Part 2 of 4 Beyond Introduction: Guiding Product Growth

Jun 19, 2023 | Innovation, Marketing, Product Anthropology, Product Development

Part 2 of 4 Beyond Introduction: Guiding Product Growth through Anthropological Insights

Of 4 Part Series: Product Life Cycle Mastery: Through An Anthropological Lens

I.  Introduction

As a product anthropologist at Gray Global Consulting LLC, I’ve seen firsthand how anthropological insights can profoundly shape a product’s trajectory.  Product anthropology, in essence, provides a human-centered perspective to product development, ensuring that products are tailored to meet genuine user needs and cultural nuances during their introduction.

Yet, the role of a product anthropologist is not confined to product introduction.  Our work becomes increasingly pivotal as products transition into the growth phase, characterized by expanding customer base, increasing sales, and stiffer competition.  In this article, I will detail the role of a product anthropologist during the product growth phase and illustrate how we guide product evolution to meet changing market demands.

II.  Understanding the Product Growth Phase

The growth phase is the second major stage of the product life-cycle, marked by a rapid rise in sales and profit due to increased market acceptance.  It’s during this phase that the product’s features, benefits, and unique value propositions start to resonate with a broader audience.

The growth phase is crucial for establishing a product’s longevity and capturing significant market share.  Its outcome often dictates whether a product will transition to maturity or decline prematurely.

III.  Role of Anthropology in the Growth Phase

Anthropology, through its focus on human societies and cultures, offers a unique perspective for understanding product growth.  It equips us with the tools to decode the complex matrix of social and cultural factors that drive consumer behavior, thereby helping us strategize for sustained growth.

Consider the case of Facebook, which has become a global phenomenon.  The platform’s growth can be traced back to a profound understanding of social connectivity and interaction, a perspective that product anthropologists are uniquely qualified to provide.  The platform’s features, such as the “like” button and the “status update,” tap into our innate desire for social validation and connectivity.  These features didn’t merely arise from a technical standpoint but also from an anthropological understanding of our need to connect, share, and gain validation from our peers.  Such insights have driven the platform’s exponential growth and global popularity.

IV.  Strategies for Understanding Consumer Behaviors

Anthropologists employ a variety of strategies to comprehend consumer behavior.  One of the most powerful methods is ethnography.  In this research approach, you observe people in their cultural setting with the goal of producing a narrative account of that particular culture.  Ethnographic methods are qualitative, inductive, exploratory, and longitudinal.  They achieve a rich description of a culture or community over time.

Ethnographic fieldwork is how anthropologists gather data.  Fieldwork is the process of immersing oneself in as many aspects of the daily cultural lives of people as possible to study their behaviors and interactions.  Nearly any setting or location can become “the field,” providing invaluable insights into consumer behaviors.

Alongside ethnography, anthropologists also employ participant observation and in-depth interviews.  Participant observation is when the anthropologist records their experiences and observations while participating in activities alongside local participants.  In-depth interviews enable us to delve deeper into the perspectives and experiences of our subjects, capturing nuanced insights that may be missed in broader surveys or observations.

Slack, the messaging platform, is an excellent example of these strategies at work.  The company’s exponential growth after launching in 2013 can be traced to anthropological insights into changing workplace dynamics.  Based on ethnographic research, the company identified a growing need for effective digital communication tools in the modern workplace.  These insights led to the development of a product that met this need, propelling the platform’s rapid growth.

V.  Analysis of Market Trends

Product anthropologists play a pivotal role in interpreting market trends by analyzing consumer behavior, societal changes, and cultural patterns to anticipate emerging trends that could shape the future of the product.

For instance, the widespread adoption of smart home technology in recent years is an essential trend that product anthropologists have noted.  Taking a cue from past technological advances in the home, such as the “Kitchen of Tomorrow” by General Motors in 1956 and Ikea’s futuristic kitchen concept in 2025, product anthropologists working with smart home technology companies today are focusing on understanding consumer behaviors, their habits, routines, and preferences in an ever-connected environment.

One of the most prominent trends identified by product anthropologists is the desire for personalized, adaptive technology that not only makes life more convenient but also enhances experiences and interactions.  In response to this trend, many companies have introduced products with machine learning capabilities, such as adaptive thermostats that learn user preferences over time and adjust settings for optimum comfort and energy efficiency.  This is a direct result of a deep anthropological understanding of the human need for personalized experiences.

The sustainability trend, another key market shift, has significantly influenced product development strategies.  An excellent example is Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear company.  Recognizing the growing consumer preference for sustainable and ethical practices, Patagonia integrated sustainability into its product development strategy, producing items from recycled materials and encouraging consumers to repair, reuse, and recycle their products.  This trend toward sustainability was informed by an anthropological understanding of changing societal attitudes and values regarding environmental protection and sustainable living.

VI.  Ensuring Successful Growth

In the drive for business growth, product anthropologists prove vital in managing potential growth-related challenges.  They guide product teams to make user-centered decisions that enhance product usability, accessibility, and relevance.  The insights they provide drive product improvement and innovation, ensuring the product remains aligned with users’ evolving needs and expectations.

A recent case of anthropologists facilitating growth is evident in the bottled water industry.  Aguas Danone, a bottled water company in Argentina, was looking for ways to recover lost sales.  By applying consumer segmentation and understanding drivers behind non-alcoholic drink consumption, product anthropologists identified “health” and “flavor” as significant factors.  This insight led to the launch of flavored bottled waters Ser, which successfully revived the company’s sales.

Likewise, the smartphone industry is another area where product anthropologists have influenced growth.  By observing people’s use of mobile devices, anthropologists helped Google understand why people use their phones, not just what they do on them.  This information was instrumental in creating more user-friendly mobile interactions, driving the success of Google’s mobile products.

Thus, it’s evident that product anthropologists play a vital role in understanding and interpreting market trends, guiding the successful growth of products, and ensuring that they continually adapt and remain relevant to consumers’ changing needs and expectations.

VII.  Conclusion

The role of a product anthropologist during the growth phase is more than just understanding human behavior.  We illuminate the cultural and social contexts that drive user engagement, influencing the product’s direction to ensure sustained growth and market relevance.

Incorporating anthropological insights into your product development and growth strategies can significantly enhance your product’s ability to meet and anticipate consumer needs.  In an increasingly global and diverse marketplace, an anthropological perspective is no longer an option—it’s a necessity.

As a product anthropologist, I encourage you to embrace this approach.  Let’s create products that not only serve our customers but also resonate with their lives and cultures.

If your company is looking to capitalize on these opportunities and harness the transformative power of product anthropology, there’s no better time to get started. We invite you to contact Paula Gray, the Product Anthropologist at Gray Global Consulting LLC, for expert guidance.

With a deep understanding of the intricate dynamics between people, products, and cultural landscapes, Paula and her team at Gray Global Consulting offer a wealth of invaluable insights and actionable strategies to elevate your product design, marketing, and communication.

Experience the transformative power of product anthropology in action and drive your business success to unprecedented heights. Contact Paula Gray and the Gray Global Consulting team today.