Human beings have a fundamental need to be listened to respectfully and have their perspectives understood. Marketing based on research that sincerely honors this principle could have prevented a recent debacle: Several brands had their Juneteenth-themed offerings panned for being insensitive and insulting. For example, there was an uproar in response to Walmart’s release of its Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream. Many saw it as a cynical attempt to cash in on a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. In response, Walmart pulled the product from the market and issued an apology.
The Juneteenth fiascos aside, more and more brands understand the need to incorporate ethnographic methods in their market research. While traditional methodologies continue to have value, findings from ethnographic research add crucial details to the portrait of marketing targets, and they enrich and inform the design of approaches customized to marketing segments. The research can surface both important characteristics of individual segments and commonalities among different segments.
What is Ethnography?
Ethnography is rooted in cultural anthropology, which focuses on the development of human culture and the influence individuals and their culture have on each other. Ethnographic research methodologies focus on the day-to-day experiences of the participants as they live them, rather than how they are recalled for a questionnaire or survey. Recollection is not always 100% accurate, and participants may respond to surveys with the responses they think researchers want to hear or that depict themselves how they want to be rather than how they are.
When researchers immerse themselves in the environment, they witness cultural and social behavior in context. Interviews tend to be spontaneous and casual, rather than planned and formal. Researchers can modify questions for better clarity, which improves the quality of participants’ responses. (Anyone who has ever completed a survey knows the frustration caused by a question that needs, but doesn’t allow for, a nuanced response.)
Circling back to the Walmart Juneteenth ice cream disaster, how could the use of ethnographic methodologies have prevented it? At the very least, perceptions and attitudes of Black Americans about products marketed specifically to them could have been explored. To begin your own exploration of the benefits of including ethnographic methodologies in your own marketing research, contact Ebony Marketing Systems.