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Savage Thinking

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20 tips for ethnographic best practice

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Savage Thinking

  1. 1. Savage thinking. 20 tips inspired by ethnographic principles to help your thinking stay wild.
  2. 2. Tip #1 Make the meeting room a fieldwork study. Consumers are only one side of the ecosystem of a brand. Use research principles to also understand your organisation’s needs, its environment, values and dynamics.
  3. 3. Tip #2 Human before consumer. Avoid framing research around your brand or category. Aim for the wider meanings and values that drive people to a brand and take it from there. For example, technology can be about connecting or empowering. Tea is about me time, and belonging. This is key for you to avoid getting trapped in the echo chamber of the current discourse around your category.
  4. 4. Tip #3 Understand the rules. Then break them. It is important to understand the rules of a category using frameworks, theories and marketing knowledge. It is just as crucial to understand the rules that govern your category from the consumer’s perspective: they are complex and hard to fit a template.
  5. 5. Tip #4 Start with answers. It is dangerous to try to understand your audience without a framework. Instead of thinking of questions, a good way to start is by listing hypotheses: what you think you will hear back from the research? This helps give focus to the research, and also ensures it will add to current knowledge.
  6. 6. Tip #5 Own it. Make the research your responsibility from the start. Help with the proposal, the screener, the discussion guide. Add questions, question questions. You will be the one having to live with the research results, so make them as useful and powerful as they can be.
  7. 7. Tip #6 Aim for the fringes. No one lives an average life. Understand the average, but never entirely rely upon it. Explore the edges of your audience. The ‘truth’ always rests with the minority, as it is generally formed by those with an opinion; those who are aware of, and driving change.
  8. 8. Tip #7 Go backwards to go forwards. You cannot see ahead if you’re just looking at the current moment. To understand a trend, you need to read the direction of travel. To see the shape this change is taking. Reading into the past helps separate slow cultural trends from fast cultural fads, or cyclical changes.
  9. 9. Tip #8 Get lost A discussion guide should be just that: a guide. Don’t be afraid to go rogue and take the conversation with your consumers in a wholly different direction if you feel there is something there. This is where you normally find the most revealing insights.
  10. 10. Tip #9 See the extraordinary in the mundane. Our mundane lives are where the most profound statements are acted out without a single conscious thought ever given to them. It is, the mundane, however, where revelations are most often found. Take a look at people in your own culture as if they were foreign to you. See a familiar surrounding as if you were there for the first time.
  11. 11. Tip #10 See the mundane in the extraordinary. When researching an audience different from you, it is expected that you see strangeness into everything they do. Try to understand how they perceive these behaviours as mundane: they are probably completely unaware they do the things they do, and this may give you insights on underlying cultural patterns of behaviour.
  12. 12. Tip #11 See the blind spots. The subjectivity of our cultural framework can influence the way we observe our surroundings. We only notice what is different. Two people can observe the same room and take two different conclusions out of what they see. Train your eyes to observe the unseen.
  13. 13. Tip #12 Embrace contradictions. Incoherences from your consumer normally reveal tensions, friction points and need gaps. They are often a source of great insights.
  14. 14. Tip #13 Listen to what is unsaid. People’s explicit opinion is only one angle to the truth. Think about why they’ve chosen to describe things the way they have, what’s been left out and why? How does their behaviour contradict or confirm what they’ve told you?
  15. 15. Tip #14 Be aware of your own subjectivity. We process information using previous knowledge and experiences. This results in conclusions inevitably filled with biases and assumptions. We will never be able to eliminate our subjectivity. However, just by being aware of your subjectivity will help you become a better judge.
  16. 16. Tip #15 Embrace ignorance. Ask. Ask everything. Ask even the most obvious or stupid questions – even if you think you know the answer to them. The answer can always surprise you.
  17. 17. Tip #16 See through use of language. Rich vocabulary is not the same as rich insight. Clever words and woolly phrases have a habit of hiding very predictable learnings. Think of explaining the thinking to a lay person and if this version is not strong enough, then there is nothing there.
  18. 18. Tip #17 Master the information. Don’t let it master you. Trust your instincts as much as data. You are human before being a researcher. You will always understand what is to be human more than any data will do.
  19. 19. Tip #18 No one thinks quite like you. Make use of your unique way of seeing the world. We all have a different point of view to share.
  20. 20. Tip #19 Be worthy. Good research is a powerful tool to reveal the many forces at play when people make choices. They reveal opportunities for brands and products to fit their world. But with great power comes great responsibility. Profit is a poor predictor of future value and its single minded pursuit can diminish a brand in the long run, so find a higher purpose that counts for something more and stick with it.
  21. 21. Tip #20 Stay curious. The wise Dr. Seuss once said it’s better to know how to learn than to know. Expertise leads to conformity, yet knowledge is a bottomless pit. There are always more and different ways to learn about a category, an audience, how our brains work, how culture shapes us.
  22. 22. Tip #15 Embrace ignorance. Ask. Ask everything. Ask even the most obvious or stupid questions – even if you think you know the answer to them. The answer can always surprise you.
  23. 23. Let’s keep talking. Contact us at: BAMM Global Tel: +44 (0)20 7036 9740 Email: info@bammglobal.com 11a Curtain Road, London EC2A 3LT

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