I’d like to begin a conversation on an issue that’s been on my mind for a while but becomes palpable when I present business anthropology marketing case studies to my MBA students: How did the case translate into a marketing campaign and what impact did it have on the brand? When I have details, I always include strategies, creative executions, media venues, and market results. If I were teaching organizational or design anthropology, I’d convey the results whenever I could. When I’m not presenting my own cases or those where I know the results, I often contact the authors so I can share the outcomes with students. Sometimes I am provided details, sometimes not.
There are two areas of impact when anthropologists conduct studies for businesses (as opposed to on/of business), one more measurable than the other:
(1) What action was taken after our research was completed and shared? In marketing, it could be development of a marketing strategy, new advertising or a brand innovation. On the organizational front, it could be, for example, a plan for improving communication across divisions. None of these actions guarantee success and they are not measurable in the usual sense, but at least they are outcomes of the work we did. (2) What, if any, success did our work generate? This is a more quantifiable area. In marketing, this would be a statement like, “The advertising that was informed by our research helped drive the brand from #6 in the market to #3.” For work with an organization it might be, “The insights that we developed about operating styles resulted in a more productive relationship among the three divisions than they had over the past ten years.” or “The research on employee expatriation had X (or even some) impact on employee retention.”
If we can’t produce outcomes of our work, in at least one of the above areas, why should anyone in business hire us? As business people, they must believe they are getting a return on their investment. Another way of thinking about this issue is along the lines of accountability: Was our work just interesting or did it actually help a business? More pointedly: What did they (clients, bosses, etc.) do with what we did? How do we measure success? One measure is being rehired by the same client again — and then the question would be why did they rehire you?
It’s one thing to produce interesting, even profound studies in business anthropology. It’s quite another to demonstrate how our work sparked results. That is the test of the business value of business anthropology; otherwise, it’s academic.
Thoughts from the community are welcome.