When and Why Your Business Needs Ethnography

When and Why Your Business Needs Ethnography

Here at Sivo Insights, one of our targeted solutions to your business challenges is ethnographic research. But what exactly is ethnography? And why do you need it? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Ethnography?

Ethnography is a flexible, qualitative research method that can be adapted to fit different audiences, markets, learning objectives, and environments.

Ethnographers immerse themselves in the natural environment of their research participants (home/office), and then observe their behavior. They also conduct an intimate one-on-one interview (usually lasting around 2 hours in length) with the respondent, where they learn about the life, values, beliefs, and attitudes of the consumer. When you need to develop a deep understanding of your audience by hearing their stories and truly learning about their lives, ethnographies may be the right fit for your consumer research needs.

What Are The Benefits of Ethnography?

Because research is conducted in the comfort of the consumer’s home or workspace, valuable insight is shared in a more truthful and open manner as compared to focus group research settings.

This up close and personal observation is critical because ethnographers can both witness and understand what consumers actually do on a daily basis, versus what they say they do.

There is also an opportunity to interact with family and friends of the participant, to gain a more complete picture of his/her life. Engagement on such a personal level creates the foundation for intimate and empathetic consumer learning, which could prove valuable to a brand for years to come.

In addition, videographers can capture the ethnographic interviews and key moments with research participants, such as pantry tours, product interactions, and family meals. This video footage can then be translated into a powerful highlight reel to share with your marketing, design, or sales teams; to build empathy and gain a better understanding of your consumers.

What Key Questions Can Ethnography Answer?

Ethnography is the perfect research tool to help you understand your audience, their mindset, their daily experiences, and their relationship with your product/service.

If you want to know how to frame your brand message in order to connect effectively with consumers, ethnography will help provide the insights you need to craft a clear message.

You can also recognize ways to improve your product/service, while spotting potential product innovation opportunities. Additionally, ethnography can help you answer questions about your competitor and their core audience, as well as reveal opportunities for differentiating your brand.

Ethnography provides a unique, crucial perspective on how your brand fits into the actual lives of your consumers. So if you’re ready to tackle your business challenges and discover powerful insights that will help move your business forward, ethnography might just be the missing research tool you’ve been looking for.

Contact us today to learn more about our ethnographic research services and discover what ethnography can do for you.  


Team Member Spotlight: Ralph Blessing

Ralph pictured left with his three sons, Paul, Mark and Scott.
Ralph pictured left with his three sons, Paul, Mark and Scott.


We are firm believers that our team is what sets us apart. Meet Ralph Blessing, a Sivo Insights Research Consultant with a passion for dramatically changing the way businesses view their products and services. He comes with a unique blend of client and supplier market research, Brand Management and consulting experience.

Ralph first got his start in market research over 30 years ago at S.C. Johnson Wax. During his time there, he was heavily involved with launch of Curel – their 1st therapeutic skin care products and Skintimate – the first ever women’s shave lotion. Ralph also succeeded in increasing Edge’s growth by an impressive 50 percent, by recommended they shift their spending from advertising to sampling college men, based on consumer insights that sampling drives conversion better than any other marketing mix tool.

Throughout his years at Helene Curtis, Unilever, GfK and now Sivo, Ralph has facilitated innovation and positioning of countless brands. “I really feel like I have the unique ability to ‘walk in the client’s shoes’ versus simply reporting findings,” says Ralph. Most recently, Frito Lay launched Doritos Roulette (every 5th chip is spicy, you just don’t know which one) – a concept he developed with the brand team.

In addition to helping brands grow, Ralph enjoys teaching MBAs at the Kelly School of Business where he puts his rich experience, leadership skills, and positive energy to good use.

Outside of work, Ralph is a true family man and spends much of his free time with his wife Beth and their three sons. He is also extremely passionate about giving back to the community and is involved with several charities and has participated in five medical mission trips to Honduras.

One of the charities near and dear to his heart is Feed My Starving Children, a non-profit that provides nutritionally complete meals specifically formulated for malnourished children. Ralph has personally run three successful events with the organization where he and his team packed more than 500,000 meals for children in need. This year he hopes to double that goal and make it 1 million meals.

