By Ken Andersen
- from the march 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review
Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy
Corporate ethnography isn't just for innovation anymore. It's central to gaining a full understanding of your customers and the business itself. The ethnographic work at my company, Intel, and other firms now informs functions such as strategy and long-range planning.
Ethnography is the branch of anthropology that involves trying to understand how people live their lives. Unlike traditional market researchers, who ask specific, highly practical questions, anthropological researchers visit consumers in their homes or offices to observe and listen in a nondirected way.
Our goal is to see people's behavior on their terms, not ours. While this observational method may appear inefficient, it enlightens us about the context in which customers would use a new product and the meaning that product might hold in their lives.
Ethnography at Intel initially focused on new markets. The company had provided products only for the workplace, but in 1995 managers wondered whether users at home would become a distinct market. Ethnographic research showed so much potential that Intel set up a business unit to concentrate on processors and platforms for home use.