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An Immersive Ethnography Technique for deep understanding
Presented by Chris Hauck, President of HauckEye
NewMR Event: Qualitative Research in 2021
Over my long career, I have been lucky enough to work with really creative researchers who have taught me to be fearless and creative. On a project for a US based restaurant chain, I worked with my videographer to record interviews without the knowledge of those around us, focused on the research participants who are in the know, and my own brand of sneaky ethnography was born. After Covid, I’ll take this approach back out on the road to explore all sorts of restaurants, hotels, retail establishment, auto dealerships and so much more. If you can go do it, I can study it! And have fun too.
• A key component of my approach uses the
idea of Empathy Marketing, understanding the
perspective of the respondent through
observation and in-depth conversation.
• Empathy in terms of……
• Hearing people and putting ourselves in their
place helps us to understand their attitudes.
• Allowing people to be honest and open.
• Developing real understanding.
As a basis for methodology
Qualitative research is a variety
of research, the common
feature of which is a reliance
on unstructured data and on
forms of data analysis that are
It’s very flexible
There are many fewer rules when it comes to
doing qualitative research. Generally, if you don’t
introduce bias towards one answer or another,
you can do it.
• Have one on one conversations, man on the
street style – sure…that’s qualitative
• Talk to random people in a bar – do it. That’s
• Conduct some focus groups – online. Yup,
• Do a focus group of 100 people in an
auditorium. Maybe not the best approach,
but that’s qual too.
It’s easy to invent
tools and techniques
Because qualitative research is flexible, it’s easy
to invent new tools and techniques to meet
No statistics are harmed in this process.
No rules are broken in inventing an approach.
First step is to ask the question: what is the
objective to be met on this project?
Second step is to determine whether the
approach is replicable across projects. If it is,
you have invented a tool or a technique.
Objective: Identify opportunities
for improvement and growth for a
Invention: Deep Experience
Components: Initial 30-45 minute
interview at the respondent’s
workplace or home to explore
consumer choice in a topic
appropriate environment. That
step is then followed by an
experience (like lunch or happy
hour) in a real environment with
both the client brand and
competitors. Recordings are
hidden and only the respondent
and the team know there is a
Recording tools are hidden from the people working in
the store, the restaurant, the hotel or wherever.
The tools of an
immersive ethnography experience for deep learning
iPhone is my camera
iWatch is my monitor
Apple Airpods act as our microphone
Today, if you go to retailers, you’ll see our
solutions in displays, product organization and
packaging to explain some complex concepts
such as color, lumens, technology, programming
and much more. Having the experience with the
customer exposed a wide variety of missing
I’ve also conducted the same research for
smart/connected home products.
Buying a light bulb became complicated with
LED lighting. How do I help clients educate
consumers and drive them to choose their
products in a big box hardware store?
Respondents were interviewed at home or at
work first, then taken shopping for light bulbs
in markets throughout the US.
BUYING LIGHT BULBS CASUAL DINING BUSINESS TO BUSINESS
In the competitive casual dining category, my
client wanted to understand the experience at
their restaurants and key competitors’
restaurants to move occasional customers to
regular or heavy users. I took a wide variety
of individuals and small groups out to lunch, to
happy hour, to dinner or for late night drinks in
five markets, while the restaurant staff had no
idea I was conducting research.
On a regular basis, my client, who makes
machines the size of a large room that analyze
human fluids, is required to make the case for
system changes. By following each Lab Director
around for 2 days, I was able to fully understand
their experience and pain points while using the
current version of the product.
I experienced dining with the customer and
was able to identify a wide variety of new
approaches and opportunities to be more
There were so many opportunities uncovered
that the client will be implementing my ideas
My process allowed the Lab Directors to identify
almost 100 process, product, system and
software improvements for the specifications of
the next generation blood gas analyzer.
Get in and get your hands dirty
• Qualitative research is a creative space
where there are few rules. So try things,
see if they work…
• I have some basic rules that I know to
be pretty true from many years of
– Respondents remember better than
you think they will – assume they will
remember and be able to tell you
what they remember.
– People want to talk with you, they
want to help you understand. You
can talk to anyone and this will
always be true.