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Fly on the Wall: New Ethnographic Approaches for MR

Posted On  April 6, 2016

Admit it. You’ve wished for the superhero capability of being invisible. What a researcher would do to be invisible! Imagine what you could discover by silently watching, unnoticed in the hub of a household: the kitchen. You would see the paths family members took through the space, sources of mealtime bickering, even those granular moments like a kid repeatedly opening the refrigerator without ever taking anything out.

With two emerging capabilities, wearable cameras and passive video technology, we truly can be ‘flies on the wall’ without the intrusion of a traditional ethnography. These new tools help us tap into these rich nuggets of everyday life and get to know our consumers on a deeper level.  Overlaid with respondent commentary, we have an added layer of understanding.

We can utilize passive video and wearable camera technology to address many business objectives, adding vibrancy and deepening understanding.

  • Product development: unearth consumer behaviors, pain points, and workarounds that consumers might not think to articulate themselves… to inspire innovation
  • Bringing segments to life: mine the seemingly mundane, everyday moments of consumers’ lives to gain a more compelling consumer portrait… where more traditional methods may fall short
  • Shopper insights: nix the intrusion of a moderator and get a read on non-conscious shopping behaviors and respondents’ interactions with displays, point of sale, messaging, and even staff… to illuminate areas of opportunity

Passive video and wearable camera technology can each enhance a qualitative study, but offer different perspectives and use occasions. While passive video – such as a camera stationed in a respondent’s kitchen – follows the life and flow of a place, wearable camera technology piggybacks on the consumer. Put a tiny camera on the front of a respondent’s shirt before sending her off into a store on a solo shopping venture. A series of photo-bursts capture fodder for subsequent conversation: the consumer’s perspective of product displays, her interactions with sales associates and areas of interest. Use these artifacts from the shopping trip as a springboard for post-shopping dialogue and lines of probing.

Passive video and wearable technology invite consumers to ‘show us,’ and then ‘tell us.’ These unobtrusive devices provide us a window into the consumer’s world. We can extend exploration beyond consumers’ conscious and undocumented behavior, into the unrealized, unarticulated, and non-conscious.

Traditional qualitative methodologies, including many ethnographic approaches, may not offer insight into the micro-moments. Yet sometimes, it’s a collection of these everyday moments that paints the most vivid consumer portrait. And once we’re granted access to this window into our consumer’s world, we may have the opportunity to observe as if we were invisible.


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