they could and could not do, we’re experiencing a resurgence of interest in ethnographies, focus groups, shop-alongs and IDI’s. In a nod to the new online world, some of it is happening online but a lot of it is reverting to face-to-face methodologies. We recently conducted a series of focus groups among individuals without health insurance. Not having health insurance is not something people brag about on Facebook. In fact, one might get the impression from online posts that Americans are perpetually smiling, spend most of their time on vacation and are ‘living the dream’. Listening to group members describe their struggles with health insurance access, fear of financial catastrophe and concerns about their and their family’s health, one realizes that this type of conversation can only be had in-person. Several group participants hugged the moderator on the way out and thanked him for allowing them to share their feelings on the topic. The moderator had done little more than listen attentively and probe for more information but an intimacy was achieved in those groups that felt intensely human. Of course, not all focus groups revolve around such weighty topics but a good moderator can help people uncover the inner motivations for their preferences. An online post can tell us “Mustangs are cool!” but it doesn’t usually reveal that “I want a Mustang but work in a law firm where most people drive Audi’s and BMW’s so I’m kind of embarrassed by wanting one.” Further probing might lead an ad agency to have an ah-ha! moment that could lead to an ad campaign that drives buyers to showrooms. Knowing that someone clicked on a picture of a Mustang is interesting but will only get you so far in developing resonant marketing messages. As long as marketers are selling products and services to human beings there will be a need to understand them on an emotional level and thus a need for qualitative research moderated by humans​.  About the author: Roy Eduardo KokoyachukRoy is a Managing Partner at ThinkNow Research. He started his career at Warner Bros. Media Research. A desire to pursue multicultural market research full-time led him to join a full service Hispanic & multicultural market research company, in 2003 as Vice President of Advertising Research. He became Executive Vice President in 2006 and opened an operations center in Tijuana, Mexico and directed the company’s entry into online research. In 2009 he initiated the creation of the first nationally representative opt-in market research panel of U.S. Hispanics – CadaCabeza. This panel broke new ground in panel building by focusing on the recruitment of Spanish speaking Hispanics as well as the English speakers typically found on online panels. He co-founded ThinkNow Research to further pursue his passion for multicultural consumer insights. Posted in Analysis, and qualitative research, Big qualitative and big data, Methodologies and research findings, Qualitative market research | Leave a comment »

Going to the Ilex 2016 NA conference

I'm excited to be attending all three days of Ilex NA 2016 in Atlanta on June 13, 14, and 15...lots of people I believe in, respect, want to listen to, and get to know.