12 June 2006

The ethnography of marketing [Business Week]

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Computer use in India
The new core competency is ethnography. Companies use it to gain insights into the culture and behavior of their customers. But the demands of business are different from those of an anthropologist doing field research. The most obvious is speed. Where anthropologists may take years to do one study, businesses need results in weeks.

The other difference is scope. Global corporations need detailed consumer data from dozens of cultures. In China, the coast and desert, north and south, have different cultures. In India, there are over 100 languages, dozens of castes, and major differences in religion. Companies must gather and compare huge amounts of information.

To address this issue, the Institute of Design under Patrick Whitney and Associate Professor Vijay Kumar have developed the User Insight Tool, an ethnographic methodology designed specifically for business. It relies on disposable cameras, field notebooks, and special software that teases out new understandings from consumer observations.

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Read Business Week profile on Patrick Whitney
– NEW: Read Steve Portigal reflection on this story

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