Why Every Marketeer Should Utilize Ethnography, Psychology, Neuroscience


In this thought-provoking article, marketing professional, Oghenerukevwe Toka delves into the intersection of three powerful disciplines—ethnography, psychology, and neuroscience—and makes case for their integral role in the toolkit of every modern marketer. The article looks into the foundational reasons behind the significance of incorporating these disciplines into marketing strategies.

I was privileged to have access to high quality education for the first 18 years of my life. I attended the D.S.C. Primary School 1 and later moved on to D.S.C. Technical High School, both in the Udu Local Government Area of Delta State, near the oil rich city of Warri. The most confusing tension I faced as a student was my love for both the arts and sciences. I was good at biology and equally good at visual arts, but I kept dreading the day I would be forced to pick one over the other. I eventually picked science over arts as I transitioned into senior high school because my school had a clear segmentation of students and the rule was for students to choose an area of focus which is either art or science, never both.

Fast forward to a couple of years later as a senior high school student, it became clear to me that this it was indeed possible to be a polymath – to love the arts and excel at it and to love the sciences and excel at it. My discovery of Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci who was a painter, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor, and architect opened a new horizon in my world. I finally could see the possibility of polyvalency and although I had lost some of my visual arts skills at this time, I remained determined not to let the paradigm of those around me force me to abandon any of my skill sets or passions.

Today as a marketeer, I look back at my childhood and early love for visual arts and biology with a big smile on my face because marketing is both an art and a science. I combine knowledge that transcends both fields into influencing humans and creating commercial success almost magically.

I know by now you may wonder how the above story links to the title of this article, well, I shared the story to open your mind as my suggestion on the title, might sound far reaching to certain marketeers. The job of a marketing leader is already tedious, why include ethnography, psychology, and neuroscience? What added value will the application of knowledge in these fields bring to businesses? I attempt to provide answers to these questions below and I look forward to reading your thoughts on the same.

The Marketeer and Ethnography  

Ethnography is a qualitative research method used to study and understand the behaviors, cultures, and practices of a particular group of people within their natural context. It involves immersing oneself in the daily lives and environments of the subjects being studied to gain deep insights into their beliefs, values, interactions, and societal norms. Ethnographers often spend extended periods of time living among the community they are researching, observing their activities, participating in their routines, and conducting interviews and conversations.

Ethnography is commonly used in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and other social sciences. It allows researchers to uncover deep-seated cultural insights that might not be apparent through other research methods. By immersing themselves in the lives of the people they study, ethnographers can offer unique and nuanced perspectives on various social phenomena and cultural dynamics.

One of the primary advantages of ethnography in marketing lies in its ability to unravel the complex tapestry of consumer behavior. Traditional market research methods often rely on self-reported data, which can be influenced by social desirability bias or recall inaccuracies. Ethnography, on the other hand, provides firsthand observations of consumers’ interactions with products, services, and brands in their day-to-day lives. This approach uncovers patterns and motivations that might not be evident through surveys or focus groups.

Cultural context is paramount in marketing, and ethnography excels at revealing the cultural nuances that shape consumer preferences and choices. By embedding researchers within the communities, they study, ethnography captures the cultural values, norms, and aspirations that impact purchasing decisions. This insight allows marketeers to tailor their strategies to resonate with consumers on a deeper, more meaningful level, forging authentic connections that transcend superficial appeals.

Ethnographic research goes beyond identifying what consumers want; it delves into why they want it. By observing consumers’ lives, routines, and interactions, marketeers can uncover unmet needs or pain points that might not surface through conventional methods. This paves the way for innovative product development that addresses real-world challenges and enriches the consumer experience.

The Marketeer and Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. It encompasses a wide range of topics and explores various aspects of human cognition, emotion, perception, personality, development, social interactions, and mental processes. Psychologists aim to understand why people think, feel, and behave the way they do, and they use empirical research methods to investigate these phenomena.

Psychology holds significant importance for marketing professionals as it provides insights into consumer behavior, decision-making processes, and the factors that influence individuals’ responses to marketing efforts. Understanding psychological principles enables marketeers to create more effective strategies, build stronger connections with consumers, and drive successful campaigns.

Psychology offers insights into consumer behavior, enabling marketeers to tailor campaigns to align with motivations and preferences. It provides a deeper understanding of decision-making processes, guiding consumers from awareness to purchase. Psychological segmentation helps marketeers target audiences based on values and lifestyles, leading to more effective messaging.

Psychological strategies like social proof and emotional triggers can influence behavior. By understanding emotions, marketeers can create campaigns that forge strong connections and loyalty. Psychology informs brand perception, aiding in aligning messaging with desired attributes.

Incorporating psychology enhances marketing effectiveness, fostering meaningful connections and loyalty. By aligning strategies with psychological principles, marketeers can achieve better outcomes in a competitive market, ensuring lasting impact.

The Marketeer and Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. It seeks to understand the structure, function, development, and disorders of the nervous system through a multidisciplinary approach that combines biology, psychology, physics, computer science, and other fields. Neuroscience explores the intricate mechanisms that govern how the nervous system processes information, controls behavior, and regulates bodily functions.

Neuroscience is of increasing importance to marketing professionals as it provides valuable insights into consumer behavior, decision-making processes, and the cognitive mechanisms that influence how individuals respond to marketing stimuli. Understanding neuroscience can lead to more effective and impactful marketing strategies.

At its core, neuroscience delves into the subconscious motivations that underlie consumer actions. By studying brain activity, marketeers gain a deeper understanding of the factors that drive consumer choices. This knowledge allows marketeers to tailor their messages to align with these motivations, creating campaigns that resonate on a profound level.

Emotional engagement is a cornerstone of successful marketing, and neuroscience offers insights into the neurological basis of emotional responses. By examining brain reactions to various stimuli, marketeers can pinpoint what triggers positive emotions in consumers. Crafting campaigns that elicit these emotional responses fosters a deeper connection between consumers and brands, leading to brand loyalty and positive associations.

Cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and perception play crucial roles in consumer engagement. Understanding how the brain processes information helps marketeers create messages that are more likely to be noticed, remembered, and understood. This leads to more effective communication and higher retention of marketing content.

Having touched on the important links between marketing and the fields of ethnography, psychology, and neuroscience, it is also critical to mention that marketeers applying psychology, ethnography, and neuroscience must navigate ethical concerns. Manipulating psychological triggers to exploit vulnerabilities raises moral questions about consent and respect for consumer autonomy. Ethnography’s immersive nature demands transparency and informed consent to ensure subjects’ rights are upheld. In neuroscience, collecting sensitive neural data necessitates safeguarding privacy and preventing potential misuse. Balancing the pursuit of insights with ethical considerations is paramount, ensuring that marketing practices respect individuals’ well-being, rights, and choices while leveraging these disciplines responsibly.

Oghenerukevwe Toka has for the last 10 years been working across Technology, Consumer Goods, Telecommunications, and Media industries in roles of increasing responsibility, where he garnered several notable achievements while managing some of the world’s most iconic brand portfolios including The Heineken Company, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and more recently at Nestle’s Central & West Africa region where he is leading strategy, profitable revenue growth & expansion of the Maggi brand.

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