I've really been enjoying Grant McCracken's posts on Ethnography and Anthropology as of late. Grant's a master. Because of the work we do at Radar I get asked to explain how ethnography and anthropology work, when to use them and how to use them.
At the core of both ethnography and anthropology is the in context conversation. Michael Perman, of Levi's, really did a wonderful job describing such conversations with customers in the interview I did with him in Spark. Here's part one of the interview:
Michael Perman – Immerse Yourself
So, the real question is, how does getting into the lives of customers help us be more innovative at any level? I think at the heart of our design principles at Levi’s are values that emerge from cultural and consumer-driven inspiration. It’s a pathway that’s been baked into the culture of the company. Finding deep cultural inspirations by really getting to know people extensively, as people, enables you to understand the values that drive their behavior, which will lead to design principles. From those design principles emerge great products and great marketing ideas.
For instance, our work in 2003 identified four major sea changes. One is called ‘The appearance of readiness,’ the second is called ‘Attitude trumps age,’ the third is called ‘Consumer power play,’ and finally, ‘General ADD.’ The first one, the appearance of readiness, was about people’s desire to put on personas that make them feel like they’re ready for a certain activity. They wanted to feel like they were ready to embrace the world around them, including the problems, opportunities, frustrations and transformations relevant to them.
At the time we were exploring these issues, the United States entered the war in Iraq. A lot of disengagement by American consumers seemed to be brewing. There was also a lot of distrust of society – you know, you can’t trust priests, you can’t trust Martha Stewart, you can’t trust corporations and government. There was an awareness that you’re on your own and you need to take care of yourself.
We discovered people thinking that they’d feel better if they put on some sort of a persona to help get them through. An example of this includes the Hummer and the proliferation of SUVs. Do you know how many people who drive SUVs actually use them for the intended purpose? Like many other products in society, SUVs are over-engineered because they can be. This inspiration is what led us to developing many products in the work wear category. When I talk about work wear, I’m not talking about professional grade work wear.
It’s not designed for welders or gardeners. Instead, work wear includes cargo and carpenter pants with hidden pockets. These pants include all sorts of design features that give you that kind of ‘ready for anything’ look. Surprisingly, even in our women’s apparel line we developed products that were service oriented, inspired by the functionality of Federal Express and UPS drivers and policewomen.
The key was to create apparel that lets the customer give the impression that they are providing some sort of service to the world. Another thing we found in our exploration in 2003 was the emergence of active wear inspired by yoga. Everyone may not necessarily be doing yoga, but they want to look ready for it, or at least just look ready.
Looking for Control
In these uncertain times, people want to be more in control and more in charge of the world around them. To gain this control, there is a shift from consumption to creation. Certainly, this is clearly reflected in the number of television shows like “Extreme Makeover” and “Pimp My Ride.” These shows are all about making transformations in your life. What I find interesting is that these shows are about the viewers and not about a star. It’s not about something you buy ready made; it’s about things that you have a part in creating and the idea that everyone can be a creator.
These shows reflect Richard Florida’s point of view in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class; that a lot of people want to have a sense of creation rather than a sense of buying more packaged stuff. A lot of the insights we derive from our explorations include people saying, “I go to a department store and I see an enormous display of shirts that all look the same. I’m just overwhelmed and uninspired by that.” That has led us to produce a lot of jeans for women with some real personal touches, including embroidery, little fabric inlays and things that have a more handcrafted feel to them.
Transparency and Authenticity
We also find there’s an increased desire from consumers for more corporate transparency and more authenticity. That’s good for Levi’s. But that brings up the point that it’s a lot easier to be able to ride a cultural shift than it is to fight against it. By immersing ourselves and understanding this cultural shift we could really leverage Levi’s authenticity. This was reflected in our products and advertising as well, focusing on individuals who have humble but interesting lives – they are not movie stars or models.
These people are all about being themselves and there’s something very authentic and personal about that. It’s all about personal expression, being yourself, your ultimate comfort – and for Levi’s – we have a jean that works for you.