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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING][RESEARCH METHODS in practice][Gaining Insight Using Design Research & EthnographicApproaches --Conifer Research]

  • 00:24

    ANNE SCHORR: My name is Anne Schorr.[Anne Schorr, Co founder & Partner, Conifer Research]I'm one of the partners and co-founders of Conifer,so that means I've been here since the very beginning, whichwas 19 years ago, which seems unbelievable to me.But it's been quite the ride.My background is in anthropology, culturalanthropology.And initially, I saw my trajectory

  • 00:44

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: being one that would be within academia.But I was pursuing a graduate programat the University of Chicago, and an opportunityarose with a local--one of the lead users of social science researchto support innovation initiatives,one of the firms here locally.They were looking for some anthropologists or people

  • 01:07

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: with anthropological training to support a project on a contractbasis.So I took the opportunity.I was curious to see what that might look like,and I just fell in love.I fell in love with the applied nature of it,with the collaborative nature of the work.And it really just completely changed my track as to--

  • 01:31

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: I knew almost instantaneously that this was the kinds of workI wanted to pursue, because it was consultative,it was collaborative, and you could actually see impact.I think first and foremost, when clients come to us,they're really looking to reframe, almost, how theysee opportunity in their space.

  • 01:52

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: So traditionally, a lot of market researchor other business analytics, they'relooking at things like brand tracking, satisfactionmeasures, very point-- like abstracted data.And that kind of information doesn't reallytell you a lot about how to solve for that,or why these things are happening.

  • 02:13

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: So they're looking for us to bring that real user-centered,that human-centered approach to an innovation challenge.I mean, we like to say that our mission isto humanize innovation, to really help our clients alignfuture and current business initiativesto real-world needs, be they ones that exist out there today

  • 02:34

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: and have just been missed, or ones thatare on the front end of maybe real systemic change that mightbe happening in the culture.So that's our focus, and that's a valueI believe that companies are lookingfor when they come to us.And I think we also have a reputation

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    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: for being problem solvers within that space,for being really creative in terms of the tacticsand approaches that we take to address those challenges,whether that be to kind of push back on themto reframe how they're thinking about it, to think maybeit's not just about this one product in isolation,but really it's about what experience

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    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: is being created around this, and whatmeaning is being derived.And I think even at that very front end,those kind of consultative conversationsare something that bring a lot of value to our clients.

  • 03:27

    BEN JACOBSON: Hi.I'm Ben Jacobson.[Ben Jacobson, Co founder & Partner, Confier Research]I'm one of Conifer's two partners.And so what does "partner" mean?That means you have lots of ideasand think about the big picture for the firm,and sweat all the details.It's the sense of something being evergreen and renewable.Actually, I wanted Evergreen Research at the very beginning,

  • 03:49

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: but that name was taken.So being a good social scientist,I looked for sort of categories of things,and "conifer" struck me as something that could work.I think the number one business benefitis that if you do this work consistently and wellover time, that you're not breathing your own exhaust all

  • 04:13

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: the time, and you are providing an opportunityto be surprised by what you learn out in the world.And that is critical to any businessthat wants to innovate.Because if you're only inhaling your own good vibes and whatnotin your office, whether that's in Palo Alto,

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    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: or in New York City, or in Mumbai, it doesn't matter.That becomes very insular.And I think that is not good for a business's health.You have to learn to rise to the challenges that are out there.Otherwise, you become irrelevant.

  • 04:54

    EVAN HANOVER: My name is Evan Hanover.And I'm a director at Conifer Research.[Evan Hanover, Director, Conifer Research]For the most part, clients come to us.We make ourselves known out in the world.We have outbound marketing.We go to conferences.And we've been in business for 20 years.So there's a lot of people who have seen our work,and who are familiar with what we do.And word of mouth is always the best marketing.

  • 05:17

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: And it is really tricky to pitch clients on specific projects.This is not a business where you cansay, "What's it going to take to send you home in this cartoday?"It's really hard to create desireto do an ethnographic research or design research study out

  • 05:39

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: of thin air.So really, our work stands on its own.And when clients or potential clientshave problems that are messy, and theyare trying to understand something that's complex,that's when they come to us, and work with usto craft methodologies in order to answer

  • 05:60

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: those tricky, hard-to-get questions.As much as possible, Conifer works with our clientsby starting off understanding them as a user.There's two users in every project.There's the end user, the people whoare going to buy or take part in the products or services.But for us, there's also the client as user.And so the first thing we want to know

  • 06:21

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: from them is, what do you want to use this research for?What is it doing in your organization?When we give you insights, when we define opportunities, whenwe create deliverables for you, whatdo they need to do for you?What needs are they fulfilling?And from that, we get a better understandingabout why they need to know what they need to know.

