We’re not talking about Anthropology, the women’s fashion store named for the study. We’re talking about the social science field in the scope of marketing. Cultural anthropology marketing has been making waves in marketing circles, but what does it mean exactly?

For one, it means ditching generic marketing surveys asking people what they want, and instead observing users in their natural environment with the product. That’s what Electrolux did after McKinsey consultants advised them of being out of touch with their audience. It’s actually a pretty simple process. As one article states, “by observing consumers within their own homes, and listening to their comments and getting their ‘wish lists’ of features that would make their lives easier, products can be designed and adapted to fit current lifestyles and needs in a way that surveys alone cannot accomplish.

In a nutshell it’s about creating dialogue that most smaller companies have already been doing vis-à-vis social media. For example, a small publisher or blog won’t run a poll asking what readers thing of this or that. Polls take time to create and are limited in construct. There’s only so much you can ask and you’re assuming readers have the time to answer or are interested enough to. Yet, a quick social media question (a space where they’re already traversing) leads to much richer yields and allows room for new ideas to generate in addition to real exchanges with the readers.

Clearly, big business is now catching on and applying to model to a product base. It’s a model that incorporates both hemispheres of the brain, allowing creativity and design to merge into a perfect marketing model. Rise of corporate anthropology marketing is making the biggest waves in marketing consultancy since it’s a long term research process.

The Atlantic featured a piece where consultants and ReD were tasked with finding usage patterns for Absolut Vodka. It wasn’t just about caring about units sold or finding out who the buyers were. Cultural corporate anthropologists dug deeper to uncover the full story of each bottle trek. Charged with the task, Min Lieskovsky notes “There’s a huge amount of vodka that’s sold for drinking at home, but no one knew where it was really going. We wanted to know what they are seeking. Do they want the ‘perfect’ cocktail party? Is it all about how they present themselves to their friends, for status? Is it collaboration, friendship, fun?”

For cultural anthropologists, it’s the stories that matter. Narratives define the consumer and it’s these stories that determine behavior patterns. Once you know this, you can better develop a product, a service, or a brand. Startlingly many companies are beginning to “discover fundamental differences between the businesses they thought there were in, and the businesses they actually are in.” Samsung for example, realized that people didn’t see TV as tech, but as furniture; they’re purchases weren’t determined by tech specs so much as by dimensions and relative proportion to the existing space and furniture.

Corporate anthropology, or in other terms consumer anthropology and even ethnographic market research, has completely replaced the old way of doing things. Cold calls, surveys and even focus groups are vintage techniques that don’t fit into a new market space. Professor of Marketing at University of Nebraska, Eric Arnould, adds that this research won’t just tell companies what consumers want, but what they will want in the future. He adds, “”Ethnography is a way to get up close and personal with consumers. As the cycle time for new product development goes down and its cost goes up, and as competition becomes fiercer, many firms are trying to get closer to the consumer to try to figure out the context of use for new products.”