Entrepreneurs Do Customer Research Through Corporate Anthropology

Is your company developing a new product or service? Are you planning a product launch? Do you want a better understanding of customer behavior and needs? Finally, are there major pain points which your product or service needs to solve?

Every successful entrepreneur knows that to grow your startup into a thriving business, you need to understand your customer. Easier said than done…particularly when you’re about to introduce a new product or service into the market and compiling a group of statistics isn’t an option. That’s when the smartest course of action is to rely on corporate anthropology.

As an entrepreneur building a business, you can gain a crucial competitive advantage by using the methods and techniques of anthropology to help you tap into the behavioral patterns of your consumers. From a customer’s first encounter with your product to the purchase stage to their return visit, anthropology enables you to get a better grip on how individuals interact with your brand.

As a result, you’ll be able to successfully develop a product offer and a customer experience that meet consumers’ demands and solve their challenges. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are a few examples of how to successfully apply anthropology to your business.

Behavioral Observation

In the early 1980s, Steve Barnett, a pioneer entrepreneur-anthropologist, created a technique of placing video cameras in shopping locations to observe consumer behavior in real time. After interpreting the footage, he could make certain conclusions about customers based on anthropological theories, such as symbolic action and ritual. It might seem basic, but this approach is now the industry standard!

Observing customer behavior in real time is invaluable to you as a marketer since it lets you see what customers are actually doing at your point of sale. It’s also far more objective than surveys or interviews since people’s recollection changes over time and they can’t really tell you why they do what they do, or even what they’re doing at the decision-making stage.

In addition, this fly-on-the-wall technique allows you to observe and interpret customer behavior as it happens, which reveals specific pain points they might be facing and how they interact with your brand.

If you decide to conduct this kind of research for your own business, it’s essential to watch and record your observations. Once you collect a substantial amount of data, you can use it to determine critical challenges your customers face or roadblocks they don’t know how to handle.

Anthropological Role-Playing

Similar to observation, customer participation is an objective and contextualized approach that enables you to better understand customer behavior and the decision-making process that propels them to buy (or not buy) goods and services from you (or your competition). The best way to do this, and something we urge our clients to do, is to get out of the office and immerse yourself in the customer experience.

We suggest becoming a “mystery shopper” at your point of sale—either online or at a brick-and-mortar store—to gain insight into the internal process of the consumer. This allows you to become the consumer, giving you a first-hand account of what customers experience from the moment they enter a store or log onto a website and encounter your product.

Moreover, this type of anthropological role-playing makes it easier to talk to customers informally and uncover critical challenges, such as the quality of service your employees deliver and what drives buyers toward their decision. Once the consumer starts talking, listen to what they have to say and ask questions about potential concerns they might have with your business. This a great opportunity to learn!

Spending Time with Your Customers

Business owners can learn a lot about their customers by just spending time with them. While this anthropological approach was originally used in the 19th century to observe indigenous peoples living in small tribal communities, a company’s consumer base can also be seen as a small community set in a contemporary corporate environment.

Unlike typical data-based, analytic customer research, spending time with your customers gives you a more personal experience based on more than numbers and percentages. Instead, you have the opportunity to get inside the community interacting with your brand, learn about the needs, desires and challenges of your customers, and develop a consumer-centric way of conducting business.

For example, the global sports manufacturer Adidas used this approach to great success. In the early 2000s, the company saw a disconnect between what they thought was their target audience and the consumers themselves.

After hiring a professional corporate anthropologist, Adidas sent out their design team to spend 24 hours with their customers, talking to them while they went jogging or worked out in the gym. When the team members asked the customers to cite the reason why they exercised, 25 out of 30 women produced a picture of a little black dress.

Adidas realized that the primary goal of their customers wasn’t to win games or sporting events, but to lead healthier lives. Would they have discovered this crucial insight without the help of an anthropologist? Probably not.

As in the Adidas example, information about your customers’ behavior is always there—all you have to do is access it.

Shoppers Know More Than You May Think

Yes, businesses can learn a great deal from corporate anthropology, even Fortune 500 companies. But maybe the most important lesson is to stop thinking you know more than your customers. That leads you to make assumptions about them, which ultimately leads to a disconnect between your offer and their needs.

Instead of assuming what they think, ask them. What do they like about your product, what do they not like? How would they improve it? Remember, customer experience is the single biggest advantage competitors have over one another (think Starbucks) and why inbound marketing has been so successful. How your customers feel about your product or service, your brand, your logo, your website, your customer service operators—all of these matter a great deal.

Ready to Find Out What Customers Think? And Capitalize On It?

At Simon Associates Management Consultants, our specialty is helping organizations like yours accept, prepare and adapt to change. Applying the tools, methods and principles of corporate anthropology is one of the primary ways we do this. 

Do you need to re-think your customers in order to revamp your business strategy for the future? We can help. Does your organization need to anticipate today’s new purchasing behavior and get in tune with consumers’ current demands, needs and desires? We can help with that, too, resulting in a business plan that leads to new customers, more return visits and sustainable future growth.

This might be the very best time to try “a little anthropology” to help your business grow. Contact us to schedule a consultation to find out how we might help your organization drive change, overcome challenges and reach its potential for success.

From Observation to Innovation,

Andi Simon, Ph.D. Corporate Anthropologist

Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

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