Turning insights from ethnographic and qualitative research into actionable innovation opportunities can be a challenge for some companies and brands. This is understandable because the types of insights that qualitative and ethnographic research produce are largely based on interpretation – not hard facts. For some companies who are experiencing this approach for the first time, investing their marketing or innovation budget on this type of insight can be seen as a high risk strategy.

I have coached organisations through this process by helping them reframe how they understand their consumers. Fundamentally, this requires a shift in mind-set – one from framing consumers in siloes to understanding their behaviour and stories within a cultural ecosystem. The new mind-set radically changes the perceptions of their consumers by illuminating multiple reasons to why their consumers might (or might not) form close attachments to brands, products and services. The value that comes from this approach is one where insights are consumer centric and steer new innovations that are empathetic to the everyday culture of the consumer.

However, understanding consumer cultural ecosystems is complex because culture, by nature, is complex – in fact it is constantly messy and unpredictable. As a business anthropologist, I use a cultural analysis approach. This takes into account consumer behaviour, their stories based on lived experience, contradictions they negotiate, social relations they form and understanding their rational and irrational actions and thinking. Fundamentally, using cultural analysis to create insights for innovation is an informed interpretative model where research and trends on consumer culture is given relevant meaning for business and brand strategy through expert interpretation.

For the last few years, I have worked with my clients to help them understand the value of using an interpretative model for insight creation as a means of unleashing hunches that they and I have. I call this ‘Hunchovation’ which is the process of taking new insights and using them to tap into hunches or raw hypothesis that might already exist, in order to identify new innovation and brand strategy solutions.

Hunchovation thinking are not random thoughts picked out of the sky. Instead, Hunchovation are ideas that are based on expert knowledge, they lurk just on the outside of the institutionalized and formal processes. The aim is to bring Hunchovation into the process.

I was inspired to create a Hunchovation thinking approach when I read an interview with Yo Sushi founder, Simon Woodroffe who was sharing his views on how the market research industry needed to develop from being providers of insight to leaders in how to use them. He says –

“Traditionally, market research has been analytical and objective, and at one step removed from the business. But I would like market research firms to act more like detective agencies. Every year we get more and more data, but what I would really value is advice based on opinions and detective-like ‘hunches’. As an entrepreneur you need people around you who are extremely confident and proactive; who have the courage of their convictions. They are well informed by research, but are creative in how they use that knowledge. I don’t want to have to interpret data myself; I want insight and guidance – fewer facts, more advice and leadership.”

In summary, Hunchovation succeeds when:

1)   insights are developed based on research (ethnography and cultural trends) that uncovers deep cultural insights based on the lived experience of your consumers. An interpretative model is key here

2)   the consultancy/agency has the sophistication and expertise to work in partnership with the client to develop hunches based on insights

3)   there are clear actionable outcomes that transform insight driven hunches into innovation solutions.

Anthropological perspectives on contemporary culture