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Ethnographic Stories and the Strategic Development of the Firm

Dr Julien Cayla, UNSW

20th Apr 2012  02:00 pm - Room 214/215, H69 - Economics and Business Building

Ethnography is a popular research method in a growing number of organizations. Companies such as Intel or Harley Davidson have found ethnography to be essential in creating customer-centric capabilities in organizations. Ethnography has helped companies develop an in-depth understanding of consumer segments leading to empathetic product designs and new market opportunities.

However, despite recent efforts to formalize what we know about the use of ethnographic methods as a form of consumer research (Cefkin 2009; Malefyt 2009; Sunderland and Denny 2007), major gaps persist in our understanding of the way ethnography is used within companies.

In this presentation, we will present the findings of a two-year study designed to examine how ethnography contributes to the development of market knowledge and the strategic development of the firm. We draw from extensive fieldwork in the world of commercial ethnography, including interviews with ethnographers, innovation consultants, advertising executives, market researchers and business executives who are involved in ethnographic projects. Our analysis focus on the properties of ethnography as a type of narrative knowledge.

We already know that storytelling is a powerful tool: stories delight, inspire us and they help us understand by imprinting a picture of the world in our minds. Most successful brands are built on evocative storylines and characters. Yet we rarely talk about market research as a form of storytelling, nor do we examine the specific properties of narrative knowledge as a way to build strategies. Our work looks at the power of ethnographic stories in an organizational context.