The Power of Ethnographic Research 

By Marilyn Weiss

Did you know that 81% of consumers say they want brands to get to know them and 66% reportthat they would be willing to share their personal data to receive more personalized experiences?* 

While there are many market research techniques for getting to know your consumers, one of the best ways to understand the intricacies of what they think and do is to “walk” side by side with them in a real-world context.  Being with them in the moments that matter, you can discover the underlying linkages to how they make choices about your product or service. This is the essence of ethnographic research; a powerful market research methodology that delves deeply into the lives, habits, and environments of consumers to uncover rich insights that explain their behavior. 

Ethnographic research is a qualitative research method that is rooted in anthropology.  In the context of market research, ethnography involves observing and interacting with consumers in their everyday environments, such as homes, workplaces, or community spaces. Skilled Research Strategists will immerse themselves in the lives of participants, seeking to uncover unfiltered insights into their behaviors, motivations, and decision-making processes. 

Ethnographic research is particularly valuable in scenarios where understanding consumer behavior in context is essential. Here are some situations where ethnography can be highly effective: 

New Product Development: Exploring how consumers use existing products or navigate specific tasks or routines can provide invaluable insights for developing new products or improving existing ones.  

SIVO in Action: SIVO has gone deep into the lives of senior citizens and how they communicate and interact with their families, living nearby and a far, to inform the development of health tracking devices for older people and their families.  

Improving the Customer Experience: Understanding the customer journey and identifying pain points or opportunities for improvement can inform strategies to enhance the overall customer experience.  

SIVO in Action: SIVO has spent quality time alongside farmers and hunters on their properties to help clients better understand their experiences with outdoor utility vehicles.   

Cultural Understanding: When entering new markets or engaging with unique consumer groups ethnography helps businesses gain a deeper understanding of cultural norms, rituals, values, and preferences.  

SIVO in Action: SIVO has explored the lives and rituals of pet owners and how different pet parent styles dictate their dog and cat food buying behavior and preferences. 

Gaining Reaction to your Brand: Examining how consumers interact with and perceive brands in their everyday lives can uncover perceptions, attitudes, and emotions that shape brand relationships. 

SIVO in Action: SIVO has worked with a national retailer to understand the impact of their new store footprint on shoppers’ overall shopping norms, routines and perceptions of the store brand, as our client developed unique-to-market storefronts.

1. Establish Rapport: It is critical to build trust and rapport with participants to encourage openness and honesty during observations and interviews. Respect their way of living and cultural sensitivities throughout the research process. 

2. Observe without Bias: Approach observations with an open mind, avoiding preconceived notions or biases. Pay attention to subtle cues, behaviors, and non-verbal communication that may reveal underlying motivations or attitudes.  Most insights come from observing what they do and not just listening to what they say. 

3. Dig beyond the “what” to get to the “why”: It is easy to capture what is happening in their lives but understanding the reasons why and the associated emotions and values is where the rich insights are found.  

4. Use Multiple Data Collection Methods: Combine observation, interviews, photography, video recordings, and artifacts to capture a comprehensive view of participants’ lives and experiences. 

5. Maintain Confidentiality: Because consumers are opening up their lives and homes to us, we need to respect their space and maintain their privacy, ensuring informed consent and confidentiality for participants throughout the research process. 

6. Stay Open and Flexible: Be prepared to adjust research plans and methods based on unexpected discoveries or changes in the environment. Embrace flexibility to capture emerging insights effectively.  

7. Gather Diverse Perspectives: Engage with a diverse range of participants to capture a breadth of experiences and perspectives. Consider factors such as age, gender, income, and cultural background, as well as product usage, in your recruitment criteria. 

8. Limit the Size of your Team: When visiting consumers’ homes or workplaces, you will want to limit the visiting team to 1 interviewer, 1 videographer and 1 client team member per respondent.  The idea is to keep it casual and as close to reality as possible.  It also helps encourage respondent candor.  

9. Bring a Videographer: A high-quality video reel will bring your consumers to life for the stakeholders in your organization. Trust us.  It is absolutely worth the added expense to have a professional behind the video equipment! 

10.  Translate Insights into Recommendations Finally, give your research partner the time to comb through the notes, video and transcripts to synthesize the data, identify the ethnographic insights and translate the insights into actionable recommendations.  This will always take longer than you think it will! 

By using these guidelines to fully embrace a holistic understanding of consumers’ lives, businesses can uncover nuanced insights that help build a relationship with their consumers, inform strategic decisions and drive innovation. 

As business teams try to navigate an increasingly complex and dynamic marketplace, SIVO’s skilled and experienced research team can lead you through ethnographic research to make sense of the mysteries of consumer behavior and unlock new opportunities for growth.  Reach out to the SIVO team at to schedule a discovery call today! 

For more DIY approaches, check out SIVO’s On Demand Talent Profiles to learn more about how an experienced, fractional Qualitative Research Strategist/Expert Moderator can be also an asset for your ethnographic research needs.  

Introduction statistics cited from 



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