Activity-based research harnesses today’s technology tools to enable us to do ethnographic research without having to physically be in the consumer’s home.

Ethnography means trying to understand behavior and culture by spending time with people in the natural context of their daily lives, according to Ethnography Research Inc.

P&G spends considerable amounts of time living with consumers in their homes, shopping with them in stores, and being part of their lives. The company believes that ethnographic research can, in the words of former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, A.G. Lafley, “lead to richer consumer insights, which helps identify innovation opportunities that are often missed by traditional research.”

But, ethnographic research is expensive and extremely time-consuming so unless you have a multi-billion dollar research budget like P & G, you probably can’t afford it.

Activity-based research makes ethnographic research affordable and fast.

In an activity-based research study, participants might be asked to keep a shopper or usage diary or do a photo and video tour of their home or office. They would upload their photos and/or videos to a project web site and then answer some questions about the photos or videos.

This is an example of the instructions a participant in a usage diary activity called Food Moments would see when they logged in on the project web site. They are being asked to take a picture of everything they eat over the course of one day. They then post each photo to the web site and write a description of what was in the picture and who they were with when they had their food moment.

food moments diary example

How the Food Moments activity can be adapted for use by housewares companies

Kitchen gadget, cookware, and kitchen electrics manufacturers could use this usage diary activity to gain an understanding of consumer meal prep habits and practices. For example, study participants could be asked to take a picture of every kitchen tool and gadget, pot and pan, and small appliance they used to prepare each meal. When they posted each picture to the project web site, they would be asked to explain why they selected that particular item to use and whether the item was easy or difficult to use, etc. This would yield valuable consumer insight that would help the product designers come up new product concepts that were superior to the items consumers were currently using.

This is an example of the instructions a participant in a photo tour activity called Fridge and Freezer Tour would see when they logged in on the project web site. In this example, participants are being asked to take photos of the outside of their refrigerator, the inside of their refrigerator and freezer, and an item from the refrigerator or freezer that had been there for 6 months or more. They then post the photos along and write a description of each photo.

Fridge tour example

How the Fridge Tour activity can be adapted for use by housewares companies

Manufacturers of home organization and storage products could adapt the Tour activity to get an up close and personal look at how real-world consumers are organizing their homes, what home organization and storage products they are using, and what projects they want to tackle. This consumer insight would enable the manufacturer to come up with new products that addressed consumers’ needs and problems.

How Activity-Based Research Can Benefit Your Company

The best way to differentiate your company from your competitors is to develop products that solve consumer problems or meet consumer needs better than what is on the market today. Which means you have to understand what the consumers’ needs and problems are. Ethnographic research and activity-based research are tools that you can use to gain the understanding you need to create products that will resonate with consumers.