Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Anthropology and Consumer Resaerch -- An applied paradigm

Robert Tian, Business Anthropology, Anthropology of Business Blog, makes a good point about the technological overload that is emerging in the consumer research field. Data, tonnes of data, will be available and are available about consumer behavior. It is becoming available in real time to marketers and business strategists. But what does it mean? This is where the anthropologist, strategically positioned in the supply chain and in the corporation, has an advantage. The gathering of market data is the same as international espionage and we all know how good that process works, especially when it is stove-piped.

Anthropology is more than participant observation. Go back to the Boasian protocol and you will see that a holistic, comparative, and historically/environmentally contextual approach to the data -- confirmed through participant observation is the heart of the anthropological analysis. We go through so many fads and linguistic games to be unique that nobody, least of all many of our colleagues, know what anthropology really is and what an anthropologically trained person can do.

An effective strategy for the business anthropologist is to become the data consolidator and interpreter for the business owner, or the client. While David describes what can be collected, he did not explain how this can be used in anyway different from what is now being done, only more detail. Anthropology can provide another interpretive paradigm linked to the broader business context - such a market trends, disruptions and discontinuities. But this requires some new thinking within anthropology as well as within the business community. Maybe this more than most would be willing to attempt.

The easy escape for the anthropologist interested in consumer behavior is to try to retreat to the academy or museum -- the ancestral nurturing grounds of anthropologist -- and avoid the real world. However, like the sparrow fledgling popping out of our bird house this past June, you have to learn to spread your wings and take chances with the equipment you have been given and are trained in if you want to get over to the bird feeder with the big boys/girls..

As an applied anthropologist, in the consumer research field, It is what you can do for the client or employer that counts -- not the brand name "anthropology"  -- which counts. The paradigm is: 1. Do a good job selling your abilities to solve the client's or employer's problem; 2.Create value for them; and then, 3.. Sell the brand, Anthropology. This will give it meaning.

Right now accounting and law have created a proven brand and therefore command a premium price. Anthropology is still Indiana Jones and Bones, "rocks and bones." Today it only commands a generic researcher's price. Show the business world how it can use anthropological skills, profitably, and how to get value from all that data they are buying, then anthropology will become a brand. And the Consumer Anthropologist will command a premium price for his/her services.

Basic principle: Prove the product and give birth to a brand. Not the other way around.