  • 06:44

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: And then we work with them along the wayto develop our research approach, because if you'retrying to understand how things fit into people's lives,you need to go to the point in their liveswhere the things are happening.And so we do that.And as much as possible, we take our clients along with us.It's really important to get the full, immersive, holistic

  • 07:09

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: experience.You can read about someone.You can read about place.You travel.I can read about going to Africa,and about the cultures there, and the language, and the food.But when you're in the space and you see people interacting,and you hear about it, and you smell it, and you taste it,

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    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: and you get those sense memories,it's really, really valuable.So for our clients, we want to say, here are your users.We want to take you into their homes.We want you to have a sense of the textureof their everyday lives.We want you to get a sense of what are the objects that theysurround themselves with, what are the rhythms of their days,

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    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: so that you can fully really empathize and internalizewhat people are doing, why people are doing it,and what their needs are that maybe you can help them with.

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    SASHA MCCUNE: I'm Sasha McCune.[Sasha McCune, Director, Conifer Research]I'm a director here at Conifer Research.We like to say that if people do it, we can study it.We don't specialize in a vertical.We specialize in the methodologies of designresearch and anthropology.So we can apply that to pretty much any problem.What that usually looks like is that we might be working

  • 08:29

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: in CBG one day, and food and beverage, and theninsurance and financial services the next day.Anything in between, even retail, employee experiences,very future-looking, 10-year out,business industry changes--we might be looking into those spaces.Our work serves many different types of teams and functions.

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    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: We run the gamut of design, product portfolio, and productmanagers, people on the insights and intelligence side,and even people in marketing and communications.So one of our jobs as consultantsis adapting our approach and our researchto best serve those teams within the functions that they serve.

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    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: What that looks like is for someoneon the design and engineering side, or productportfolio, or product manager side,we might be helping them test prototypes,and we might be helping them identifywithin their current products what needs pushedor what the opportunities are to solve for current featuresor functions.And then on the marketing side, we

  • 09:31

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: might be helping them better reach their audienceand talk to their consumers, or even grow their audienceand understand or segment their audience and new ways.On the design side, we might be workingwith teams from different backgrounds within designto, say, tackle an innovation pipeline.That might come to us in a lot of different forms.Sometimes it comes to us, and they say,

  • 09:53

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: we know this industry is changing,and we need to figure out what we do next,or how to prioritize all the ideas that we have.Sometimes, it comes and says, we acquired this company.We have all these new assets.We need to figure out how to best use that.So we've done innovation pipeline projects in thingsas far out as plastics and sensors,

  • 10:16

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: and figuring out what the applications of those thingsare in 10 years to different spaces,all the way to coconut products, and howcoconut can be better leveraged in snack and food and beverageitems.What does the next wave of those products look like?We don't work in food and R&D. But wework in an understanding where consumers

  • 10:38

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: are today, what are their associationsand mental models around a product.So we might go in and really investigatewhat people are associating with coconut and those healthbenefits, and tease those things out in orderto build a set of criteria and a direction for that innovationstrategy to go in.

  • 11:02

    MARISA ORLOW: Hi.My name is Marisa Orlow.[Marisa Orlow, Research Associate, Conifer Research]And I am a research associate here at Conifer Research.Prior to coming to Conifer, I had very little researchexperience.I took an ethnographic methods class in college,but from there, my experience at Coniferreally has been where I've gotten most of my experience.

  • 11:24

    SOPHIE PECK: My name is Sophie Peck.And I'm a Research Associate at Conifer Research.[Sophie Peck, Research Associate, Conifer Research]My favorite part of working here,and I've designed research in general,is making that connection with peopleand being able to help create products and services thatare more human centered, and improve the userexperience of just about everything we touch

  • 11:44

    SOPHIE PECK [continued]: across different industries.

  • 11:46

    EVAN HANOVER: So a few years ago, Idid this project about balance.How do people achieve balance in their lives?It's a stressful world.People are time-pressed.People are pulled in a bunch of different directions.And a lot of people talk about balance,but because it's this kind of termthat everybody uses, it's marketed to,and ends up on posters, there isn't

  • 12:06

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: really a definitive understanding about what it is.We all kind of know what it is, but it's really hardto define and grapple with.So we selected a bunch of people,and we had them video diary for uswhat balance meant to them, what the moments were in their livesthat represented balance, and how they constructed balance.

