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  • Writer's pictureKaylie Dugan

Ethnography: High-Touch Research from a Consumer's POV

I started out as a qualitative market researcher and moved into brainstorming later on. Combining these two activities, one gets a much higher likelihood of successful innovation. When the budget/timing permit, market research is a great way to begin your exploration. This blog will focus on one of my favorite methods: ethnographic research.

Overview of Ethnography

In-home ethnographies use the skills of the anthropologist, the detective and the therapist to understand end-user lifestyle, behavior and motivation. I think of ethnography as “high-touch” research that quickly gives clients a deep and empathetic understanding of the category and their offering’s place in it from a consumer point of view.

The Process

Ethnography goes deep into category issues and solutions – both implicit and explicit – with qualified respondents who represent the client’s target audience. The trend in research is toward analytics and on-line surveys which are great for answering the “what,” “when” and “who” questions. Ethnographies fill in the gap by providing the individual context and answering the “why” questions.

Ethnographers actually go into respondents’ homes and sit with them as we discover the kind of people they are, the life they lead, their hopes and aspirations, stress producers, family, frustrations … the list is customized to fit the topic under investigation. Then we get down to brass tacks in a “folks around the kitchen table” environment, concentrating on how they feel about the category, how they organize themselves, their usage patterns, and successes/problems with what’s currently available.

How it Works

I like to work with a team of four people: the facilitator (that’s me, or someone from Driven to Succeed), a videographer and two members of the client team. A typical project calls for 8-10 sessions, and we complete three two-hour ethnographies per day. I think it’s important to include two to three cities for geographical diversity. We use focus group recruiting services to locate qualified respondents with a screener much like ones used for focus groups. The incentive usually runs between $200-300 per person, with more if the qualifications are more difficult.

Instead of PowerPoint presentations, I much prefer providing an intensely graphic report, mapping out the results to highlight insights, key learnings and actionable recommendations based on new opportunities for the client. After many years of report writing, I find there are always five buckets of information I want to present, and the report and video are organized around these buckets.

The video is part of the package because nothing is better than seeing the respondents and listening as their thoughts come alive in real time. We have long-time colleagues and Trained Brains who serve as both the videographer and video editor to create a 10-15 minute project summary, as well as additional material from the five buckets for those who want to go into more depth on specific subjects.

If you are ready to add ethnographic research to your business strategy and gain a competitive edge, seek the help of an experienced market research firm, like Driven to Succeed, LLC. Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.


Driven to Succeed is an award-winning global market research and consulting firm that compliments data (the “what”) with empathetic research and conversations (the “why”) to uncover actionable insights so mid-market companies and Fortune 500 brands can innovate and grow. Our team has walked a mile in your shoes with over 100 years of experience in Market Research, Marketing, and P&L Management for global iconic brands and startup companies across diverse B2B and B2C industries. Learn more at

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