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The Power of Market Research Rooted in Cultural Anthropology

Market research is, and always has been, built on the foundational question of how to best understand consumers and clients. As the industry continues to rise in prominence, a focus on surveys and in-person or virtual gatherings as a means of reaching this goal post remains standard. However — and in response to an evolving understanding of our world and the people in it — we at Ebony Marketing Systems are of the opinion that market research should instead anchor itself in cultural anthropology. Why is that? The answer can be found in the meaning of anthropology itself: anthropology is the study of the cultures and development of human societies.

Acting as a mirror to the historical implications of human and community behavior, cultural anthropology lends deep roots to the work of market research and can significantly inform both the execution of the research and the subsequent results. Let’s take a brief look at what the inclusion of cultural anthropology into the research process might offer market researchers.

Awareness of the Lens of Observation

Although market researchers attempt to create surveys that are non-biased, the fact is that we all have a perspective that influences how we see and interact with the world. Anthropologists, as a practice, spend significant time and energy over the years cultivating an awareness of their own bias as outsiders in the cultures they are studying. In anthropology, this is acknowledged by the terms emic and etic. Emic refers to an insider’s perspective, whereas etic speaks to an outsider’s point of view.

When conducting market research rooted in cultural anthropology, then, there’s a special awareness of gaps that might be influencing the researcher’s questions. Practically speaking, this might look like re-wording a question to a participant rather than assuming that they don’t understand what you’re asking or that they are being difficult. Cultural anthropology, in this way, helps us as researchers reconsider our place in the research process and, rather than ignore it, leverage it toward greater insights.

Identifying a Need That is Unconscious

The best solutions can arise from identifying a need that someone is unaware of. Cultural anthropology observes cultures and societies in their own environments. How might that apply to market research? By observing someone in their environment, it may be possible to identify a gap between what their responses are and what is actually occurring in their lives. Practiced researchers know that Individuals are often unaware that their response doesn’t align with what is taking place. Incorporating cultural anthropology and the practice of observing individuals in their environment is, in this way, adding another facet to our understanding of the individuals experiences and needs, lending to richer, more nuanced insights down the line.

Combining anthropology with market research has the potential to result in innovative and effective designs. It may also identify opportunities for intercultural, cross-cultural, and multicultural marketing. By incorporating cultural anthropology into your market research approach, your results will be richer, and potentially more insightful. Ready to see what the marriage of cultural anthropology and market research can do for you? Reach out to Ebony Marketing Systems to begin your journey.


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