Sivo Insights Unveils a Brand New Look!



We are thrilled to announce that Sivo Insights has recently undergone a brand refresh! It’s the same Sivo that you know and love, but a fresh new look that reflects our growth, evolution and future. In conjunction with our brand refresh, we are also pleased to announce several exciting new partnerships and team members.


New Capabilities & Partnerships

With a mission to leave no stone unturned, we are proud to partner with other talented resources in order to provide all of your research solutions under one roof, ensuring the quality and perseverance you expect from Sivo is delivered every step of the way. Our partners specialize in:



The Sivo Village is Growing

We are firm believers that it is our people that sets us apart. We’ve recently expanded our team to do even more for you under one roof, allowing our deep bench of dedicated talent to customize your research experience. Click here to meet some of the newest additions to the Sivo Village!


Inspiring Case Studies

We’re excited to release several inspiring new case studies that showcase how we help our clients move their business forward. From retail to natural and organic, we hope these case studies spark fresh ideas for your own business and inspire new possibilities. Click here to read them now!






Social Capital and The Customer Experience

Social Capital and The Customer Experience

We’ve already established that social capital plays a crucial role in your business, just like financial and human capital does. But how exactly does social capital tie into the customer experience? And how can you as a marketer, incorporate social capital into your marketing efforts?

The Relationship Between Social Capital and The Customer Experience

Customers are the priority of any business. By simply keeping them happy and satisfied with the products and/or services you are offering them, you can guarantee their loyalty, support, and recommendation.

But keeping your customers happy is not a simple task. You need to ensure that there is harmony across your business, in order to ensure a consistent customer experience. That’s where social capital comes in.

Social capital provides the quality relationships needed to ensure excellent customer experience is delivered each and every time. Not only does your social capital ensure the growth of your business, it allows you to expand your connections, in turn creating more social capital.

Here are just a few ways social capital can be integrated to improve the customer experience:

1. Use your social capital i.e.; your team, online communities, interest groups, business partners, to solve difficult problems in your business. For example, if you are stuck between using inbound marketing or outbound marketing for your next campaign, field the question to your team and online communities and use the suggestions to direct your campaign.

2. Align the voice of your business (amongst your team/employees) so that your customers can receive a uniform marketing experience regardless of which channel they are accessing your product or service from.

3. Pay attention to what your customers are saying online, engage with them, and learn about what they want from your brand. Once you’ve done this, you can create a personalized marketing approach that caters specifically to their desires. One of our goals at Sivo Insights is to provide our customers with a differentiating experience. There’s nothing appealing about treating your customers like faceless money-machines with no personality, needs, wants, or goals.

4. Use your connections to promote your content, products, and services. For example, if you are releasing a new E-book, have other influencers in your niche share pieces of content that pertain to your upcoming release, and give them an incentive to put your product in front of their audience. The incentive could be as simple as promoting their product when the time comes.

Once you understand how to harness the power of social capital and direct it towards the purpose of marketing your business and enhancing the customer experience, growth is only inevitable.

Team Member Spotlight: Austin Curtis


Here at Sivo Insights, we are proud to work with a diverse team of researchers, strategists, and creative talent that are passionate about what they do. Meet Austin Curtis, a Sivo research consultant with a passion for problem solving and utilizing creative thinking to tap into the unknown.

A biology major and once pre-med student, Austin first began his career as a scientist for General Mills. After discovering consumer research, he quickly switched focus, applying his analytical skills to develop original methodologies that uncover powerful insights. 

“I love solving problems that revolve around what people need, what makes them tick, and the behaviors that manifest when their needs are or aren’t met,” says Austin. “These problems are often extremely complex and irrational. I tend to thrive in this space, as I have an imagination that gets fueled by hearing and sharing experiences. The icing on the cake is being able to share these experiences in a story that everyone can then relate to on a deeper level.”

