The W5 Team recently updated our Ethnography White Paper but to get a better understanding of what exactly ethnography is, and W5’s approach to it, we sat down with a W5 anthropologist to learn more.

Can you give a quick introduction about your role, time at W5, and why you enjoy qualitative research?

I’m Ian McDiarmid, I am a Practice Consultant here at W5 in our qualitative department and have been here for almost 2 years. As a Practice Consultant, I like to think of my role is that of a qualitative researcher but with an eye on how to create a deeper understanding of problems and solutions for brands and companies. What I like about qualitative research is that it fits my background so well. I came here right after earning my Masters in Anthropology, and this role gives me a chance to do qualitative research—which I love but also the ability to be more action oriented in providing clients with answers and recommendations for viable ways to get them to their next step, whatever that may be.

You mentioned that you are also an anthropologist, what does that mean exactly and how does that help you when conducting qualitative research?

Well anthropology generally is the study of people. From my perspective, the foundational knowledge and study of anthropology impacts my role as a qualitative researcher through the way I approach an engagement or client question. In my job I am sort of an investigator and I’m studying how people think and approach a particular topic, or brand in their life. During a study I try to dig in and really understand and discover the what’s and why’s behind people’s behaviors or thoughts.

What is ethnography?

Ethnography is a broad term that can describe a set of methods, or more specifically, the practice of taking what people are thinking or doing and creating an account of everything encompassing a persons’ or group of people’s actions. In academia these things can be reflected in a book or journal article, but for us at W5 it’s a Final Report. To get to the end results and insights in a Final Report the W5 Team combines different methodologies to triangulate the most compelling or true to life account of a person or a group of people.

Can you explain what W5’s approach to Ethnography is in a Tweet character count or less?

W5’s approach to Ethnography is meeting consumers where they are in their day-to-day lives and tagging alongside them.


What are the various factors or elements that make ethnographic research work? 

A key to understanding ethnography is to think of it as existing at various levels. At the most basic level we’ll have something like a brand, at this level we are seeking to understand how people may interact with a particular brand. The next level above that is behaviors, and at this level in research we are talking about the products or experiences a brand creates for people in their lives. We then take that one step further and apply the knowledge we have gained by understanding all of this in the context of the environment in which people live. During this phase we may discuss with people how their environment may or may not impact their actions with a product. Think about it, they way you interact with something like a soda when you are at home is very different than how you may interact with a soda somewhere like a concert. We take these understandings and at the broadest level can see trends and can understand and explain how brands interact with and impact the cultures they inhibit.

What are different methods of conducting ethnographic research?

There are three traditional methods of conducting ethnographic research that W5 utilizes. These are Journaling, Immersions, and Discussions. Journaling can come in the form of things like Online Diaries, Lifelogs, or video series, all of which provide us with unique insights into people’s day-to-day lives.

Additionally, we can conduct immersion research, which is the best way for people to show us how they live their lives. This approach can be leveraged through in-homes, in-store, in-context, or through digital platforms

And lastly there are discussions, which can occur in-person via a digital discussion board platform or via webcam.

Each of these methods when paired with engaging activities and discussions allows for us to not only speak with participants but speak to participants and understand the facets that make up their day-to-day lives.

 Are there other ways ethnographic research can be distilled that is particularly impactful? Other than a Final Report

Ethnography pairs incredibly well with any type of Design Driven Deliverable. After understanding a consumer, shopper, or cohort of people we like to think of them almost like characters.

Following the research, we can create things like fact sheets that tell you more about this ‘character’ and the profile, traits, likes, or dislikes in memorable, tangible deliverables that help to basically distill research insights across an organization. These deliverables are comprised of the most crucial parts of a report summarized into something that is well designed.

Another thing that ethnography is useful for is trying to understand the nuances of people’s environments and the day-to-day facets of their lives, and a great way to do that is through video. We’re able to show not only what interviewees are telling us during interviews, but we are also able to see the environment in which they are saying it, what the look like, and get a full picture of a person.

Last question, what’s something people don’t know about the qualitative team at W5?

I think the coolest thing about us is that we are all technically millennials, but we are all at different life stages and ages.

One of us is from the beginning of the generation, while I’m in the middle and, our newest consultant is on the youngest end of the generational spectrum. We make a great team when we are trying to approach a research question and can provide different perspectives and thoughts from a variety of angles. We all also listen to different podcasts so it’s great to get all types of recommendations.


Learn more about Ethnography in W5’s White Paper here

Check out all of our White Papers here

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