john atherton, field work, anthropology and marketing

5 Things Anthropologists Can Teach You About Being a Better Marketer

anthropology and marketing, ethnography, digital ethnography, marketing

What’s the best way to get through hundreds of pages of dense theoretical readings you have very little background in? By relating it to the knowledge you already have. In my case, I’m working on a Master’s in social anthropology and I’ve found that the discipline has taught me a lot about being a better content marketer and social media guru.

Here are 5 concepts you can use to become a better marketer:

1.      Personal experience is key.

One of the methods that separate anthropologists from other social science disciplines is that anthropological data is based on information collected in the field—personal experiences that have been synthesized and interpreted using ethnographic methods.

For marketers, this means getting out to where your customers are and having real conversations. Whether those people are your sales teams or your buyers, anthropologists would recommend making marketing decisions based on human knowledge, not statistical knowledge.

taking field notes, personal experience, anthropology and marketing, become a better marketer

2.      They don’t make sweeping generalizations.

One of the last things a modern anthropologist wants to be accused of is reductionism. They believe in research of the particular—some even find more value in doing life histories of one informant than spending time in a large community. Anthropologists are also aware that the research they do is situated in a location and moment.

What this translates to for marketers is that it’s important to define who your customer is today—you can’t rely on old information or someone else’s. What is useful this year may not be next year and it’s worth keeping that in mind with our rapidly developing social space. Also seek to understand the places, times and social settings that influence their buying behavior.

3.      Be flexible.

Anthropologists don’t give up when their research isn’t going the way they planned. And the reality is that field research rarely goes to plan. They have to respond to the situation and learn from it.

Similarly, marketing campaigns don’t always work out the way they should. No amount of strategizing beforehand can ensure the success of a campaign (though it sure increases your chances!). Have a structure in place to test the progress of your live project in real time and a good repertoire of strategies in your toolkit should something go wrong.

4.      Anthropologists know their worth.

Anthropology research doesn’t quite pull in the big funding grant bucks like other disciplines. It’s much harder to justify spending a year in the field collecting data than producing, say, a cure for a disease. The similarity in an agency or corporation is that the marketing department always seems to be fighting for dollars (and have you seen the sales department’s budget?!).

Like anthropologists, marketers need to know what they’re bringing to the table and how to justify it in a way that speaks to the decision makers in the company. Usually, that means ROI and data.

john atherton, field work, anthropology and marketing

5.      Anthropologists do more with less.

Sometimes anthropologists in the academy don’t get funding for the large-scale focus group research they wanted to do. That’s when they really have to get down to the nitty-gritty and ask themselves “What do I really want to know here?” This allows them to find another way to do it that seems much more feasible given their constraints.

For marketers on a tight budget, that may mean squeezing everything you can out of one social media platform or utilizing only the most effective means of communicating with your customers. The best way to do that is to find out where your customers are and how they like to be communicated with by the brands they love.

Anthropology is about people and so is a good marketing department. Taking some of the lessons anthropologists have learned about doing research and creating final work products are sure to help you step up your marketing game.

Photos by Alice Cai, Betsy Weber, and John Atherton.

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