Austin credits his creative mindset to his mother who always encouraged him and his siblings to explore life through the lens of imagination. As a result, he has found a strong passion for creative writing and storytelling, which takes on many forms in his own life. From playing Dungeons and Dragons to creating children’s books storylines and drawings, he allows his mind to explore new spaces and experiment with avant-garde concepts.  

As a researcher, Austin’s creative ethos extends as a vehicle to inspire clients with information that will help shape a new perspective behind the unique wants and needs of their consumers. 

“If clients are truly curious about something that they have little to no knowledge about, I love taking that opportunity to trailblaze a path into the unknown for them, all the while, showcasing all of the intriguing discoveries that have been unearthed,” says Austin.

Austin’s affinity for storytelling, coupled with his creative methodologies makes him a welcomed addition to the Sivo team!

Harnessing The Power of Social Capital

Three business professionals working together

Social Capital is a phrase that has been making some headlines lately. So what is social capital and why does it matter? As it turns out, social capital is one of the most fundamental ingredients to success whether you’re an employee, a CEO of a major corporation, or a startup entrepreneur. According to Collins English Dictionary, social capital can be described as the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.

While we all know that financial and human capital are critical to a business’s success, social capital is equally important, if not more so. “When you’ve developed a wealth of social capital, you can obtain any other resources you might need – whether that means gaining investors, recruiting experts, or building your team with the best of the best,” says Chris Cancialosi, a contributor at Forbes.

So how does one harness the power of social capital? Let’s look at it this way: no matter how many business cards you hand out, how many events you attend, or how many books you might read to increase your area of expertise, all of these efforts are irrelevant if you don’t have a strong network of supporters. And we’re not just talking about “networking”. Social capital extends beyond the traditional ideas of networking, to something deeper and more meaningful – the building of genuine, long-lasting relationships. These types of relationships are fostered, sought out, and nurtured to the highest degree and can be used to build and maintain an established sense of trust within a social community.

Building your social capital may seem like a daunting task, but it’s far less complicated than you might think. Whether it’s offering free advice and resources to others, contributing regularly to your community, adding value via social media or simply being honest with your core team, all of these efforts go a long way in demonstrating your commitment and leadership to your social community.

Fostering strong social capital is simply imperative to any companies’ long-term success, and this is exactly how we have grown and thrived at Sivo Insights. We believe that people come first, relationships require nurturing, and at the end of the day it’s really about giving back and making genuine connections. It’s this belief that drives our team and how we deal with each of our clients on a day-to-day basis.

As long as you put in the effort, heart and commitment that it takes to build lasting relationships, your wealth of social capital can only expand. The sky is truly the limit.

Sivo Team Member Spotlight: Katrina McGhee


Here at Sivo Insights, we are passionate about learning. Whether it’s studying the latest market research trends or investigating the minds of consumers, our thirst for knowledge is endless. We thrive working with a tightknit team of intelligent, creative individuals who share our passion for learning.

Meet Katrina McGhee, a Sivo Insights team member who epitomizes a zest for learning. A former actuary, Katrina left the field after discovering her interest in marketing and consumer insights. After receiving her MBA, she was quickly recruited by General Mills to work in Consumer Insights. Highly intelligent and intuitive, Katrina has joined the Sivo Insights team as a Research Manager, where she is able to put her unique skillset and experience into action.

“I love to uncover hidden truths and beliefs people have, and then use my intuition to stitch together seemingly disparate pieces of information,” she says. “It can be a really rewarding experience.”

P1010063Her thirst for learning doesn’t stop with market research. Katrina is a seasoned world traveler with a keen interest for understanding and immersing herself in other cultures. From attending yoga intensives in Bali to participating in food tours across 8 different countries, she has absorbed extensive knowledge from a myriad of cultures and their varying perspectives on life and work.

“Traveling allows you a unique change in perspective and can make the impossible seem possible when you realize there are so many different ways to live in the world,” she says.

Putting her investigative skills to work, she recently discovered how to make points and frequent flyer miles work to her advantage, flying first class from the US to Asia for less than $100. (You may want to pick her brain before planning your next trip.)

