29 March 2016

Anthropologists are good for business

At the end of the academic year, I usually take some time with my first-year anthropology students to discuss what the 'take home' points are from the course, and the value of applying an anthropological lens in their lives after the class ends. While a handful of students might become anthro majors or minors, some will perhaps take another anthropology class during their degree, most will simply be happy to have completed their social science credit. In any case it's important to think about what anthropology teaches us about how we (and those around us) think about and act in our social worlds, and how culture matters!

What has surprised me most -- though should really come as no surprise -- is that in the past few years I have been seeing more and more articles about how anthropologists and our ethnographic approach to social research is good for business, including in market research.

In The new buzzword in marketing: Ethnography (2011) and its follow up Lessons for marketing to millennials, Mark Healy surveys the three lessons his firm learned about the power of ethnography to provide meaningful insights in marketing. Similarly, Why companies are desperate to hire anthropologists (2015) explains that
While most execs are masters of analysing spreadsheets, creating processes, and pitching products, anthropologists — and other practitioners of applied social science — can arrive at customer insights that big data tends to gloss over, especially around the role that products play in people's lives.
That information is more valuable than you might think. What customers want from a product and what companies think they want can be totally different, but it can take an anthropological lens to learn why.
This is because anthropologists know that culture matters. Being critically attuned to how culture matters, and individuals' social positions within their cultural context influences people to act, think and feel in certain ways is a valuable skill.