In consumer research, we often use a technique called ethnographies. Ethnographies are essentially in-home interviews, and they’re just as it sounds: we go to people’s houses, and talk to them in their “natural habitat.” We ask questions about their lives, their hobbies, their relationships. We dig into their perceptions of specific brands and types of products. For a beer interview, for example, we’d ask all about the types of beer they like, when they drink it, where they buy it, etc. We use these interviews to help clients better understand their consumer targets – their lives, their interests, their concerns. It’s a rich way to gather insights, and a fascinating one, too.
One of the best parts of in-home interviews is that there’s a lot of showing, on top of the telling. We always ask for a house tour. Every part of the house is fair game, from bedrooms to bathrooms. If it’s a food or beverage-focused project, we go through their cabinets and their fridge, taking note of what they eat, how they store it, how they serve it. Though sometimes respondents feel a bit embarrassed to show us their messy lives, that’s sort of the point: few of us have homes that are as organized and beautiful as what we see in magazines, and to truly understand “real people,” we have to see life at its realest.
I recently was thinking about what would happen if a researcher entered my own apartment and did an in-home interview about me. How would she describe my perspective on life? My thoughts on relationships? The way I organize my living space and belonging? I looked around my apartment, trying to size up what my room says about me. My bedroom is full of mementos and curios. Books, pictures, souvenirs, art. There are a couple pieces of World’s Fair memorabilia floating around. A tray gifted to me by one of my favorite college professors. A ceramic bowl that my brother made me. Artwork I bought on a bridge in Prague. And then, of course, the overflow storage, organized with a steel bookshelf and fabric cubes. Would the researcher comment on my love of travel, perhaps? On the multitude of pictures of family and friends? My collection of foreign language dictionaries and thesauruses? On the sheer quantity of things “on display” in my room?
I like to think that the researcher would scribble notes down about my outgoing spirit, my inquisitive mind, my breadth of hobbies. I’d hope they say that I seem to have it together. I’d hope they’d say I’m a savvy consumer who makes rational choices. I’d hope they’d say I’m interesting.
If a researcher entered your home: what would she think? What would she deem important to you? How would she describe your perspective on your life? What do you think would go in the report?