Ethnographical observation has become a central pillar of our approach to understanding human behaviour. Simply put, it is the scientific study of people, culture and behaviours from the perspective of the subject. That is to say, if you want to understand something, then dive in. If you want to understand how it feels to be wet, you could survey some swimmers, you could take some test tube samples from the pool, or you could just strip down to your underwear and dive right in.
Observing consumer behaviour in real time (without participants being aware they are being studied) is key to unlocking true insight. Setting up fixed and mobile cameras, following shoppers, watching, note taking, immersion, measuring. The golden nugget of behavioural insight usually comes not from talking to consumers but from watching them in their natural habitat.
We are like the nature documentary makers. We hide in the long grass to film the Gazelle. If you want to study behaviour by visiting a zoo and call that ‘accurate research’ then you are basing your findings and subsequent strategy on a house of cards. Immersion and non-participant observation are keystones of how we formulate our consumer behaviour understanding.