consumers

Keynote Address: Consumer Culture and Political Resistance—How Gay Entrepreneurs Sparked A Movement

DAVID JOHNSON David Johnson is a historian at the University of South Florida and an award-winning author whose research focuses on the crucial role that notions of gender and sexuality have played in American politics and consumer culture in the late 20th century. His first book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, which has been made into a critically acclaimed documentary, explores Cold War hysteria over national security and the introduction of “family values” into American politics. He is also co-editor of The United States since 1945, an anthology of key speeches, articles, and government documents from modern American politics and culture. David’s new book project brings together the fields of the history of sexuality and business history, chronicling the rise of a gay commercial network in the 1950s and 1960s. Contesting the notion that a gay market developed only recently in the wake of gay activism, Johnson challenges conventional understandings...

Have You Heard? Using Place-Based Ethnography to Construct a Word-of-Mouth Campaign in the Bottom of the Pyramid

JENNIFER GIROUX ReD Associates ZUNG NGUYEN ReD Associates Case Study—The “bottom of the pyramid” concept has promised companies that they can simultaneously create wealth and social impact when serving the world’s poorest customers. In reality, companies have faced multiple challenges when trying to acquire and retain customers in the “bottom of the pyramid”. This case study captures the journey of one such company that is operating low-cost private schools in slums and remote villages in an African country. Despite delivering a solid educational quality, the company was facing retention issues, and was struggling to maintain a healthy student population. Leadership diagnosed that a word of mouth marketing campaign would be important to increase acquisition and retention; but it did not know where to start. By designing a place-based ethnographic approach, ReD was able to gain the customer centric insights needed to design a new value proposition and engagement model that tapped into and leveraged word-of-mouth social...

Consulting against Culture: A Politicized Approach to Segmentation

Because market segmentations are a familiar managerial artifact, it is easy to overlook the assumptions teams make as they construct these representations. Segmentations have become entrenched within companies because they are useful in navigating the complexity of the real world, but this generalizing tendency can also lead to stasis and misguided decision-making. As ethnographers we…

Not Lost in Translation: Maximizing Impact in Marketing Ethnography through Bivocality

AMY MAISH and MAGDA WESOLKOWSKA The bivocal approach is a systematic research and strategy framework that leverages marketing professionals’ and social scientists’ unique perspectives in order to develop brand, consumer and cultural insights relevant to the business challenge. Thus allowing all voices to be heard equally and clearly: that of the social scientist and the marketing professional, that of culture, consumer and brand. It results in an explanation for the forces at play on the brand or business questions and acts as a cultural GPS for the brand. The explanatory nature and consistent connection between brand, consumer and culture allow for a highly grounded, and we would assert, more powerfully informed set of actions, including, when, how, and why brands/products are used or could be used by consumers....

Ethnography in the Age of Analytics

ADRIAN SLOBIN and TODD CHERKASKY As North America begins to emerge from the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, companies are turning up their investment dollars. This investment includes a renewed focus on what might loosely be called “the customer experience.” In our recent consulting engagements, this focus often comes in the form of a clearly stated client demand for a very unclear concept – a “360 view of my customer.” The metaphor conjures up a pantopticonal image of customer beliefs and behaviors which would precipitate a perfectly calibrated set of products and services. Ethnographic practice would, one would think, be well positioned to support this renewed focus on experience. However, we have found that the conversation about customer experience typically begins – and ends – with analytics and business intelligence. The metaphor of a “360 view of my customer” has led to an emphasis on data acquisition, with less of a focus on experiential understanding. That said, data modeling can be fruitfully employed...

How Consumers Create Value in a Recession Economy

TIMOTHY DE WAAL MALEFYT This essay examines a conscious shift in the cultural flows of consumption practices. It explores the ways consumers are generating and sharing shopping competence as a new form of value. I argue that a shift in consumer consciousness and resulting open social discourse around shopping practices are creating a new consumption narrative in the recession. This narrative celebrates the resourceful and collective acts of people who transform modes of restriction (cutting back) into a positive social value of thrift. As people are practicing more thoughtful purchasing styles they are also more communicative with others in sharing their shopping strategies and ways of savings. Social changes are thus arising out of these adjustments in shopping behaviors. Such emergent shopping behaviors amplify a new sociability that demonstrates more appropriate ways to spend and save on commodities. This change shows that consumers are not just accepting new attitudes and behaviors towards shopping because they have to, but are...

Consumer Fetish

ERIC ARNOULD and JULIEN CAYLA Commercial ethnography has become an important activity for accessing the lived experiences of consumers that are constructed as “others” that firms have to discover and manage. In organizational contexts where the necessity to accumulate organizational knowledge about markets have become paramount, the figure of the “consumer” has become a quasi-magical object bestowed with the aura of the real, a fetish that comes to stand for the market, and symbolizes the firm’s effective orientation towards the market. In this paper we demonstrate how the anthropological concept of the fetish may be usefully employed in understanding the nature of this process, whereby the voices and images of consumers are endowed with power within organizational contexts. Consumer fetish is at once a quasi object and a manifestation of analogical knowledge....

Contextualizing Customers

TRULS ERIK JOHNSEN and PER HELMERSEN This paper is based on fieldwork in Pakistan and Malawi and focuses on the importance of communicating contextualizing stories to HQ and business developer teams. By means of an explorative approach—even in highly structured commercial projects with formalized needs—we’ve uncovered findings and generated understandings that would be hard to pinpoint from a desktop-based pre-study or demand driven fieldwork. These findings in turn have proven to be important tools for said business developers in spite of the fact that they were not included in the initial fieldwork specification. Since our respondents are seen, heard and understood as far as possible within their own framework of values, priorities and aspirations, we, as researchers, are in a position to communicate a well-grounded and more refined picture of their daily lives rather than merely communicating the measurable hard facts back to corporate business developers....