Understand your target audience better? Use ethnography!

With good content marketing you respond to the needs of your target group. You answer a pressing question, give your target group a push in the right direction, or help them make a decision. To do that with content, you need to know your target audience through and through. How do you do that? Look at the art of ethnographers, the scientists who specialize in understanding groups of people through ethnography.

Ethnographers immerse themselves in a culture. And they observe people in their natural environment. For example, they spend a month with teachers to investigate what problems they experience in education. They watch football every Sunday in the local pub to understand football culture. Or they have journalists keep a diary in which they write down their motivations for certain journalistic choices.

Through these forms of direct (walking) and indirect (diary) observation, ethnographers learn how a social or cultural group behaves, what their norms and values ​​are, what language they speak and how they view the world. Ethnography has been popular with anthropologists, cultural scientists and sociologists for decades. But not with content marketers. And that’s a shame, because ethnography also comes in handy in content marketing.

You are a content marketer, not a scientist.

Research your target audience with ethnography

Does your target group form a clear social or cultural group, such as gamers, livestock farmers or carers? Then you can use ethnographic methods to understand them. This brings you much closer to their true wishes, needs and perception than if you only listen to your gut feeling. Or when you go through a few trend reports.

Ethnography gives you the opportunity to keep asking questions. And research your target audience for a longer period of time. This will help you gain their trust and get to know them even better. With that knowledge in your pocket you can create even stronger content!

That does not mean that you have to work completely as a scientist. Luckily not. After all, you are a content marketer, not a scientist. So you don’t have to worry about scientific requirements for good research, such as a theoretical framework, replicability and complete transparency.

But you can be inspired by the ethnographic method.

4 lessons from ethnography

Okay, enough theory. What are concrete things that you as a content marketer can learn from ethnographers? Which ways of working and thinking can inspire you to better understand your own target group? 4 lessons:

1. Get out of your desk!

One of the most important aspects of ethnography: you try to observe your target audience in their natural environment. The more specific your target audience, the better. Then you can search for them in a more targeted way. Are you targeting chess players? Learn to play chess. Festival goers? Buy a ticket for Pinkpop. Highly educated? Spend a few days on a college campus.

Observe and speak to your target group, that is the core of an ethnographic approach. So you will have to do something that marketers rarely do: get out of that desk!

In this way you discover concrete information needs that you did not think of in the first place. For example, you learn that every festival has different rules about what you can bring to the campsite. That is confusing for festival goers. Bam! Content idea: a festival packing listas festival platform Festileaks makes every year.

Digital ethnography

An increasing part of our lives takes place online. Modern ethnographers often go online ‘to the people’. For example, by joining a forum, or playing the same games as the group they are researching. A combination of online and offline is often best. Also for content marketers.

2. Embrace Qualitative Research

Ethnography is almost always qualitative. You do not collect hard figures or data, but opinions, motivations, needs, fears and desires. This does not give you broadly generalizable insights. But you do get a deeper understanding of your target group and their perception of the world. You can choose from many qualitative methods, such as:

  • observations,
  • (qualitative) surveys,
  • group conversations,
  • in-depth interviews,
  • discoursanalyses,
  • participation research, and/or
  • keep diaries.

If you embrace this kind of qualitative research, you will come to new, in-depth insights. Care organizations find out through patient diaries how they experience the communication of the hospital. A racing bicycle maker discovers through group discussions what amateur cyclists find important in a bicycle. And by participating in the Nijmegen Four Days Marches, an organizer of walking events finds out what information needs walkers have.

Ethnographers understand that people don’t always tell the truth.

That data is a great starting point for content that precisely responds to the wishes and needs of your target group. Take, for example, the National Ombudsman. This organization helps citizens who get stuck with the government, such as the victims of the earthquake damage in Groningen. To better understand this target group, the organization (with a content creator) went to Groningen. They drove through the villages, spoke to the inhabitants and walked with professionals. The result was a better understanding of the target audience and their problems. But also a magazine with strong content with typical ethnographic formats, like a photo report.

Of course, the fact that qualitative methods can provide fascinating insights does not mean that figures and trend reports are worthless. To understand your target audience you need both qualitative and quantitative methods.

3. Don’t always trust people (directly) at their word

With ethnography you look for the underlying motivations, needs, fears and desires of your target group. That’s easier said than done. Ethnographers often engage in conversations with people to find out these motivations and needs. But ethnographers also understand that people don’t always tell the truth. For example, because they remember things incorrectly, do not understand the questions correctly, or give socially desirable answers.

For example, if you ask elderly people who receive home care what they think of the care, they may not be so quick to say that they feel neglected and poorly treated. They don’t want to appear ungrateful. Then you get socially desirable answers.

Cultural anthropologist (and ethnographer) Margret Mead repeatedly noticed this problem. So she came to the conclusion, “What people say, what people do, and what people say they do are completely different things.”

Portrait and quote of ethnographer Margaret Mead

So if you’re trying to understand your target audience, you can’t trust them directly on their word. Ethnography therefore always goes further than just an interview. How? For example, by doing many interviews and seeing which answers keep coming back (there will then be a kernel of truth in that). And by taking the time for an in-depth interview in which you can ask questions. Or by combining interviews with other research methods.

4. Combine research methods

Each research method has advantages and disadvantages. Interviews help you find out people’s needs. But they can also provide socially desirable answers. With observations, on the other hand, you immediately see how people really behave. The disadvantage? You cannot inquire about their motivations.

That is why ethnographers like to use multiple methods. For example, combine interviews and observations. Or diaries and participation research. In this way you benefit from the advantages of different methods while eliminating the disadvantages against each other. This gives you a more complete picture of your target audience. Especially if you combine these qualitative insights with quantitative data.

With a deeper understanding of your target audience, your content really makes an impact.

Apply Ethnography

By thinking a little more as a content marketer and working like an ethnographer, you get to know your target audience even better. So get out of your desk, embrace qualitative research, don’t trust your target audience directly on their word and combine research methods. Then you get a deeper understanding of the wants, needs and preferences of your target audience. You can then respond to this with your content strategy. So that your content really makes an impact.


Source: Frankwatching by www.frankwatching.com.

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