How A Cultural Anthropologist Can Help You Strengthen Your Loyal Customer Base

Business leaders have a lot on their plate so finding the time to truly understand who your customers are and why they buy from you, while often on the CEO’s wish list, ends up being relegated, on a day-to-day basis, to the chief marketing or sales officer. But the more the CEO can think like the customer, the better he or she can lead the company in a direction that gives the customers what they need, as well as what they want, thereby growing customer loyalty and increasing customer value.

A cultural anthropologist can help you better understand your customers’ wants and needs, both for today and for tomorrow. Here are 5 ways they can help your company.

1. Get deeper insights through direct observation. This is most often referred to as ethnography – a technique based on the idea that directly observing and interacting with people and cultures is the best way to learn why people do what they do. Ethnography gets you much closer to the truth and as a leader you want a cultural anthropologist on your team to learn how people really use and live with your products and services.

Example: Miele, a German household goods company used ethnography to study its consumer base in their homes. One finding: the excessive cleaning in families where members had allergies resulted in a useful product innovation. Miele built a traffic light indicator on its vacuum cleaners showing a user when a surface is dust-free.

“A cultural anthropologist helps internalize the fact that consumer motivation has its roots in cultural behavior. When you start to see the world this way, you start to see the larger underlying architecture that guides people’s purchase decisions.”

2. Learn what people actually do versus what they say they do. Ninety-five percent of our decisions are subconscious, so marketers need to go beyond listening to what their customers are saying and understand what they’re actually doing.

Example: Some companies will take the time to walk a mile in a customer or consumer’s shoes. It gets you to what people actually want versus what they think they want. What CEO would not like to have that kind of insight in their discovery process?

3. Connect underlying cultural values to your offering. A cultural anthropologist helps internalize the fact that consumer motivation has its roots in cultural behavior. When you start to see the world this way, you start to see the larger underlying architecture that guides people’s purchase decisions.

4. Go beyond surveys and focus groups. Most CEOs are looking to go beyond surveys and focus groups because they can be time- and cost-intensive and take too long to set up. CEOs need answers more quickly these days. Ethnography is possible in much shorter time frames and at a reduced price with digital and mobile tools. Mobile devices, in fact, have become the new response device of choice for young consumers.

5. Build better relationships. Every company is inundated with Big Data today, but turning all that information into insight takes a lot of effort and expertise. And in the end, with just the data, do you really have the answers you were looking for? Ethnography digs deeper than the data to help you really understand what drives your customers to make the purchase decisions they make and how you can fit into their lifestyle rather than forcing them to fit into yours.

When it comes to your customers, you know what you know, but what you don’t know could be much more valuable. Cultural anthropologists are experts at understanding people. They can help you find the golden nuggets of insight you need to build stronger relations and a more loyal customer base.

Robbie Blinkoff
Dr. Robbie Blinkoff is idfive’s Chief Anthropologist and co-creator of anthrolog, the first SMS-based ethnographic research tool. Dr. Robbie has been a Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Director of The Pocket Anthropologist and a Fast Company Fast 50 award-winner. Connect with Dr. Robbie on LinkedIn.

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