Possessing equal parts left brain and right brain, Katrina offers valuable insight and expertise to each one of our clients. And with such a deep passion for learning and bridging perspectives into one cohesive whole, we are beyond thrilled to welcome her to the Sivo village.



Sivo Team Member Spotlight: Susan Bernstein

At Sivo Insights, we believe that everyone has a unique story to tell. And while we pride ourselves on helping our clients discover and share their own personal story, we are proud to tell the stories of the inspiring individuals that makeup our incredible Sivo team.

yRuavmr1atcYA45Jt0Qa3IZtE_kyHaykJ2wIMGbmouIMeet Susan Bernstein, Sivo research consultant, entrepreneur and creative mind. Susan has a wealth of experience developing and implementing strategies to help clients improve competitive differentiation. As a management consultant with McKinsey & Co., and a senior strategist with the global brand strategy firm Tait Subler,’ her experience spans a wide range of Fortune 500 companies and non-profits including: Nike, Target, Best Buy, Liz Claiborne, The MN Historical Society and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

For Susan, what she loves most about working with the Sivo Insights team is the opportunity to collaborate with a group of people who share an equal passion for innovation and storytelling. “I like that we approach every project with a beginner’s mind,” she says. “We try to solve the client’s problem in a very fresh and highly skilled way. It’s about coming together with a group of really smart people and figuring out how we can design an approach to get to what the client needs.” With an intelligent mind and a penchant for highly developed strategy, Susan has an unparalleled ability to put together the pieces of a puzzle and build a masterpiece of a story for our clients.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 10.57.43 AMAnd her affinity for storytelling doesn’t stop there. With a hankering to partake in a creative endeavor, Susan and a friend launched the film company, Seven and Sixty Productions, in 2010. Their goal? To explore and share the unique stories all around us. Their first video, Why we’re here: Twin Cities, received a passionate response and caused the film to go viral. Since then, Susan has embraced this creative outlet as a major staple in her life, and Seven and Sixty has produced additional films for a wide range of clients including local band, Communist Daughter.

Beyond film, Susan is also one of the founders and the managing director of The Truman Group – an organization that provides psychological counseling to individuals around the world. Susan and co-founder, Dr. Sean Truman, decided to found the Truman Group after recognizing the difficulty many English-speaking expats encounter in finding quality health care services while living and working overseas. Today Susan and the team currently fulfill a global demand for counseling that allows people a safe place to tell their own pressing stories.

It’s clear that a passion for crafting beautiful stories is a common thread that runs through Susan’s life, both personally and professionally. A creative and a strategist, she melds her unique skills to make an enormous difference for each and every one of our clients. To learn more about Susan’s work with Seven and Sixty Productions and The Truman Group, click the links below to learn more.



Defining Happiness


We all what to find happiness in our lives – but what is it exactly, and how do we define it? The answer may be more complex than you think. According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review, the cultural variations of “happiness” are considerable. Not only do our views on happiness vary culturally, they actually change over time.

The American ideal of the pursuit of happiness, is despite popular belief, a relatively new concept. Until the 18th century, most of society’s conduct was, somewhat dreary and downtrodden. Many early Protestants firmly believed that we should, “allow no joy or pleasure, but a kind of melancholic demeanor and austerity,” says Peter N. Stearns of Harvard Business Review.

It wasn’t until the age of Enlightenment when attitudes changed and spirits were in a sense, lifted. Finally was it not only acceptable to pursue a life of happiness and fulfillment, but it was considered improper not to do so. So what took place to produce such a change? Historians have suggested an intellectual shift towards higher valuation and improved living conditions (especially for the middle and upper class) set the wheels in motion.

However, this was just the first wave of the movement. Happiness also continued to transform in the workplace. More individuals started working from outside the home, bringing increased annual wages and became overall more social. In some respects it was argued, this new middle-class had no reason not to be happy due to these circumstances.

From the 1920’s onwards, the final surge took place. Transitioning out of a manufacturing to a white-collared economy, consumerism became predominant, and advertisers began to understand that associating products with happiness spurred sales.

