By Dan Woychick
In the modern business environment, nothing is trusted more than cold, hard facts. Simply using one’s own eyes and ears to observe how people interact with your product or service, on the other hand, is an underappreciated skill.
Ethnography is observing people’s behavior in their own environments, so you can get a holistic understanding of their world. – LiAnne Yu, cultural anthropologist
While it’s not necessary to be a trained social scientist to benefit from observing others, like any skill, regular practice increases proficiency. When communicators put themselves in others’ shoes, they begin to see beyond their own preconceptions, leading to more compelling stories and experiences.
What’s bugging you?
If you’ve ever been to an airport, chances are you’ve got an opinion or two about how the whole experience could be better – from parking to check-in to boarding your flight. When it comes to personal preferences, you’re probably not as unique as you think.
Keeping an ongoing, personal “bug list” is a good place to start training yourself to note patterns of behavior in real-world settings. Those behaviors will provide clues to where opportunities for improvement exist.
Take the time to gather new insights. If you’re far removed in age and experience from your target audience, curiosity is the key to obtaining new points of view. When it comes to honing your powers of observation, look for a few people that fit your target audience. It’s better to know a few people deeply than many people superficially.
When conducting on-site research is impractical – maybe you’re planning for a winter event in late summer – it may be useful to think in terms of verbs rather than nouns.
Take a college, for instance. Don’t think of class registration, think of a specific student registering. This involves action – all of the steps and processes around this activity. Is there a building that registering students need to visit? Picture that environment. Are there forms to fill out? How could they be simpler? Imagine the experience of a real person moving through the necessary steps to register for classes.
If you know your organization well, you can “see” that experience. Where are the opportunities to improve communications? If that experience is improved, does it present marketing opportunities?
Define the problem.
The tighter the focus of your observation, the more valuable the insights will be. For example, broadly trying to encourage more people to make donations isn’t nearly as helpful as asking: What are the competing priorities for young, first-time donors?
Removing barriers to communication will make interacting with your organization more intuitive. Once you become more attuned to audience behavior, keen observational insights will make your communications and marketing more powerful, clear, and well understood.