Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Cultivating Emotional Resonance with Video Narratives

By illuminating complex, rich nuances of people’s lives for different audiences, creative storytelling can dramatically increase the impact of insights.


A VR headset floats in empty space, then a man straps it onto his head. A series of clips flash before our eyes: a guy wearing a jetpack jumps off a building, a pair of arms dodging a horde of zombies, two giant figures looking over a miniature island, C3P2O and R2D2.

A voice off-screen introduces us to profiles of three consumers who will evince the series’ recurring premise: highlight key learnings from the first few days of owning the VR headset. We then see their reactions as they unbox the device, as they navigate the straps; we learn about the headset’s initial pain points and users’ privacy concerns with the help of on-screen text, voice-over narration, and infographics that sync to the beat of the music.

And then we meet Gia, an attorney from Colorado (name, identity and location has been changed to protect participant’s privacy). She’s wearing a white t-shirt and glasses. She says that she loves to game, loves sports, and makes knives as a hobby. She says she was getting ready to sell her Peloton, which she’s hated since she first bought it, and that she was looking for an alternative device to help her get in shape.

And then she saw an ad on social media that introduced the idea of being able to combine her need to work out with her love of gaming.

Over footage of virtual worlds, as the camera cranes through imaginary landscapes, we hear the shifts in Gia’s voice – first her frustrations with Peloton, and then the excitement taking over as she talks about using her new VR headset.

The music crescendos, and we’re back in empty space. The headset flies into view once more, lingers for a moment, and fades to white.

This example is a detailed description of a video deliverable from a request that arrived in the Fall of 2020 from a major tech company who was researching UX design of their VR headset. Our direct client was a research agency commissioned to create a comprehensive research index for a Tech Company in the early stages of marketing a VR headset. This index was to include previous findings from all the research that our client had previously done, and with it they would deliver a system of updates that connected the Tech Company’s various internal product teams, complementing a series of recurring studies that were to be conducted within a six-month cadence.

The Tech Company hoped to use the findings in marketing efforts to reach a broader audience, improve the VR experience, create user awareness, and continue to build high-quality products, with the goal of becoming a front-runner in the VR market. This meant that the insights needed to be delivered in a medium that could sustain the longevity and relevance of subsequent research for future studies and product development. Something more than a traditional approach was vital to carry the study, and its teams, into the future.

For decades, the research industry has produced comprehensive reports. It has provided an infrastructure for systematic inquiry, comparative analyses, and statistical significance that laid the foundations for discovery and hypothesis-testing using empirical evidence. Over time, research reports have evolved to become more beautifully constructed, including elements that better engage various internal audiences, which has become an expectation from internal stakeholders.

The case of our Tech Company and their VR Headset is an example of where we addressed the ongoing cadence and focus of the project by pushing the limits of deliverables.. Our solution was to create a rolling research schedule with monthly fieldwork update from respondents. The research data was generated through recurring online interviews and user-submitted, ethnographic-style footage of the respondents in their homes to develop a deep understanding of how people use the headsets at various times of ownership (30 days vs. 60 days vs. 90 days, etc.).

Delivering a slide deck enables extensive reporting of analysis and insights, but may get lost or be inaccessible to some stakeholders, particularly non-researchers. And while reports are one of the foundations of research deliverables, they tend to be ineffective at conveying context, emotion, and the complexities of human interaction. And what are data if not stories that are yet to be told and translated over time?

By incorporating audiovisual storytelling into research methodologies, delivery, and communication, findings can be more accessible, engaging, and meaningful to a broader range of teams, and are preserved in stories that capture the experiences, voices, and perspectives of the respondents for future studies.

As researchers, we have an unspoken obligation to the truth, and we are bound to present insights with integrity and authenticity. ​​Yet, accuracy and creativity are not incompatible. By illuminating complex, rich nuances of people’s lives for different audiences, creative storytelling can dramatically increase the impact of insights. Audiovisual storytelling is particularly synergistic with ethnographic approaches to analysis and synthesis, shining a light on the shades of gray that define research participants in ways that motivate strategic action for stakeholders.

The typical, designed deliverable, which can include text-based reports, charts, and graphs, still tends to require its viewers to have context and prior knowledge of the subject, and can often cater to an exclusive audience. Video provides us with an opportunity to compliment research findings with narratives that can bridge the past, present, and future without needed prerequisites.

Video lends a vehicle for emotionally-effective narratives with a greater range of sensory engagement, layering image, motion, sound, pacing, and more. Going beyond written language and still image enables gesture, nonverbal communication, and additional layers of richness beyond aggregated findings. This can foster intersubjectivity and empathy among research participants, researchers, stakeholders and internal teams.

A study for another large Tech Company investigating their app’s usage in rapidly growing markets took us to a village three hours outside of New Delhi, India, where internet access was limited. Administrators of a rural orphanage sit for an interview. All smiles, they talked about how they use social media to connect to their community and support the children that walk through their doors.

In a remote village in Java, a woman sits for an interview in her rice paddy farm. She is surrounded by chickens as she scrolls through an app on her older-model smartphone. We ask her about certain functionalities in the interface. She shrugs, her voice is unsure. Observing her body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice allowed researchers to more fully understand her level of comfort with an app that sought to improve its interface for individuals with varying levels of technological experience.

Back in Indonesia, a woman is interviewed by UX researchers in her home to explore whether she’s had any instances of blocking someone on social media. She turns her face away from the moderator, her voice unsure. She says that she should have blocked a certain user the moment they started sending her threatening messages. But her friend told her to find out who it was before blocking them, so she waited; by that time, the user had already found her phone number and threatened to blackmail her.

Ethnographers have many techniques for creating and communicating rich data that engages the full context and significance of people’s lives and motivates action. Video is a powerful example. It is not just a collection of things that can be quantified or proven, but a deeper and more complex reflection of human experiences.

As the saying goes, it’s not always what we say, but how we say it.

Hasty Storytelling is an EPIC2023 sponsor. Sponsor support enables our annual conference and year-round programming that is developed by independent committees and invites diverse, critical perspectives. Hasty Storytelling is a creative and media production agency specializing in comprehensive qualitative market research solutions, video and audio production, graphic design, animation, and photography. ​​As experts in the fields of market research and video production, they transform data into compelling narratives that evoke emotion and inspire action. With a combined 20 years of global market research experience, its leadership team oversees a talented group of videographers, editors, writers, designers, producers and researchers who are trained to deliver on our clients’ unique objectives. They have extensive experience across a broad range of industries including social media, automotive, gaming, cannabis, finance, apparel, food and beverage, entertainment, pop culture, and healthcare.


Greg Hasty

Greg Hasty, President, Qualitative Researcher, Ethnographer, Hasty Storytelling

Greg is a market researcher, moderator and video producer with over 12 years of experience in automotive, social media, tech, gaming, food and beverage, fashion, and entertainment. He has worked closely with several Fortune 500 clients including Lexus, Toyota, Nissan, Meta, and Amazon, to elevate the quality of their research reporting through high-quality video storytelling and graphics. Greg’s friendly and easygoing moderating style helps respondents feel comfortable and eager to share their stories and opinions.

Vic Billones

Victoria Billones, Sr. Researcher, Producer, Hasty Storytelling

Victoria is a Los Angeles-based writer and multimedia producer specializing in narrative storytelling. She has worked in the Philippine broadcasting industry for over 12 years, as well as a political analyst for the National Institute of Policy Studies in Manila. Since 2019, she has worked with Hasty Storytelling producing ethnographic content that makes individual voices heard. Victoria has worked with a number of top-tier clients such as Meta, Amazon, and Toyota. She is fluent in French and Tagalog.