An Introduction To Anthropology In The Marketing World

For years anthropologists have been practicing the art of cultural immersion. It requires the participants to “immerse” themselves in the culture of the group being studied. Unlike other social scientists, anthropologists use methodology that enables them to engage culture in a way that isn’t simply observation from an “outsider’s” perspective. Famous cultural anthropologist and writer Clifford Geertz calls it “looking over the shoulder” or an interpretation of behavior that promises “thin description”.  Anthropology is the study of man or the study of the human condition in order to gain insight on patterns of behavior and culture. In practice it’s a holistic approach or a broad contextual understanding. It begs the question; how do we (human beings) construct meaning and how does it function within the context of our daily lives? It’s no wonder why we feel the need to answer these questions in a world of communication that is becoming increasingly global. With outstanding reach to people around the world, nowadays we find a need for understanding through a lens that isn’t clouded with ethnocentricity. You don’t have to be an anthropologist to recognize this need or to put it into practice.

Take A Page From The Anthropologist’s Notebook

Today, businesses that have access to these global communication channels are finding that understanding culture from an insider perspective is an essential key to success. Intel, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Philips and General Motors are all companies currently using anthropological methods to gather powerful insight on how consumers use products and services in their daily lives. In an extremely complex market, today both domestic and international businesses are re-thinking their strategies to better fit the external environment. Explaining patterns and behaviors of consumers within the marketplace and within the broad context of culture can have a positive impact. Patricia L. Sunderland and Rita M. Denny, Anthropology Ph.D’s and market researchers write in Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research (2007), “From our vantage point, markets are not constituted by segments of people with specific and profiled “needs,” rather they are constituted by systems of interwoven meanings and practices that may or may not have resonance for a product, brand, or experience.”

What Can You Take Away From This?

Why is anthropology important to your business? It’s a strategic and often overlooked marketing tactic. It’s a look into something more than an interpretation of facts and numbers, but a look at the relationship between the market and culture. We, like an anthropologist studying cultures abroad, have to participate in order to understand. We at Tribu feel that is one of the luxuries of having a Tribe. In essence, having a Tribe means having a sustainable relationship with your clients and a coherent understanding of one another that is powerful and effective. We immerse ourselves in the work of our partners and value the efficiency of the relationship. We will continue to use the concept of immersion intuitively as a means of building relationships through understanding and continue to help our partners do the same. That’s the power of the Tribe.


Geertz, Clifford
1973. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. Thick Description. New York: Basic Books.

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