Beyond the Voice of the Customer: Ethnographic Market Research

Keith Goffin, Claus Varnes, Chris van der Hoven, Ursula Koners

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Although the importance of integrating the voice of the customer into new product development is almost universally accepted, the techniques used by many organizations to identify customers' needs have stagnated. The most commonly used techniques, focus groups and surveys (including both interviews and questionnaires), have significant limitations. Customers often struggle to articulate their needs in interviews, and focus groups often generate incremental ideas rather than breakthroughs. Companies in the service sector face an additional challenge, as their customers need to discuss services, which are by their nature intangible. One of the most promising approaches to generating a deeper customer understanding is ethnographic market research, which adopts ideas from ethnography, the set of tools social scientists use to study tribal cultures. These techniques can provide deep customer insights, but their application to new product development is not well studied. We explain the key elements of ethnographic market research, present four cases from the manufacturing and service sectors, and discuss the implications for managers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch Technology Management
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)45-53
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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