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What it is

In classic or traditional market research, we gather information about consumers while we are in our environment – cultural, social, physical. This naturally leads to conditions of bias in which our manner of gathering and interpreting the information in our own environment causes us to misperceive or misunderstand what consumers truly think, believe, or want.

What corrects this problem is ethnographic research, in which we leave the comfort of our own environment and live or work in theirs for a while. Under these new circumstances, our understandings, our perceptions, our interpretations of what they think and feel, as well as our observations of their behavior and actions, occur exclusively in their world. Thus, the information gathered by means of this form of research is less subject to the bias of an external or arbitrary sociocultural context.

This requires us to place highly trained researchers into the field to spend time with the respondents or subjects in their most common venues. These venues can include their place of work, their car, the supermarket where they buy milk, the basement where they do home repairs, the laundry room where they wash and dry the clothes, the tennis court, the bowling alley, or any assortment of these places. The point is that the insights from the research become richer, more meaningful, and more faithful to the genuine context of their lives when it is drawn from their environment rather than ours.

Steps in an ethnographic research project

We begin by conducting a comprehensive review of the available literature and historiography on the sociocultural context in which we will be placing our ethnographers. In this process, we may ask you for whatever background information you may have on social, demographic, or economic profiles of the subpopulation to be studied (the target audience), and we will exploit our own databases and field notes as well for this kind of information.

The workplan

With this information in hand, we will draft a workplan for the ethnographic project and ask you to review and approve this workplan. The workplan will outline the key goals of the project, the overall learning agenda, the key issues to be explored with the respondents, and methods we will use to gather and synthesize this information. It will also list the specific venues in which we will place the ethnographers and provide examples of the kinds of inquiries we will use with respondents to gather the information.


After your approval of the workplan, we will send our ethnographers into the field. As they conduct their work with the respondents, they will be continuously preparing and editing field notes serving the learning objectives of the study and emailing these notes to a shared website where they are compiled and submitted to a common format which streamlines the process of sharing knowledge and making observational comparisons.

A midpoint meeting

When we have a meaningful body of field notes in a common format, we conduct a midpoint meeting with you to discuss some of our early or provisional findings. If we have used audio and/or video tape as part of our data collection process, selected samples of these audio and video records will be included at this midpoint meeting. If we discover at this meeting that some revisions of our workplan are appropriate, we make those modifications at that time.

The final report

When our fieldwork is complete, the ethnographers meet as a group to perform the final compilation of the notes, synthesize key findings and themes, and plan for the final report. If audio and/or video tape have been used in the data collection process, these steps also involve selecting and editing clips that illustrate or elaborate on the key findings, and these clips are made part of the final report.

Our final report includes key themes emerging from the analysis, our conclusions based on these key themes, and our recommendations for specific actions or programs resulting from these conclusions. Recommendations may cover a wide range of programmatic or functional areas, such as creative strategy, media strategy, new product or service recommendations, suggested changes in current product/service formulations, promotion strategy, packaging, public relations program recommendations, event marketing, corporate sponsorships, customer input and customer-satisfaction measurement methods, as well as other disciplines and functional areas.

Key contact at Cascade

For any follow-up questions you may have about the ethnographic research capabilities and experience of Cascade Strategies, please contact Mr. Jerry Johnson at (425) 643-9789 or jerry@cascadestrategies.com.

to Cascade Strategies

A highly innovative, award-winning market research and consulting firm with over 24 years’ experience in the field. Cascade provides consistent excellence in not only the traditional methodologies such as mobile surveys and focus groups, but also in cutting-edge disciplines like Predictive Analytics, Deep Learning, Neuroscience, Biometrics, Eye Tracking, Virtual Reality, and Gamification.
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