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5.3 Searching for 'Hidden Needs' and Ethnography

At this point, it is worth mentioning current industry trends. Some marketers and researchers are talking about the shift in marketing. The story concerns anthropological methods of searching for consumers' unconscious behaviour and predicting their potential needs and is related to the trend in industry and consumer society.

In the past, personal computers, mobile phones and other such digital appliances would become hot sellers if features such as faster speeds, smaller sizes and lower prices were incorporated into them upon launching new forms of technology. In recent years, however, it has been observed that products do not sell well even if they feature technological advances, and it has thus become necessary to prioritise consumer/user experiences (Ueki 2009). To cope with this trend, there has been a shift in marketing strategy that involves searching for unconscious behaviours and predicting the hidden (potential) needs of users (often called 'insights') which cannot be grasped through traditional marketing methods such as surveys with questionnaires. [1] Thus, the need for a qualitative (e.g. ethnographic) method arose.

The story converges with the account of the structural shift from manufacturing to service, which corresponded with the growth of the service sector in developed/industrial societies such as Japan. [2] The reasons a Japanese leading system integration company Fujitsu which I mention afterwards introduced both the concept and the post of 'field innovators' (IT consulting and integration services staff with ethnographer sensibilities) can be narrated alongside the structural shift of the economy.

I want to introduce several figures to clarify my inquiry. The so-called customercentric marketing tells us the importance of listening to the voices of voiceless customers. It is implied that the hidden potential needs of consumers exist somewhere – perhaps in the subconscious of these users or consumers – and are waiting to be read or discovered by marketers who use a 'new' technique,

i.e. ethnography.

The figures of magnifying glass (Figs. 5.1 and 5.2) are used in business magazines and websites of consulting/marketing companies in Japan as a metaphor for the capabilities of ethnography. [3] Figure 5.1 illustrates people being examined under a magnifying glass; from my perspective, the magnifying glass as an investigative tool seems to be a metaphor for ethnography.

Figure 5.2, which is a screencap from a website of a marketing research company with the heading 'ethnography', is accompanied by an explanatory text, which states that 'ethnography is a practice originating from cultural anthropology; it is a long term fieldwork methodology which includes stepping into the lives of isolated peoples and investigating their customs and way of life'. 'Our research service provides techniques for stepping into the lives of customers and observing their consumers may not be consciously aware of the way they use products in their daily routines' (Baba 2005: 234). The description on the nature of humans (customers included), which is familiar to anthropologists, recalls the well-known 'six marketing fallacies' of How Customers Think (Zaltman 2003), a neuromarketing textbook based on neuroscience and psychology. For instance, one of the fallacies is the idea that 'consumers can plausibly explain their thinking and behaviour' (through language). Management experts Goffin and his colleagues (Goffin et al. 2010) group psychology and anthropology together as 'behavioural sciences', and they are appearing as techniques which enable us to understand how customers think and act, and these could replace traditional techniques.

Fig. 5.1 Magnifying glass illustration from a business magazine which reports 'marketing ethnography' as a new trend (Nikkei information Strategy, Feb 2009)

Fig. 5.2 Magnifying glass photo from a website of a marketing firm who offers ethnography as a business service

activities, and then investigating the unconscious needs of customers which cannot be easily extracted with simple interviews'.

These may mirror the images of ethnographers – as well as the usage of ethnography as a research tool useful for business differentiation – who can reach a better understanding of consumers and who reveal hidden needs of customers.

Fig. 5.3 The author's extraction from firms' illustrations

Figure 5.3 illustrates the common analogy of 'the iceberg [4]often used by research/consulting firms (the figure is of my own devising, based on some websites and consulting firms' reference materials). They assert that new techniques such as ethnography or behaviour observation,

[5] and not traditional methods, can identify customers' covert needs and values and that uncovering the hidden needs and values of customers leads to creativity and innovation in products and services.

Using these figures, firms explain that approaches which focus on the area hidden under the waterline is the 'new' realm for businesses. While traditional research methods (surveys with questionnaires, group interviews and so forth) hardly approach the area below the waterline, ethnography can do so. It is implied that 'hidden (potential) needs' exist somewhere – perhaps in the subconscious of consumers – and are waiting to be read or discovered by social scientists/marketers. Therefore, researchers use research methods – neuromarketing techniques and ethnography are considered most promising, in addition to life-logs (Big Data) – to discover consumers' real rationale. The results of such research may then lead to the 'go or no-go' decision for manager(s) to launch new products and services.

  • [1] '[T]raditional means of studying consumers (e.g., focus groups, interviews, product clinics) do not yield sufficient insights into consumer's daily lives, which are needed to generate creative ideas for new and improved products and services. […] Consumers can provide some of the information (e.g., why they don't like a particular product) needed to generate new product ideas when they participate in focus groups, but there are many things they cannot tell. For example.
  • [2] 'The service economy refers both the service sector of industrialised economies as well as services performed in the manufacturing and extractive sectors of the economy. The spectacular growth of the service economy in the past fifty years is reflected both in the GDP statistics of nations as well as the annual reports of manufacturing companies that report on growing service revenue. The Fortune 1000 reflects the growth trend of the service economy. Both the increasing number of service firms (e.g. Google) that appear on the list and the increasing percentage of revenue from services for many non-service firms (e.g. John Deere) reflect this new economic reality' (Spohrer 2010: 11). The term services sciences, management and engineering (SSME) – the title of Sphorer's article – was originally introduced by IBM to describe an interdisciplinary approach to the study of service.
  • [3] While I could not insert these due to space constraints, images of binoculars, sometimes with a person wearing a safari hat, are also commonly used to indicate ethnography's capability to find insights in business magazines and websites of research and consulting companies.
  • [4] It is said that the original idea of the iceberg analogy came from Sigmund Freud (Hersey et al.1996).
  • [5] The terms 'behaviour observation' and ethnography are widely used interchangeably and often in confusing manners, particularly in Japanese business contexts. 'Behaviour observation' is said to be based on a mixture of ethnography, psychology and ergonomics and is quite close in nature to engineering. It should be noted that according to their perspective, ethnography is a tool among other tools in academic knowledge (ergonomics and environmental, social, organisational, evolutionary psychology). It should also be noted that 'ethnography' is posing as an authoritative scientific source for advertising.

    Incidentally, the Japanese version of the Harvard Business Review featured 'Behaviour Observation vs. Big Data' (Diamond Harvard Business Review August 2014). Some articles has been translated into Japanese from the American HBR. In this feature issue, behaviour observation and ethnography and anthropologist and ethnographer are mixed. A translated article 'An Anthropologist Walks into a Bar…' (Madsbjerg and Rasmussen 2014) changed anthropology(−ist) into 'ethnography(−pher)' for the title. In Japanese, the title was translated as 'Ethnography Creates a Vivid Picture of Real Consumers'. No explanation as to the relationship between 'anthropology', 'ethnography' and 'behaviour observation' was provided. It looks as though 'ethnography' is part of 'behaviour observation', which is completely contrary to how anthropologists think of it.

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