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    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: And we weren't just looking for what they said it was.We were looking for all of the little tacit, unspoken thingsthat went together in creating a balanced experience.And some people, they had specific activities thatrepresented balance for them.And so we decided to go along with themto really feel what it was to reset yourself,

  • 12:50

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: to balance yourself.And there was one guy we had who--he worked at an office that was kind of stuffy,a very, typical office job, bad lighting,uncomfortable seating in cubicles, and stuff like that.And so what he would do is on nice days,he would go out to one of the plazas in downtown Chicagoand just people watch, and just make up stories in his head

  • 13:13

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: about those people.And it was hilarious.And you can kind of see how he wasreconnecting with the world.And that is not something you can get by justhaving people answer questions.That is something that he has constructedas part of his routine.And it's become so natural as to become unspoken.And without going out into the world

  • 13:34

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: and experiencing that alongside of people,you really don't get the same nuance.The work we do is ethnographic.And what we mean when we talk about beingethnographic is understanding people's needs,and behaviors, and routines in the context of their real,

  • 13:56

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: lived lives.And because we're looking at it in terms of the context,we are looking not only at the thing they sayor the thing they do, but we are lookingat the social interactions that are part of those experiences.We are looking at the spaces in which those experiences occur.We are looking at the language that people

  • 14:16

    EVAN HANOVER [continued]: use to describe and categorize those experiences.We are looking at larger cultural influences thatmight affect the way people find meaningand value in those experiences.

  • 14:34

    ANNE SCHORR: I think what is unique about Conifer--it kind of ties into a little bit what I was saying before--is I know a lot of the terminology in the industry is,you're a vendor, research vendor, design research vendor.And I think what's unique about us is that we reallypush to be a collaborator.We see success is not us going away doing our work

  • 14:58

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: and coming back with a report that we hand off.We see success as really about cultivating curiositywithin that organization.So the way that we structure our projects right from the verybeginning, are designed essentially to getpeople's buy-in and get their skin in the game with us,

  • 15:19

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: so that they are not--by the end of a project, they should not--our key stakeholders shouldn't be necessarily surprisedby any one insight.They should just be excited about moving into how do weact on these insights.So I think it's our collaborative approachthroughout that that makes us unique.And our understanding through all the experience that we had,

  • 15:41

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: the best success is not having one or two slides.The best success is if you have everyonein that organization telling storiesabout people that speak to people's needs,then you start to see real action happen,real passion around getting things done.So when we ask our clients what they see as special,

  • 16:03

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: they often cite that that curiosity, that collaboration,that creativity, and really tryingto help them move beyond some of the organizational assumptionsand biases that they had that might have been stiflingefforts that they had made in the past,to move ideas forward.

  • 16:24

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: It's about not stopping at here are individual insights.It's looking at the relationship between those insights.It's about bringing-- I'm sure has been mentioned,we have both design and research here.It's about creating information models that clearly speakto where those opportunities and some of the concepts

  • 16:46

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: coming out of it, that can then have legswithin the organization, along with the companion stories thatreally bring that to life.So those, I think, are all key ingredientsto leaving them with a clear roadmap of what theycan do next, how to take it fur-- how to further test

  • 17:08

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: those ideas, how to maybe then bring theminto the rapid prototyping funnel and process, whichthe Living Labs is kind of part of that.So how do we then maintain that connectionas we move the ideas forward?So there are different types of projects.And so some projects, if they're really upfront and exploratory,

  • 17:32

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: they are going to be--a lot of times it will be the actionis giving them a clear set of new directions or new ways,new directions that they can pursue,and some concepts that fall underneath it that theycan further test.Other times, our mission, in a case

  • 17:52

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: where they come to us with a concept,but they want to use more of a design thinking approachto make sure that the user need doesn't kind of driftand become separated from the idea as it moves forward,which is a big danger, quite frankly.And the other, I think, key feature in these projects

  • 18:16

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: is to keep the user voice central throughout.Because a lot of times, what happensis as these ideas move through development, the business,here's what we can do now starts to take over a lot.And that's fine if you're looking

  • 18:36

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: to create a pipeline of things we can do near in.It's really dangerous if you don't push backagainst that, because you're never going to get those--give yourself room for breakthrough ideas.So a lot of it is just helping to manage that processwith the client, as you're movinginto more strategic recommendations coming outthe back end.I think a lot of times, organizations

  • 18:58

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: can obsess a lot about there's two types of knowledge.There's knowing that and knowing how.Knowing that is very fact based, it's very rules based.It's like I can know as an organizationthat our business dips after people are teenagersand they become adults, but then they're back as families.

