My First In-Home Ethnography

house with toys outside

Come On In, Stranger!

Ever wonder what type of person allows market researchers into their home to observe and study them? Well, surprise to me, they’re normal people!  I was convinced only “whack-a-dos” would open up their doors to us.  In short, I was proven wrong.  With each new research methodology I am exposed to, I am amazed at the caliber of respondents our partners are able to deliver.

There is a lot of back-end work conducted prior to entering someone’s home.  I won’t bog you down with all the details, but at a high level they include defining clear objectives, developing the screener and an interview guide, and supervising the recruiting process.  In addition, respondents complete a series of homework assignments to help us better understand their attitudes and behaviors.  Our partner (a recruiter) is responsible for finalizing schedules, acquiring respondents, and providing the ethnographer, and – if appropriate – a translator.

Overall it’s sort of like a wedding!  The event is astounding and well run, but no one sees the chaos and planning behind the scenes.

First Things First, What is Ethnography?

When I was presented with the opportunity to attend an in-home ethnography session, I was ecstatic about the chance to learn a new methodology.  A quick Google search defined this method of research as, “a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena”.  There was no doubt in my mind that seeing the home environment and how consumers interact with the products of interest would provide our team with rich and deep insights.  I was packed and ready to go!

Respondent and time confirmed: check. GPS loaded with the address; check check. Comfortable clothes: triple check. Good, now it was time to attend my first in-home ethnography!  As we arrived at our destination, countless thoughts began running through my mind:  Will it be awkward entering a stranger’s home? Will they be receptive to our questions? Will I learn anything? Will conversation flow? Are we able to cover all the topics? Where do I stand? Do I sit? Can I observe the consumer interacting with the products without bias?  Do I like their home décor and would I use it in my house?!

Family Guy family

As “Mr. Griffin” welcomes us into his home, I immediately become familiar with my surroundings and begin putting myself in his shoes.  It’s like going to your friend’s house for the first time: you notice pictures, the floor layout, aesthetics, and other details that help provide additional context to the individual.

With the videographer set up and introductions underway, we re-affirmed our purpose and begin the interview.  The moderator took charge of the conversation and the discussion flowed naturally.  Within minutes I felt relaxed and was able to focus on the content of the discussion.  Periodically I would chime in with follow-up questions but our moderator did the majority of the talking.  Listening to what Mr. Griffin had to say mesmerized me.  It isn’t too often you get the opportunity to be up close and personal with your consumer.

The real fun began when …

Observe and Listen

The real fun began when we had the ability to observe the family using products and services and describing how they liked or disliked it and why.  I loved hearing all the feedback!  It’s like watching VH1’s Behind The Music—you think you know but you have no idea! It’s one thing to hear an off-the-cuff remark about a product or service, but when you experience it firsthand and witness the reactions directly from the consumer, it becomes real and tangible.  More importantly, it can become actionable.

After two hours, we said our good-byes and regrouped at the hotel to debrief.  Just like with a focus group (What to Expect from a Focus Group), everyone watches and hears the same thing, but experiences it differently.

Decoding the Information

The in-home ethnography sessions are complete, and I am back in good ole Rhode Island.  Now where is my report?!  As a client, I rely on our partner to provide the overarching themes from the research and uncover the initial recommendations and insights.  After all, they are the specialists and were chosen based on their expertise.

After a couple weeks, with the top-line report in hand, I begin to ask myself:  What is the best way to represent the information? Did we meet our objectives?  How will this be received from our target audience?  Are the insights actionable?  My head is beginning to spin…

With all hands on deck, several follow up discussions, and many presentation drafts later, we were ready to reveal our ethnography findings and implications.  We achieved our goal to construct an action plan using the profiles, observations, and insights garnered from our research.  At the end of the day, mission accomplished and another methodology to add to my marketing toolkit.

Lisa Steckert is a client-side market researcher and novice blogger. You can follow her on Twitter @LisaSteckert.

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