Brand ethnography: keeping a step ahead of consumers

Recent news on the Orwellian capabilities of smartphones to track almost precisely where consumers are at a given time expectedly brought on privacy fears aided by reports of unprecedented intrusion by government agencies into peoples' lives. But such avantgarde technology makes brand ethnography , which among other things calls for observing consumers in close quarters,  a reality.  The ability to create a strong brand hinges to no small extent on companies being able to observe where lifestyle and brand values converge with, hopefully, the latter being a step ahead.

Observing customers, potential and current,  in a "natural" context preferably unbeknownst to the observee, is the holy grail of marketers as it likely will lead to the establishment of brands that cater to heretofore unmet needs and perhaps making the market for brand visionaries more competitive.  Besides enabling a better understanding of customer behavior by focussing more on the qualitative aspects  rather than merely the quantitative that is true of traditional market research it also gives a bird's eye view on the choice-making process.

Retail giant Hennes & Mauritz AB, better known as H&M appears not (yet) to have gone the phone tracking route to establish a foothold in the US for its more upscale brand, COS (Collection of Style) but it, nevertheless, created a mini-observatory via a "pop-up" store in New York's SoHo neighborhood where for the past month it has been observing consumer reaction at close quarters for what appears to be essentially higher prices for similar products sold at its regular stores. The mini-store is stated to be the preamble for a grand entry for COS into the US, the company's second largest market.

For the past few years New York has also been the frontier market for the establishment of several successful hotel brands such as Andaz, Indigo and Edition (being built).   Although it is unclear if there is a unitary theme beyond the individually quirky names (in the simpler old days hotel founders lent their surnames to the hotels) that undergirds their entry, they have all pinned their growth on alleged lifestyle attributes.  The advent of smartphone tracking technology and its ethnographic implications could spawn a new genre of hotels; hostelries that not only mimick lifestyles but suggest truly aspirational modes de vivre that are yet to be imagined much less lived.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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