Ethnography: The Secret Everybody Knows
ESP Collective ﬁlling you in on their secret for your success.
January 1, 2014
Tired of doing the same thing
over and over again?
Tired of declining returns
Tired of being told what to say
to your customers without
Tells you people’s preferences today.
Tells you deeper insights about what makes
people make decisions for the future.
Ethnography goes to the collective life of human
groups, all the way to the hidden code that guides
human behavior: culture.
Ethnography tells you about human life, in the most
comprehensive way science can; it builds the
foundation from which you can ask: what is my next
Ethnography is not a method. It is
definitely not a shortcut.
Ethnography is a philosophy of understanding human life, a total way
of interacting with and seeing the world.
Ethnography is INDUCTIVE
That means we cast a wide net and stay open to the unexpected
Having a strong hypothesis works with
molecules and electrons….but we study
people, and people are endlessly surprising,
always changing, always on the move.
Ethnography is open to movement and change
Are you open to ethnography?
People do not live in labs or around
conference tables. They live in the real
Ethnography goes to where people live
and work, to where they actually use
products and services, to discover how
things we make and sell ﬁt - or don’t ﬁt into their lives.
Ethnography is about PARTICIPATION
The “fly on the wall” is a myth. Our presence alters what we see, period.
We embrace the fact of our presence changes our
On our shared presence, we build positive
relationships, to co-produce an understanding
of what they are doing, thinking, and how they
are living, working, playing.
Ethnography seeks the
collective, the social,
and the cultural.
A psychologist can tell you why an
individual or “demographic” twigs
to an existing product or service.
On our shared presence, we build
positive relationships, to coproduce an understanding of what
they are doing, thinking, and how
they are living, working, playing.
Ethnography seeks the insider’s perspective
“What does the world look like from the point of view of another?”
It is the only approach to human life that
consistently calls for ditching received wisdom,
willfully forgetting one’s own preconceptions….
And instead, calls for serious confrontation with
and understanding of other peoples’ viewpoints.
“You are not your customer”
Ethnography lets you understand your customer from the inside out.
What do you see?
You see a wink. We see one eye opened, the other eye closed.
Then we ask…
Who is the sender, who is the receiver?
What is their relationship? Do they love,
hate, tolerate, or titillate each other?
Is this wink sincere or sarcastic?
Is this a sign of conspiratorial knowledge
or a fakery of such? Is the real coconspirator off-camera, behind the
receiver, who is simply being duped?
Is it even a wink , or is it just a
neurological reaction - a twitch?
Knowing what this means depends
Knowing any of this depends on talking and listening, observing and participating
with people in their natural context, ﬁnding out how the world looks to them and the
people around them.
Compared to ethnography, no other approach has the same proven
track record of getting to the bottom of human life.
So why haven’t you heard of it?
It’s the secret everybody knows
It’s the secret weapon for innovation in the world’s most highly successful
corporations, from Intel to Proctor and Gamble, to Toyota.
Want to know more?
What do we do?
Now you’re in on the secret, here’s the details…
Ethnographers ask and listen,
survey and map. They compile
and crunch data. They chart and
But above all else, ethnographers
We watch, keenly and objectively.
We record what we see in detail, without judgement.
We code what we record.
We crunch that data some more.
We use our brains together with specialized software.
We apply the latest ideas about human social and
cultural life to interpret that data.
Why is observation so crucial?
2007 study by Harris Interactive found that:
92% of Americans surveyed by telephone (n=1001) said they wash
their hands after using a public restroom.
77% of individuals observed at public restrooms (n=6076) actually
washed their hands. (88% of women, 66% of men).
What people say they do and what
they actually do are different.
Why the gap?
We are embarrassed to report that
we don’t measure up: who wants to
We lie to ourselves: “Oh, I am a clean
person, yes I am.”
Or most of our daily behaviors are
taken for granted, forgotten,
submerged: we don’t know how to
talk about them.
Therefore, we observe; we go to the source
Intel researchers have done ethnography with green homeowners - in
their homes - to ﬁnd out how to make Intel products work in a future
transformed by new approaches to energy and sustainability.
After years of focus grouping and surveys, Proctor and Gamble invested
heavily in ethnography and discovered insights that led to new product
features (e.g. color guard) that are now keeping P&G on top.
Gillette wanted to increase it’s
presence in the massive Indian
market, but razors were falling ﬂat.
They sent ethnographers into the
men’s homes, where they shaved.
They discovered that Indian men often
shaved with a cup of water because a
running faucet was rare or in use by a
This meant multiple-blade razors were
always getting clogged. Indian men also
valued a close shave less than not getting
In response, Gillette quit trying to sell
Indian men super-sharp, multiple blade
razors (which clogged up easily) and instead
created a very inexpensive, single-blade
razor just for India.
With its new razor, Gillette saw market
share in India go from 37.3% in 2007 to