Ethnography comes from social research and anthropology. Ethnographic marketing research studies apply this core behavior methodology tools to the marketing research environment. Instead of asking buyers what they believe or what they have done as we do in survey research, we watch what buyers or prospective buyers actually do regarding product or service use and related behaviors..
Ethnography is a popular technique for the study of buyer behavior surrounding product use and the full product categoryconsumer-computer interaction (HCI). There are variations in how data is collected: 1)sending a consumer observer-researcher into stores, work place, and homes to observe real behavior; 2) giving subjects a video camera to record consumer interactions with the target product; or 3) having consumers record their behavior in a diary. As with any marketing research technique, ethnography has its measurement validity problems. Properly used however, it can yield exceptional insights to consumer behavior and attitudes useful for product redesign, new product concepts, discovering alternate product uses, and profiling true customer satisfaction.
For more on this topic, see our Market Research FAQ on Photo ethnography