As marketers, we put humans at the center of everything we do. Understanding people, what drives their actions, and how they connect with the world around them, is what makes good advertising great. Understanding people is also at the center of ethnography, a variety of approaches to understanding people and culture. Ethnography seeks to understand cultural ecosystems, and the application of this understanding highlights how people, products, services, organizations, and industries come together in complex and compelling ways.
That’s why we love the EPIC conference in Chicago—EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Community) is a global community of researchers, creatives, strategists, marketers, and more who apply ethnographic methods and lenses to innovation. In other words, at the EPIC conference, we’re getting inspired by new perspectives about people, culture, organizations, and data, and how understanding relationships between them can solve problems and create opportunities.
Here’s some of our favorite takeaways that every marketer should know:
- All Data Has Limits and Biases: Data is not “truth.” Data is laden with biases inherent to the system, from collection to input to analysis. When adopting a new technology or data set, you must understand the limitations and biases present in the system—automation bias, complacency bias, and automation misuse are good examples here. By understanding your data limitations, and using those as your boundary—instead of pushing data to the edge of its capabilities—you’ll be able to mitigate risk.
For marketers, a great example comes from the realms of audience sciences. When building a target audience, if you aren’t aware of the biases that exist in your data collection and processing system, you may accidentally build a target audience that completely overlooks a core consumer group. When marketers are aware of the limitations of their data sets, we can ensure that there aren’t any blind spots or overlooked opportunities.
Media Recommendation: Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks
Key Presenter: Ovetta Sampson, Google
- Build for Today and Tomorrow: When designing new systems or infrastructure, keep in mind that your system will likely have a lifespan far beyond its original intent. Like roads built for horse and buggy transportation that are now used for cars, every use for your system may not be immediately evident.
When you’re implementing or onboarding a new system, or building new infrastructure for your organization, take a longer view upfront as much as you can. Whether it’s a new CRM, redesigning a campaign flow, or integrating a new data stream, think about future maintenance and additional applications, in addition to solving for the immediate issue. This anticipatory view will help you build for today and tomorrow, without having to rebuild over and over.
Media Recommendation: Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein
Key Presenter: Meghan McGrath, IBM
- Take the Time to Understand Impact: As a media agency, we’re constantly on the hunt for what’s next. However, there are invisible costs to everything, including innovation. When implementing an innovation, ask yourself: what are the support systems needed to maintain this innovation, both human and non-human? In what timeframes are the impacts/displacements of this innovation felt? Are there people costs to this innovation? Are there environmental costs?
Especially as AI innovations ramp up, it’s worth the time to understand the full scope of impact before moving forward. An innovation may be shiny and enticing, but make sure it’s the right fit for your needs and your organization. Are there ways to mitigate the impact that aren’t immediately apparent? For example, when implementing a new programmatic campaign, can we implement a carbon removal program through our Carbon Neutral Programmatic Marketplace instead of using a traditional PMP? Sorting through the sparkly distractions to find the innovations with real value and minimal costs to the advertiser is a key part of our offering.
- People are Reflections of their Communities: When building audiences and driving engagement, try broadening your understanding of a “user” to an ecosystem-centered approach instead of trying to force 1:1 engagement. 1:1 engagement has been a hot topic in marketing for quite some time now, but it disregards how communities shape our actions—instead, seek out the relationship between the user and the people around them to understand the directional flow of influence and drive impact using the full scope of a person’s environment. It isn’t always enough to convince Person A to buy your product if they also want Person B to be on board with the decision—you must reach both Person A and Person B at the right place and right time to remove all barriers to purchase.
Media recommendation: Recoding America by Jennifer Pahlka
- Do as I Do, Not As I Say: Understanding the tension between what someone says they want and what their actions/choices tell you they want is critical. As marketers, we have study after study that allow consumers to tell brands what they’re looking for. But if you’re not also analyzing consumer behavior to see if those words match with their actions, you’re missing a key piece of the puzzle. Be skeptical, and dig deep into behavior to find white space and new ways to connect. Technology like geospatial data can go a long way here—when we can see and interpret user behavior in real time, we can compare that data with what users are asking for and get closer and closer to reconciling this tension.
Media Recommendation: Friction by Anna Tsing
While many of these ideas go beyond just media and marketing in their implications, these are the sorts of considerations that can take rote campaigns and make them industry-leading successes. Curious and want to learn more about any of these topics? We’d love to dive deeper with you.