28 August 2017

What do Cultural Anthropologists do? "Decode" Human Behaviour

According to a recent article (August 3, 2017) in the Financial Post, Martin Birt discusses the work of Johanna Faigelman, CEO and founding partner of Human Branding.

In answer to a few questions including how deep is your understanding of the needs and behaviours of your customers or employees? Faigelman responds that traditional market analysis is too superficial. It relies on 'consumers as experts' and simply reports on what 'consumers know they know.' This is a risky approach given the scope and potential exposure of many business investments.

In speaking of how to launch a new product successfully or 'innovate', Faigelman identifies three importance aspects, that is, understanding (1) human-centric insights, (2) business needs and realities, and (3) socio-cultural factors. To accomplish this, a business — with appropriate support — should do a deep dive into societal trends, gain an understanding of unmet human needs, and the dynamics of the business category. Layered onto this complexity are cultural and generational differences.

Birt goes on to write that [e]very business is under pressure to grow and to anticipate market and competing trends. Even before a new product is developed, for example, anthropological research and insight can help a business decode socio-cultural factors that set the context for what people are saying … and what they are not saying. This can help a business think in a way that is future forward. They’ll be able to identify latent (and therefore unmet) needs, define and harness unarticulated emotions and predict real life behaviour.

It's important to acknowledge how the write-up by a non-anthropologist (although this is not confirmed), the editing process, or the need to grab views might influence how the practice of anthropology is worded. However, describing anthropological methods as a means to define and harness unarticulated emotions and predict real life behaviour  would likely be seen as problematic. Earlier in the piece, Birt describes Faigelman's methods as involving “naturalistic unobtrusive observation” (being the fly on the wall), in-depth respondent-driven interviewing, and participation. 

This flies in the face of postmodern critiques of the method, that is:
  1. What role does the ethnographer play as an 'expert' in describing the culture (behaviours? thoughts and perceptions?) of others?
  2. Where does the role of the ethnographer (as a research tool) come into play in - in this case - market research?
Here on Anthro Everywhere!, we've written about the packaging of anthropological knowledge (see quick links) and asked a number of questions including: What language or terminology will reach which audiences? Why?

We also made a note in our first post about packing anthropological knowledge...a caveat

*Note, the authors of this article use somewhat problematic language as 'eavesdropping' which may spur an ethical conversation among anthropologists but the focus of this post is about the nature in which the work of anthropologists is described by non-anthropologists (who may or may not have anthropological training).

Are anthropologists everywhere okay with having their method described as:
  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Unobtrusive observer (from fly-on-the-wall)
  3. The ability to predict behaviour
Let us know what you think on twitter @anthrolens

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