This concept propagated when Walt Disney came into our lives simply to “make people happy”. McDonald’s decided it wanted to give us “Happy meals”, turning a year older was celebrated with “Happy Birthday”, and an advertising executive managed to make popular a yellow smiley face, even in the wake of the Kennedy Assassination.

“We may not wish to alter the happiness culture that modern history has bequeathed us; its considerable problems may be outweighed by the pleasure of having cheerful artifacts and smiling faces around us,” says Stearns. “But we can at least consider the possibility of modification. In our happiness culture there might yet be, after a couple of centuries of acceleration, room for improvement.”

What does this mean for marketers? While our definition of happiness is sure to shift and shape in the years to come, it’s important to identify what happiness means to your consumers today. What may be described as happiness for a millennial, may mean something very different for a baby boomer. Ask yourself, what do they value, what makes them laugh, smile or relax? By identifying those subtle nuances and niceties that make your consumers feel happy, you can dramatically transform the way your customers view and interact with your brand.

Do you know what makes your consumers happy? If not, it might be time to find out.

Marketing to Food Tribes

Food on forks


As Americans we have become a nation with sharp divisions, opinions, and preferences. And we’re not talking about politics or religion. We’re talking about food. According to an article in the Nutrition Business Journal, almost half of adults say that they identify with at least one “food tribe.” Food restrictions, food allergies, or avoiding certain ingredients dictate specific diets for 44% of the population, according to a 2014 Packaged Facts report.

Whatever the reason behind these allegiances to specific diets (whether it’s weight loss, health concerns, or something else), there’s no doubt “they are having a broad impact on the way people eat, and across the continuum of manufacturers, retailers and food service operators, they are all being forced to respond,” says Amanda Topper, a food analyst for market research firm Mintel.

As marketers, it’s our responsibility to be educated on consumers’ unique food preferences so that we are able to stay ahead of consumer demand and then anticipate and meet their needs. Let’s take a deeper look at the food tribes driving the purchase decisions of today’s consumers:

Gluten-free – Gluten-free has been a popular buzz word during the last few years, as sales of gluten-free foods climbed to 63% from 2012 to 2014. Opportunities for future marketing in this arena, however, may be dwindling. Food and beverage industry analyst Darren Seifer of the NPD Group says gluten-free product sales peaked at the end of 2013. He advises companies to use caution and carefully consider cost before jumping into the gluten-free world.

Paleo – According to research by Hamilton Stapell, a history professor with the State University of New York, New Paltz, between 1 and 3 million people belong to this food tribe. The Paleo diet places an emphasis on consuming meat and other high fat foods. As government and health organizations continue to publish anti-meat messages, the cause of the Paleo diet suffers. Marketers, though, have an opportunity with this tribe if they can offer meat and whole foods in convenient packages.

Vegan – Just 4 percent of U.S. consumers are strictly vegetarian, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, and about half of those are vegan. While a much smaller segment compared to others food tribes, Vegans are extremely passionate about their food preferences. Mintel’s Topper says that if companies do want to target the vegetarian/vegan segment, they should aim for millennials. Nine percent of that group is vegetarian.

Sugar-free – Sugar is now considered the “demon” when it comes to ingredients we try to avoid. Sixty-five percent of consumers look for products that contain “no added sugar,” according to market research firm Eurominitor. The real opportunity with this tribe is to develop more products made with natural, zero-calorie sweeteners such as monk fruit, stevia, and xylitol.

The Biohackers – This tribe uses technology to find out exactly what’s going on in their bodies and then tailor their diets to meet those needs. One may test for anemia, for example, and then choose food and supplements best suited to address their concern. This tribe is just getting started, and marketers should keep a close eye on emerging technologies to take their cues for opportunities within the niche.

Where is the greatest area of opportunity for your company? Investing in qualitative research is one of the best ways to determine the unique needs of your consumers. Our proven research methods such as deep dive in-home ethnographies or online ethnographies, will provide the insights you need to understand today’s food tribes, tomorrow’s trends, and what your consumers need right now.



At SIVO Insights, we are passionate about what we do and eager to put our collective skills to work for you.

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