The use of visual ethnographic methods to communicate customer insights in the commercial world was the theme for discussion on a mid-November evening at Anthropology in Industry, hosted by the Royal Anthropological Institute.
Our guest speaker was Jim Mott, associate director at BAMM London, a research agency which uses visual ethnography to deliver consumer insights to a range of multinational clients.
An example of BAMM’s visual ethnography
Starting with the theory that material culture is a vehicle for meaning in everyday life, Jim and his colleagues focus on understanding the people they study through their physical interactions with the environment around them, as well as what they say about it.
Visual methodologies, Jim says, are a powerful way to capture complex, nuanced thoughts and ideas and concisely communicate findings to busy, time-poor clients. Images transcend the direct (if jargon-laden) language of business and the verbose wordiness of academia, conveying a deep and empathetic understanding of the target customers.
Several audience members questioned whether the limited time spent in the field (days and weeks rather than months) and the edited, ‘packaged’ way that findings are presented undermined the validity of this kind of research ‘ethnography’.
However, the realities of time and budget constraints of the commercial world dictate that a pragmatic approach to research is required, which is somewhat less rigorous than academia. The limited time and attention span of the business world also requires the story to be told in a compelling and concise manner.
The aim of Jim and his colleagues at BAMM is to uphold the values of ethnographic fieldwork in their research so that the insights they produce provide a deep and engaging understanding of a culture that is true to the perspective of the people being studied.