  • 19:20

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: Anytime something new and--AI burst on the scene, and so everyone,the thought is, now everything can go through that.And there's a lot of trial and errorin terms of what it's good for, and what it's not good for.I think someone-- I can't remember their name--described this distinction.There is big data, and then thick data.

  • 19:41

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: And the thick data is about how you make meaning of that.And I think that as we move forward,we'll probably be working with more companies who have startedto maybe frame out some areas they want to explore basedon some patterns they're seeing in that data,but still need to understand why,

  • 20:03

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: and what is really happening behind that.So I think when people think of us,they think of us as being advocates for the user.I think they think of us as bringing rigor, and bringinga consultative approach that will help them,not just beyond doing the project,

  • 20:24

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: but helping them think more strategically about whatthe project--how to best meet the goal that they're coming with.And so I think our brand is--people talk to us about curiosity,about the real consultative approach that we bring, and notjust curiosity about the people, but about what they'retrying to accomplish.

  • 20:45

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: Because the more we can understand about that,the better we can design a plan to help them.And ultimately, our goal is, we want our clients to succeed.We want them to feel at the end of the daythat it wasn't just a checkbox that they did,and then it sits on the shelf, but it's

  • 21:05

    ANNE SCHORR [continued]: something that can help transformtheir organization beyond any one question, so to speak.

  • 21:13

    BEN JACOBSON: It's the shakedown that everything needsbut not everything gets.And so people have an opportunityto see their brainchild, their baby, essentially,that they're trying to get into the world,take its first steps.And just like a child, if you don't fall and skin your kneesand bang your head a few times, you're

  • 21:33

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: not going to learn how to walk, or crawl, or run very well.And I think that that opportunityis essential for robust product development.Similarly, if you don't understand the broadercultural milieu that your product or your serviceor your brand is going to be in, you

  • 21:56

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: run the risk of really being caught off guard by thingsthat possibly locals would say are completely obvious.I believe our goal is to bring these sense-making insights

  • 22:17

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: to our clients in a way that they can make use of them.And so there's a lot of things that get wrapped up into that.But I think ultimately, at the endof the day, what are the things that our clients rememberthe most about us?And it's usually a handful of really powerful stories

  • 22:41

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: that they tell and retell inside their own company.And often, we were able to create situationswhere they were with us during the immersions.So they're not just stories that wehanded to them over the wall.They're stories that they experience themselves, and haveshared together.

  • 23:03

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: And our ability to help them see why that's importantfor their business, and to encouragethem to take action on that--those are the moments that I think are the most valuable.And if we can do that regularly and reliably for people,

  • 23:25

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: that's how I feel like we do good in the world.And that's important to everybody who works here,that we're part of making things better,not just a part of creating some new widget that'sgoing to wind up in a landfill, or choke a seal someday.That's not why we're in the world.And we have those opportunities to prevent people

  • 23:47

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: from wasting their time, wasting their money,or doing things that are contradicted by what we seeas the values and beliefs and the needs of the peoplethat they're trying to build things for.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Episode: 1

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2020

Video Type:In Practice

Methods: Ethnography, Design-based research, Marketing research

Keywords: anthropology; consultancy; consumer behavior; consumers and products; cultural modeling; data mining; ethnographic research; innovation and creativity; market opportunity analysis; marketing research; problem solving; research design ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Co-founders and Partners, Anne Schorr and Ben Jacobson, as well as directors, and staff at Conifer Research, discuss using innovative ethnographic approaches and design research to gain market insights for their clients.

Video Info

Publication Info

SAGE Publications Ltd.
Publication Year:
SAGE Research Methods Video: Market Research
Publication Place:
United Kingdom
SAGE Original Production Type:
SAGE In Practice
Copyright Statement:
(c) SAGE Publications Ltd., 2020


Anne Schorr
Ben Jacobson
Evan Hanover
Sasha McCune
Marisa Orlow
Sophie Peck

Segment Info


Segment Num: 1


Segment Start Time:

Segment End Time:


Things Discussed

Organizations Discussed:

Events Discussed:

Places Discussed:

Persons Discussed:

Methods Map


Ethnography involves the production of highly detailed accounts of how people in a social setting lead their lives, based on systematic and long-term observation of, and discussion with, those within the setting.
Gaining Insight Using Design Research & Ethnographic Approaches: Conifer Research

Co-founders and Partners, Anne Schorr and Ben Jacobson, as well as directors, and staff at Conifer Research, discuss using innovative ethnographic approaches and design research to gain market insights for their clients.

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