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Anthropology In Business: Using Insights Into Human Behavior And Culture To Improve Your Business

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Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
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“To succeed in the business of the future, we have to become the very people we’re trying to reach.”

– Brian Solis

Anthropology is the study of people or the human condition in order to gain insight into patterns of behavior or culture. Anthropologists have been practicing the art of cultural immersion for many years. Rather than simply observing from an outsider’s perspective, cultural immersion involves inserting oneself into and fully engaging with the culture of the group being studied. The goal of cultural immersion is to try to find answers to questions like, “How do people or groups construct meaning?”, “How does it function within the context of their daily lives?”

As the world becomes increasingly globalised, there is a need to understand not just the people in our communities and those communities closest to us, but also people much farther away. You do not have to be an anthropologist to realise that to truly comprehend the reality of others’ lives, you must be able to view them through a lens that isn’t clouded by ethnocentricity. Put simply, to effectively communicate and engage with others we must be willing to put ourselves in their shoes and try to see the world from their perspective.

This same principle is becoming increasingly relevant in the business world.

What customers want vs. what they think they want

Microsoft, Google, Intel, Procter & Gamble and Philips. Can you guess what all of these companies have in common? They all have a team of anthropologists on their payroll! Have you ever found yourself watching a commercial and having no clue what product was being advertised? But once the product was revealed, you realise that the commercial had somehow piqued your interest and succeeded in selling it to you. Have you stopped to wonder why more businesses are choosing to adopt this kind of indirect marketing and advertising approach? Well, businesses are catching on to the fact that that there is a divide between what customers want from a product and what companies think they want from the same product. As it turns out anthropology has a lot to say about human behaviour and cultural patterns.

To remain competitive, both domestic and international businesses constantly rethink their strategies to better fit their environment. Being able to identify and explain patterns of consumer behaviour is essential to the success of any business. So to is knowing where within the wider cultural context these consumers are located. As anthropologists and market researchers Patricia Sunderland and Anita Denny stated in their 2007 report, “From our vantage point, markets are not constituted of segments of people with specific and profiled “needs”. Rather they are constituted by systems of interwoven meanings and practices that may or may not have resonance for a product, brand or experience”.

What does this mean for your business?

The key take away messages for all Motherland Moguls from this should be,

  1. Let anthropology guide and shape your marketing strategy.
  2. Facts and figures are important, but you must look beyond and strive to understand the relationship between your market(s) and the culture(s) in which  it is situated.
  3. Use cultural immersion to your advantage by participating in the testing of your product, brand or experience. This is a surefire way to create a sustainable relationship with your clients and to ensure that you truly understand each other’s wants and needs.


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