Ethnographic Research: What Is It And How To Conduct It?

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Market research is an essential part of understanding and analysing the target audience. It allows you to comprehend consumer behaviours, demands, market position, and competitors’ stand. However, not all businesses have the same approach or strategies, even if they fall into the same category. Audiences and markets also have different characteristics and influencing factors. This is why a single method or process may not be sufficient to understand all market aspects. Different types of market research exist to allow a comprehensive analysis of all important factors. 

While some types of research generate basic information, data and numbers, others offer a deeper insight into customer behaviour. Ethnographic research belongs to the latter category. 

What is Ethnographic Research?

The roots of ethnographic research are found in anthropology, the study of human societies and culture. The method of ethnographic research refers to observing and analysing people (customers) in their natural surroundings. Ethnographic researchers spend time with people, ask them different questions, study their interactions with social and environmental factors and assess the collected data to come to conclusions. 

For example, a researcher can observe how customers use a product and their honest reactions. When customers provide feedback or review the product, they tend to be more cautious. The actual reaction may not even get correctly translated by a brief review. Here, ethnographic research can bring accurate reactions to you without any modification by the consumer, intentionally or unintentionally. 

The aim of this type of research is to gain extensive knowledge of how customers perceive and view your product, their surroundings or the rest of the world. Since the data collected by this method is not represented by numerics or statistics but rather explained with in-depth information, it is a form of qualitative research. 

Different Methods of Ethnographic Research

The researcher needs to spend a longer time, preferably in person, with the participants when conducting this research. That can be done in the following ways!


Researchers ask various questions about the product, service, etc., and participants respond accordingly. However, instead of merely noting down participants’ answers, researchers also document their observations.

Passive Observation

This approach relies entirely on observations. The types of observation can be active or passive. In the case of active observation, the researcher becomes a part of the participant’s lifestyle or activities. So, the researcher and participant become a study group. On the other hand, passive observation is almost like shadowing the participants and writing down observations.

Archival Research

Interviews and observations can be paired with archival research for more information. Archival research refers to studying the archives. The researcher reviews existing data online, in various reports, magazines, government records and so on about the respective participants. 

How to Conduct Ethnographic Research?

Here are the steps to conduct your research!

  • Set a goal for your research and create a questionnaire that can help collect the data you need.
  • Identify your audience and select participants for your ethnography study group.
  • Select the method of research.
  • Start the fieldwork with interviews and observations. Note everything.
  • Start analysing your data.

Important Things to Remember

Below are some crucial facts to keep in mind before you start the research process!

  • Interviews or observations can happen anywhere, be it the participants’ home, office or outside. 
  • Research can take up to several months. 
  • Considering the complexity of the method, data analysis can take longer than other methods. 
  • Qualitative research methods are complex in nature. The data collection and analysis of ethnography qualitative research is no exception. That is why many depend on professional ethnographic researchers. 


Given that ethnographic research provides profound information, it offers a perfect opportunity to test a new product or analyse the customers deeply. Don’t forget that this type of research requires more time, effort and money than most other research. Therefore, setting up a clear objective and research outline is recommended before opting for this consumer analytics

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