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The Value Of Ethnographic Research In A Depressed Economy

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The Value Of Ethnographic Research In A Depressed Economy

Economic Depression is a tough situation for any Economy. The Nigerian Economy which has never been at its optimal best, has witnessed even more depression with the continual decline in revenue from Oil, on which we are so dependent on, as a Nation.

Cost of business operation is sky high, what with our myriad of endemic problems; high dependence on alternative sources of electricity supply, incessant hike in fuel pump price, poor state of infrastructure etc., with reports of manufacturing concerns either closing down factories or moving production to countries with friendlier operational climate.

To break even in these tough times, some manufacturers have resorted to price increase with consumers whose discretionary income is already very hard squeezed, often reacting negatively by kicking habit/lapsing in usage, cutting down on quantity purchased or switching to cheaper alternatives. The ultimate result, of course, is poor business performance or total loss to competitors who are more connected with consumers, their needs and wants, in the face of the current economic climate.

Indeed, staying connected with the consumers is more imperative now than ever before. As consumers seek alternatives that are more pocket friendly, opportunity presents itself to observe first hand, the alternative choices that they make and possibly glean insights that provide ideas for new product development or line extension that could more cost effectively address their needs and are, at the same time, viable and potentially profitable business prospects for the manufacturer/service provider.

Basically, It is important to experience the consumer’s world first hand for a better appreciation of his/her needs, wants and desires. Ethnography allows us do this because unlike other research methods that often occur in laboratory style set up or out of the context of actual experience; structured face-to-face interviews, in hall tests, focus groups etc., ethnography is the only method that occurs within the context of daily experience.

Simply put, Ethnography is the study of people in their natural environment; where they live, work, shop, play and interact with brands and products, through the use of a combination of methods including participation, observation and dialogue to uncover perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values as well as the unspoken, and often unconscious cultural and social patterns that shape behavior. The bottom line is that if you want to know exactly how, where, when and why people do what they do, then you have to be there!

Doing and using the results of ethnography can change corporate perspectives and sometimes suggest new directions that could have major strategic and organizational implications.

Think Ethnography when you seek:

  • Possible gaps between what is available and what people really need, with a view to discovering potential new product ideas that will work and thus, avoid the possibility of failed product launch.
  • To understand how your products and services fit into the consumers’ lives holistically and thus, gain relevant insights for more meaningful marketing messages as well as product positioning.
  • To evaluate a new product. This is because the best way to do so is to study people using it, in the natural usage environment.
  • To bring a segment to life by uncovering deeper emotions and behaviours behind quantitative descriptions.
  • To uncover new trends among a segment of interest. This knowledge can be quite handy for not just the business owners but also for advertising agencies gathering information for new business pitches.
  • The saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is true for ethnography as reports are often laced with pictures and video clips that tell the story with such clarity that no one is left in doubt as to what direction to go.

The above pictures reflect different Ethnographic Observation Projects across diverse socio-economic groups and regions (rural and urban), aimed at better understanding the consumer of different product categories and brands, in Nigeria and Ghana. For your Ethnographic Study request, please email

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