Like all people, your customers lie. They usually do it without malice, but they do it nonetheless. They may be unwilling to tell you the answer. They may be unwilling to admit the answer to themselves. They may lack the language to explain it accurately. Or they may not be consciously aware of “the truth.”
There are many reasons, but when you ask people about their wants and needs, while they may share some truths, they will also share lies. So, the question becomes, “How much truth about your customers do you need?”
When deep customer insight is required—dipping towards the truthier end of this scale—we need a different mode of investigation: customer ethnography.
“Customer ethnography.” It’s become a buzzword, but what does it actually mean? Here’s a definition I’ve used before:
Customer ethnography is a qualitative research technique adapted from anthropology. It focuses on understanding customer culture from the viewpoint of customers, including how brands/products/services fit into that cultural system.
As such, customer ethnography is conducted in environments where customers naturally interact with the brands/products/services of interest (not in a lab). Ethnographers use their five senses as well as their own emotions to collect data on what it’s like to be a customer in these environments.
At the core of ethnography is a belief that to truly understand something, you need to understand it in context and through the eyes of research participants. The practice of ethnography (with origins in the 1800s) has evolved in pursuit of this type of understanding. And, as an adaptation to the business-world, customer ethnography remains true to this tenet. In fact, it is because of these core ideas that customer ethnography is adept at unearthing deep customer insight.
Human beings—your customers—experience your brand, products and services as part of their life. And real life, as you know, is complex and dynamic. It’s a swirling web of interactions and meaning that, from an anthropological perspective, comprise a system. Deep insight comes from understanding how your widget fits into this system, as opposed to customer likes and dislikes about your widget in a vacuum.